One of the benefits of meeting a division rival in the playoffs is there is not much room left for guessing or having either team have to feel the other out. Having met twice already this season, these two squads are quite familiar with one another, which also gives us a reliable template to better gauge which individual matchups will likely decide the outcome of this game.
I picked three matchups that stood out to me, highlighting both the impact they had in the previous two meetings and how they project to influence this wild card game in Santa Clara on Sunday. In no particular order, I’ll start with...
Charvarius Ward vs. D.K. Metcalf
When the 49ers made the move to sign Ward in free agency, they had games like this in mind. Metcalf is a bonafide number one option, and a wideout that has given the 49ers fits over the course of his career.
Prior to Ward’s arrival in San Francisco, Metcalf averaged 76 yards per game at a clip of 12.6 yards per reception. In the two games Metcalf has played against the 49ers since they acquired Ward, that has dropped to 45 yards per game on 8.1 yards per reception.
When Ward has been matched up with Metcalf in coverage, he has held the Seahawks' star wide receiver to just 38 yards on seven targets, including multiple pass breakups in the 49ers' week 15 division-clinching win in Seattle.
Nick Bosa vs. Charles Cross
Cross has had an impressive rookie season since being drafted 9th overall last April and will now take on the far from desirable task of attempting to protect Geno Smith’s blindside against one of the best defensive fronts in the entire NFL.
In their first meeting in Week 2, Cross did an admirable job of keeping Bosa at bay, only losing a couple of their one-on-one matchups and not being responsible for either of the two sacks Bosa logged in that game.
While Bosa did have a couple of very nice reps against Cross in that game, the fact that it was just his second start in the NFL makes his performance even more impressive.
In their second meeting, Bosa was able to crank up the intensity and definitively get the better of Cross on tape and in the stat sheet. After being responsible for just one pressure in their Week 2 meeting, this time around, Cross was charged with four pressures allowed as well as having a sack allowed credited to his name.
Cross will have a lot on his plate in this game, and his ability or lack thereof of keeping Bosa out of Seattle’s backfield could ultimately be one of the singular most important factors that decide the outcome of this game.
Spencer Burford vs Al Woods
The majority of 49ers fans are familiar with Burford, and the impressive rookie season he has had while being a Day 1 starter at the right guard position. They might not, however, be as familiar with Woods and just how solid of a player he has been for the Seahawks over the last few seasons.
Woods is the epitome of the big guy in the trenches who does all the dirty work while getting little recognition. Admittedly I am a little biased as Woods is one of my favorite players in the league to watch, but his ability to impact the game beyond what gets reflected in the stat sheet is something that could potentially cause major problems for the 49ers offense this weekend.
Woods missed the Week 15 meeting between these teams, but he did play in the Week 2 matchup and was one of the better players on the field for either side despite the lopsided score. In that game, Woods recorded a pressure as well as his season high in “STOPS” with five.
Burford will have his hands full against Woods in the run game, but he can confidently enter this game knowing he has been near-perfect in pass protection in both of his meetings with the Seahawks this season.
Burford has not allowed a single pressure, QB hit, or sack on 43 pass-blocking snaps vs. Seattle this season, providing stability on the interior that could prove invaluable in this pivotal postseason matchup between these two teams.