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5 players to watch: Will Brandon Aiyuk step up in Deebo Samuel’s absence?

He did in Week 8...

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

The 49ers have now won six in a row, and with Seattle losing three of their last four, they now have the chance to clinch their second division title in four years at Lumen Field. It’ll be almost three months to the day since the two teams last met in September when the 49ers easily defeated the Seahawks 27-7. With the 49ers looking to win back-to-back games against the Seahawks for the first time since 2012, here are the five players to watch on the 49ers:

RB Jordan Mason

Mason had his heaviest workload of the season with 11 carries for a season-high 56 yards despite not getting his first carry of the game at the 9:44 mark of the third quarter on Sunday. Now with Deebo Samuel out, Mason could find himself in a spot for an even heavier workload.

Seattle’s run defense has given up the second-most yards this season, allowing 160.3 rushing yards per game. Mason has an impressive 5.3 yards per attempt in his small sample of 29 attempts, but his average carry has stayed the same on a per-game basis with an increasing touch count. Kyle Shanahan will run the ball early and often, and Mason should be the biggest beneficiary from it.

RB Christian McCaffrey

The last time the 49ers were without Deebo Samuel, McCaffrey had a passing, rushing, and receiving touchdown against the Rams. He’s likely not going to have that kind of game against the Seahawks on Thursday, but it could give a look at how he could be used. He led the 49ers in both rushing attempts and receptions in the Week 8 win over the Rams, but he could be used more as a receiver in Seattle.

He lined up at receiver only seven times in Week 8 but lined up 11 times as receiver against Tampa Bay and now has taken 30 snaps as a receiver in the last two games. Add in a banged-up knee that would have kept him limited on Monday if the 49ers had practiced, and McCaffrey could see another increase in receiver snaps.

WR Brandon Aiyuk

Aiyuk, just like McCaffrey, had one of his better games of the season in Week 8 without Samuel when he had six receptions for 81 yards and a touchdown against the Rams. When the 49ers played Seattle in Week 2, Aiyuk saw six targets with five receptions and 44 yards, but that was with Trey Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo.

Through one game, it appears Aiyuk is Purdy’s favorite deep target, with Aiyuk having a season-high 16-yard average depth of target on his three targets against Tampa Bay. His three targets are also the fewest he’s had in a game since Week 5, when he had four against Carolina.

DL Arik Armstead

Seattle only rushed for 36 yards on 14 attempts when these two teams met in Week 2, a measly 2.5 yards per attempt. However, Kenneth Walker wasn’t quite established as Seattle’s lead running back, as he had just four carries for 10 yards.

Since then, he’s averaged 63.9 yards per game on an average of 13.4 attempts. He’s been a boost to Seattle’s run game but is dealing with an ankle strain and would have been limited at practice on Monday. Their run attack ranks 21st in the league, even with Walker, and has been a problem all season. With or without Walker, Armstead will try to lead the defensive line in keeping Seattle’s run-game production at a minimum.

CB Charvarius Ward

Here’s a fun 49ers trivia question for the future: Who did Charvarius Ward intercept for his first interception with the 49ers?

Answer: Seahawks running back DeeJay Dallas in Week 2 of the 2022 season.

Pete Caroll is unlikely to run that play again, as it was a questionable red zone play call, to say the least. Ward was solid in his first game against Seattle, even without the gifted interception, allowing five receptions on six targets, allowing just 53 yards with only six yards coming after the catch.

Geno Smith has been intercepted in each of his last three games, with two coming on Sunday against Carolina. Maybe Ward can get his first conventional interception against the Seahawks on Thursday night.