The Seattle Seahawks will be making their third conference championship game appearance in franchise history on Sunday when they play host to the division rival San Francisco 49ers at 6:30 p.m. ET from CenturyLink Field. Seattle has a record of 1-1 in these games, winning over the Carolina Panthers in 2005 while losing to the Los Angeles Raiders in 1983.
The Seahawks got a bit of good news on Thursday when head coach Pete Carroll announced that linebacker K.J. Wright would be available to play — a huge boost for the top-ranked defense in the NFL. Wright has been sidelined since the Dec. 8 game in San Francisco with a broken bone in his foot. Thankfully for Seattle, they have been able to contain the tight ends they have faced in the last five weeks with Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas and Malcolm Smith.
Wright matches up better physically against Vernon Davis being an inch taller than the 49ers tight end while weighing just four pounds less. If Smith were still playing at the strong side linebacker position, then Davis would have a three-inch height and 24-pound advantage. Davis has found it very difficult to get open against the Seahawks, with the biggest reason being Wright.
The bad also came during Carroll’s press conference on Thursday when he confirmed that wide receiver Percy Harvin would indeed miss the game due to the concussion suffered last week against the New Orleans Saints. While it’s normally bad news to find out that your best wide receiver is unavailable for a game, this news is not as bad for the Seahawks as it may seem.
Harvin only made two appearances out of the 21 games played by Seattle since the start of preseason. Seattle is used to relying on other options for Russell Wilson, and the need for Harvin has not been significant. Players like Jermaine Kearse and Doug Baldwin have made key catches when the Seahawks needed them.
Golden Tate has filled most of the roles that Harvin would be played in as the no. 1 receiver along with handling the kick return duties. It will be very important for Tate to find openings in the 49ers’ defense and hold onto the ball when it’s thrown in his direction, most importantly on slants thrown on third down.
There were a number of passes either thrown behind Tate or dropped in the Divisional Round game against the Saints. Though some of that could be blamed on the rain, it’s still the job of the receiver to catch what is thrown his way.
The ugly for the Seahawks in this game will be the linemen, both offensively and defensively. Keeping Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco offense on the sidelines will go a long way in the favor of Seattle. They will do that by controlling the line of scrimmage offensively, whether it be opening up holes for Marshawn Lynch or Robert Turbin to gain yardage with, or keeping Justin Smith and the 49ers’ pass rush out of the backfield, allowing Wilson time to properly distribute the ball.
The defensive line will need to pressure Kaepernick while trying to keep him in the pocket. He has shown many times over the course of his short playing career that he is willing to take off and find yardage with his legs. While he averages six yards per carry during the regular season, that mark increases to nearly 9.5 yards per carry in the postseason.
Kaepernick has shown great improvement in his passing this season, which is due in part to the play of Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree. However, he still needs to figure out how to perform at CenturyLink Field.
In his two appearances at the stadium, Kaepernick has a 50 percent completion percentage (32-for-64) with 371 yards passing, one touchdown and four interceptions. These numbers show all too well why the Seahawks need to force Kaepernick to beat them from the pocket.