Seahawks’ Kenneth Walker III could be difference this time vs 49ers

Jan 11, 2023, 1:30 PM

Seattle Seahawks Kenneth Walker III...

Seahawks RB Kenneth Walker III runs against the Los Angeles Rams on Jan. 8, 2023. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The Seahawks surprised the NFL by sneaking into the playoffs in a season where many thought they were rebuilding. Could they surprise even more and knock off the San Francisco 49ers on Saturday in their NFC Wild Card matchup?

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The 49ers dominated the two games between the NFC West rivals in 2022, beating Seattle 27-7 at Levi’s Stadium in Week 2, then 21-13 at Lumen Field in Week 15. So why should anyone expect different in the playoffs?

Well, there is one player on the Seahawks’ side who could be looked at as a difference in this third meeting between Seattle and San Francisco: rookie running back Kenneth Walker III.

Now, Walker did play in each of the two previous meetings. But in the first game he was still playing behind Rashaad Penny, the Seahawks’ initial starter at the position this season, and Walker had just four carries for 10 yards in the loss. And while Walker had taken over for Penny, who suffered a season-ending injury in October, by the time the 49ers came to Seattle on Dec. 15, he was just returning from an ankle issue of his own and wasn’t at 100%. He had 47 yards on 12 carries in that defeat.

Walker has found his groove in recent weeks, however, rushing for over 100 yards in each of the last three games to finish the regular season with 1,050 yards on the ground in 15 games.

“Yes, he was present, but he was on the field for a total of 16 carries in two games (against the 49ers) for 57 yards,” said Bob Stelton of Seattle Sports’ Wyman and Bob on Tuesday. “One he was not the primary back, and the other one he was coming off injury.”

Considering how well Walker has played of late and the possibility of a windy day at Levi’s Stadium limiting the passing game on Saturday, could he turn the tide for Seattle against the Niners?

“It’s definitely going to be a better situation than the last two times they played San Francisco,” said Dave Wyman, Stelton’s co-host who is a former NFL linebacker and the current Seahawks Radio Network color commentator. “I think it’s going to be a challenge, but I mean, look, he’s not a rookie anymore. He’s a guy that I think you can trust.”

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll has been saying as much, including Monday during his weekly conversation on Seattle Sports 710 AM.

“I thought he was really, really aggressive,” Carroll said of Walker’s finish to the season. “Man, I thought he was attacking everything, and he looks so explosive. I was thrilled to see, when I was looking at the film, how explosive he looked this late in the season after a run like this where he has had the ball a lot. And he’s just getting warmed up. So impressed with his continuing ability to make something happen with a play. But I think in the last three weeks, you’ve seen him style-wise shift a little bit. He made the adjustment that we asked him to do, about hitting stuff, and it’s just helping him. That consistency really brings out the best in our offensive line, too.”

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Wyman said he’s had concerns with Walker cutting back on runs throughout this season, opting for riskier runs rather than taking what’s been given to him. That’s been less of a problem lately.

“There’s lots of times where I’ve seen him in the first part of the season where I’m going, ‘Why don’t you just stay front side, kid?’ Maybe it’s only 4 yards, but it’s not minus-1 when you try to cut it back. But now I think he has that trust that, OK, if you cut it back and you get tackled for a loss or a 1-yard gain, cost of doing business. But most of the time when he cuts back, he really gets it, man,” Wyman said.

“He’s seeing, I think, the blocking and everything, and it’s all about your vision as a running back. Just the speed and then setting up blockers and things like that, just a feel. You know, it’s like taking a snapshot with your eyeballs on like, ‘OK, where do I go?’ I think it’s one of the more difficult positions to play when you’re trying to figure that out. But I think he’s there, man.”

That being said, the 49ers’ defense is as tough as they come, so it’s far from a sure thing that Walker will be able to keep his streak of 100-yard games going.

” I mean, their three linebackers – Dre Greenlaw, of course Fred Warner, (Azeez) Al-Shaair – those guys can just fly,” Wyman said. “…  So it’s just going to be a matter of, is this (49ers) defense just too good? They’re second against the run to the Tennessee Titans. So it’s going to be a challenge, but (the Seahawks) are going to be in a lot better position than they were the last two times they played.”

Listen to the full conversation in the podcast below.

Catch the Seahawks Radio Network broadcast of Saturday’s playoff game against the 49ers with Wyman and play-by-play voice Steve Raible on the call on Seattle Sports 710 AM and KIRO Newsradio 97.3 FM. Coverage begins with the pregame show at 10 a.m., followed by a 1:35 p.m. kickoff.

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Seahawks’ Kenneth Walker III could be difference this time vs 49ers