It hasn’t been an earth-shattering passing attack, by any means. Over the last month of the regular season, quarterback Russell Wilson had a passer rating of 79.1, having thrown four touchdowns to three interceptions, with a completion rate of only 57.8 percent. The Seahawks last had multiple passing touchdowns in a game back in Week 13 against New Orleans—since then, the passing attack has been the worst of the four remaining playoff teams.
The remaining healthy receivers are Golden Tate, Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse—not the best receiving corps in the history of the league for sure, but not an untalented group. All three of them are having their best seasons as pros, as well—they definitely have the talent, both on an individual level and as a unit, to make an impact on the game.
Here are brief reports on how each of the receivers has been used this season, and where they have been the most dangerous.
2013 line: 65 receptions on 97 targets, 911 yards, 5 touchdowns, 3 dropped passes.
Tate’s locational splits are the most severe of all the three main receivers. Not only are 47 of his 97 targets short, under 10 yards through the air, but 48 of his targets appear between the numbers—they like hitting Tate on short crossing patterns and slants over the middle. Add to that the 14 passes Tate’s caught behind the line of scrimmage, and his usage pattern becomes clear—they like getting the ball to Tate quickly in space, allowing him to slip through tackles and turn the ball upfield.
Indeed, he forced 21 missed tackles this season, making him by far Seattle’s most elusive receiver—he’s essentially playing the role Percy Harvin would have played had he been healthy this season.
Tate’s most impressive line might come in quick passes out to the right side of the field. He’s been targeted 13 times there and caught 12 of those passes for 106 yards. He’s consistent when he gets the ball, which is vitally important on those short dumps and comeback routes.
In fact, on all passes thrown fewer than 10 yards beyond the line of scrimmage, Tate is 52 of 61, for a superb catch rate of 85.2 percent. The key to stopping Tate, then, is to take him down the second he gets the ball—if he’s allowed to turn it upfield, he’s exceptionally elusive, so the 49ers need to stop him before he’s able to build up a head of steam.
One interesting statistical note about Tate’s performance deep—while Tate is rarely targeted deep, he did pull in six out of 10 passes marked as 20-plus yards downfield and to the left side of the numbers. On all other passes of 10 or more yards downfield, Tate caught seven balls on 26 targets. This is most likely statistical noise, but it’s worth watching out if he’s streaking down the left sideline against Tarell Brown—if he’s going to make any noise deep, that’s where he'll most likely do it.
2013 line: 52 receptions on 76 targets, 808 yards, 5 touchdowns, 2 dropped passes.
Baldwin’s done most of his work out of the slot this season, running about 68.8 percent of his routes there, picking up 35 catches on 52 targets. He’s also been big on third down—while Tate has more third-down receptions than Baldwin does, Baldwin’s 304 third-down yards lead the team, and he completes 65.4 percent of his catches then, as well.
Fourteen of those catches resulted in first downs—Baldwin appears to be their target of choice when the Seahawks get into 3rd-and-long situations.
Baldwin gets targeted in the same short range Tate does often, but he excels more slightly further down the field, in the 10- to 19-yard range. He’s been targeted there only 18 times, but has caught 13 of those passes for 252 yards—he’s not the home run ball guy, per se, but he’s reliably consistent in that medium-length passing attack.
His route-running allows him to break free from man coverage and find the holes in the zone, and then his awareness of exactly where he is on the field allows him to keep everything in bounds, tiptoeing down the sidelines.
He does share one of Tate’s weaknesses, however—both of them are under 6 feet tall and less than 200 pounds. This means they won’t have a size advantage on San Francisco’s similarly small-sized cornerbacks.
The top receiving games against San Francisco this season share a common theme—the top four, as well as 12 of the top 14, all are bigger than Seattle’s top duo. The top Seahawk against them was Luke Willson, the 6’5” tight end—in short, the 49ers struggle more against big, physical receivers, especially ones who can go up and haul in jump passes, simply using their physicality to box out their shorter opponents. That’s not Seattle’s game—at least, not with its top two receivers. If the Seahawks are going to attack the 49ers in that way, it would fall to their third wide receiver.
2013 line: 23 receptions on 39 targets, 371 yards, 4 touchdowns, 3 dropped passes.
Kearse didn’t become a regular contributor until Week 8, after Sidney Rice tore his ACL. While his height gives his game an aspect that Tate and Baldwin do not have, he’s likely the player the 49ers are least concerned about—he’s definitely a distant third on the totem pole at this point, and is the only one of the three not to have a positive receiving grade from Pro Football Focus.
He’s been a big surprise this season, taking advantage of the Harvin and Rice injuries to provide solid, if unspectacular, production on the field. They’ve used him a lot to replace Rice’s deep-ball production; more than a quarter of his targets have come 20-plus yards down the field, as have three of his four touchdowns.
The passes have to come that deep because Kearse has offered nearly nothing in terms of yards after the catch this season—he has 61 YAC, an average of 2.3 per reception that has him tied for seventh worst this season. Nearly all of his value comes on balls through the air, so he’s someone to be worried about if he slips deep into the secondary—with at least an inch on every player in San Francisco’s secondary—it’s conceivable that he could come up with a big play on a deep bomb or Hail Mary.
All charting stats from Pro Football Focus (subscription required).