Rost: The 2 Wild Cards for Seahawks vs 49ers in Wild Card round

Jan 13, 2023, 9:35 AM | Updated: 2:10 pm
Seahawks 49ers...
Brock Purdy of the San Francisco 49ers throws for a 54-yard touchdown against the Seattle Seahawks at Lumen Field on December 15, 2022. (Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images)
(Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images)

Things can always surprise you in the postseason, but there’s plenty we know to be true already about the Seahawks and 49ers heading into this Wild Card game.

Seahawks Football 101: What makes the 49ers so dangerous

We know the Seahawks have struggled against the run through a good chunk of the season. We know Geno Smith had a Pro Bowl year that slipped as of late. And we know the 49ers have a stellar run game and the league’s No. 1 ranked defense.

It’s a snapshot of these two teams that doesn’t tell the entire story of their seasons, but does explain why the Seahawks are 10-point underdogs heading into Saturday.

But there are two things we don’t know – two wild cards – for Wild Card weekend in Santa Clara:

49ers rookie QB Brock Purdy

The 49ers have the top-ranked defense. Edge rusher Nick Bosa is the odds-on favorite for Defensive Player of the Year and was a nightmare for Seattle in their last meeting. Christian McCaffrey, who’s been a revelation, has over 1,000 yards from scrimmage and 10 combined touchdowns. Tight end George Kittle is leading the team with 11 touchdowns.

With a dominant defense and so many dynamic weapons on offense, it’s easy to assume Brock Purdy is just a plug-and-play quarterback for a team down to its third string passer. After all, former starter Jimmy Garoppolo was often (and sometimes unfairly) pegged as little more than a game manager on a stacked roster.

But it’s not entirely clear that’s the case for Purdy. In fact, he’s been stellar through five games. His 119.0 passer rating is the second-highest of any quarterback through his first five starts in the Super Bowl era. The offense hasn’t changed much with him taking over for Jimmy G, but he is playing better. He has 13 touchdowns to four interceptions and is completing over 67% of his passes.

“I think what’s really fascinating is if you look at the throws Brock Purdy is making, he is pushing the ball downfield a little bit more than Jimmy Garoppolo,” ESPN 49ers reporter Nick Wagoner told The Huddle this week.

“His average depth of target is roughly the same, his average yards per attempt is probably the same. But if you look 10, 15, 20 yards down the field, there are some shots Purdy is taking and hitting that Garoppolo just wasn’t taking… so he’s shown a little more willingness to push the ball down the field. I wouldn’t say that’s a huge strength of his… but I do think that’s an element that has shown up here (in the offense) a little bit.”

There’s doubt lingering around Purdy for two reasons: First, he was the final pick of the 2022 NFL Draft, and becoming a legit starting quarterback will mean doing something that’s never been done before (he already became the first “Mr. Irrelevant” to throw a touchdown in a regular season game).

Second, he’s been a legit starter… for five games. Say what you will about Geno Smith’s first postseason as a starter, but he’s at least started 17 games. Purdy has won at home, he’s won on the road, but he hasn’t played half a season, much less made an appearance in the playoffs.

Will the Seahawks see the version of Purdy the rest of the league has watched for five weeks? Or will he stumble for the first time in the most opportune moment for Seattle?

Can rainy conditions help Seattle?

No player is going to love playing in freezing temperatures or rain and sleet. No one play becomes easier, nor is only one team affected. But still, teams more familiar with those conditions can have an advantage.

In a rainy Saturday matchup in Santa Clara, that advantage should belong to Seattle, a team far more familiar with those conditions. For the Seahawks, the question is whether a bit of rain does enough to hinder a team as talented as San Francisco.

It was at least a factor for the 49ers earlier this year. They struggled in monsoon-like weather at Soldier Field during what became a 19-10 loss to the Chicago Bears. But that was 13 wins, two quarterbacks, and one Christian McCaffrey ago. There’s a chance they struggle in wet weather again, but how poor will conditions need to be to offset a group that ranked second in team DVOA from Football Outsiders?

“I do think it has to be a concern in that I think weather can be a little bit of an equalizer,” Wagoner said. “Weird things happen in weather. I’ll just put it like that. The only game they played in a ton of rain this year was Week 1 in Chicago… and they lost. As crazy as it is to talk about, the ‘9ers lost to the team with the No. 1 pick in the draft.”

Here’s what else you need to know…

The 49ers are pretty healthy heading into Saturday. The good news is that Seattle could be, too.

Just two Seahawks (guard Phil Haynes and cornerback Xavier Crawford) sat out practice Thursday. Running back DeeJay Dallas and defensive end Shelby Harris upgraded to limited and are expected to be available. Tariq Woolen has been a full participant after an injury scare during Sunday’s win over the Rams. Meanwhile safety Ryan Neal is expected to return.

Seahawks enter playoff game vs 49ers in good health, Neal to return

“He’s been a real active part of what we do and a great spirit in what we do,” Pete Carroll told reporters after practice. “I’m really happy he’ll get back.”

Huard: How Seahawks rookie CB Tariq Woolen led the NFL in a key stat

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Rost: The 2 Wild Cards for Seahawks vs 49ers in Wild Card round