Five 49ers to watch: All eyes on Purdy in playoff opener originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea
SANTA CLARA — Answer: Two high draft picks on the defensive line, an extraordinary midseason pickup, a top free-agent addition and the final overall pick in the draft.
Question: Who are the key players for the 49ers in their NFC playoff opener on Saturday against the Seattle Seahawks?
While sweeping the NFC West this season, the 49ers had decisive wins of 27-7 and 21-13 over the Seahawks in the regular season. It was the first time the 49ers beat the Seahawks twice in a season since 2011.
But the third matchup between the teams is the only one that matters right now.
The winner advances.
The loser immediately begins its offseason.
Here are the five players to watch for the 49ers on what could be a rainy, windy day in the South Bay:
5, DT Javon Kinlaw
The 49ers have managed defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw’s game snaps and practice reps in an attempt to balance that line of getting him ready and keep him fresh for the postseason.
The Seahawks will try to get things going on the ground with rookie running back Kenneth Walker III. They might believe their best chance of success is going right at Kinlaw.
Because Kinlaw, the No. 14 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, is a large presence in the middle of the 49ers’ D-line. The Seahawks will try to leverage him and move him off the ball with double-team blocks.
If the 49ers’ defense continues to have success stopping the run on first and second downs, it figures to be a long day for the Seattle offense.
4, RB Christian McCaffrey
Once upon a time, it was seen as a somewhat controversial move for the 49ers to give up second-, third-, fourth- and fifth-round draft picks to acquire running back Christian McCaffrey.
Nobody is second-guessing that move now.
McCaffrey was exceptional after moving into the 49ers’ starting lineup. It is no coincidence that the team went on a 10-game win streak to win the division and enter the postseason as the No. 2 overall seed in the NFC.
McCaffrey is a threat as a runner and receiver. His presence places a great burden on defenses and opens the door for his fellow playmakers in the 49ers’ offense to take advantage of their increased opportunities.
Because the weakness of the Seattle defense is in the middle of the field, McCaffrey is a particularly different matchup problem in this game.
The 49ers traded for McCaffrey in order for him to make a difference in games such a these.
3, CB Charvarius Ward
The Seahawks do not have many game-changing players on offense.
Their top weapon is wide receiver DK Metcalf.
More than likely, the 49ers will assign cornerback Charvarius Ward — the team’s top free-agent acquisition — to cover Metcalf wherever he goes.
Ward and Metcalf waged an epic battle in their Week 15 game in Seattle. Ward gave Metcalf fits before he exited the game due to a concussion.
Metcalf can get rattled, as he did that night.
Ward will certainly not back down, and if Metcalf loses his composure, the Seahawks will lose this game.
2, DE Nick Bosa
Nick Bosa appears to be certain to win NFL Defensive Player of the Year, after leading the NFL with 18.5 sacks and playing a huge role on the league’s top run defense.
The 49ers’ Week 15 victory over the Seahawks would have been a lot more decisive if it were not for a roughing-the-passer penalty on Bosa that wiped Deommodore Lenoir’s pick-six early in the third quarter.
Bosa, the No. 2 overall select in the 2019 NFL Draft, will unquestionably attract a lot of attention from the Seahawks on passing downs. The main responsibilities fall onto the shoulders of two rookies: left tackle Charles Cross and right tackle Abraham Lucas.
Bosa seems to have a good plan to go against those two young players. He will switch sides, depending on how the game is going and which player he feels he can exploit.
1, QB Brock Purdy
Seriously, could No. 1 be anybody else?
Quarterback Brock Purdy has faced challenge after challenge since entering the lineup in place of Jimmy Garoppolo on Dec. 4.
And he has passed every test since coming to the 49ers as the 262nd and final pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.
On Saturday, he’ll face another large obstacle: Potential inclement weather at Levi’s Stadium.
All eyes will be on Purdy, as he looks to orchestrate a talented group of offensive playmakers against the Seahawks.
Purdy knows he does not have to do anything out of the ordinary for the 49ers to experience success. With the likelihood of adverse weather conditions, the big thing is to avoid costly mistakes.
That is something he has done well since taking over as the 49ers’ starter.
Purdy completed 110 of 161 passes (68.3 percent) over the final six weeks of the regular season for 1,308 yards and 13 touchdowns with a 112.0 rating, the highest in the NFL since Week 13.