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San Francisco 49ers vs. Seattle Seahawks QB preview: Brock Purdy against Geno Smith

A look at the QB battle between Brock Purdy and Geno Smith for Saturday's NFC Wild Card Playoff game.

San Francisco 49ers

The San Francisco 49ers play host to their division rival Seattle Seahawks on Saturday afternoon to kick off the NFL’s Super Wild Card Weekend.

With so many of the usual star-studded suspects we’ve come to know on both sidelines, two names no one could have ever predicted to be of note come playoff time — quarterbacks Brock Purdy and Geno Smith — have found themselves sitting prominently under the microscope.

Purdy, who recently turned 23 and was chosen last in the 2022 NFL Draft, was just named NFL Offensive Rookie of the Month following a dazzling stretch of games that saw the quarterback throw 11 touchdowns to just 2 interceptions in his first five starts.

When it comes to veteran Geno Smith — who also holds an inspiring story that has built into a fairytale in its own right — it sure looks like the journeyman QB has finally found a place to call home with no need to write back.

The Seahawks quarterback has miraculously worked himself all the way back to likely walk away with the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award, and deservedly so. But let’s put the awards and Smith’s insanely impressive franchise record aside for now because what matters most is what happens next.

However, since we have no choice but to wait just a little bit longer until game time, the next most relevant thing to do is look at what these two quarterbacks have done for their respective squads to close out the regular season.

What we will most certainly not do is needlessly dive into that “you never want to play the same team three times” mantra. Buffalo Bills star Dion Dawkins already covered that one and put the whole third meeting scenario in its proper place.

Related: Ranking best games on NFL Wild Card Weekend 2023

What have Purdy and Smith done for their teams lately?

Geno Smith

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at Seattle Seahawks
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

In Geno Smith’s final six starts of the season, the nine-year veteran threw for 11 touchdowns against 6 interceptions with a three-game losing streak sandwiched in-between to fittingly pair together with those up-and-down numbers.

One of the losses in that streak came against the 49ers by a score of 21-13, although it happened to occur on those always hard-to-judge Thursday night games where everyone is on short rest, ultimately squaring off in a battle of which team can make fewer mistakes.

The first time the 49ers and Seahawks met was back in Week 2, with San Francisco dominating its way to a 27-7 victory. Smith threw one interception and was sacked twice. More on this one later.

An important stat that should serve as some caution for 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans relates to the mobility of Smith. While not exactly known as a dual-threat QB, in the Seahawks’ Week 18 overtime win over the Los Angeles Rams that put them in this very spot, Smith carried the ball four times for 51 yards.

Factor in Raiders’ backup Jarrett Stidham’s ability to find some open space to run against this San Francisco defense in Week 17, and you almost have to take into account that while Smith isn’t a frequent runner, he is more than capable of getting chunks of yards by way of his feet when needed.

Related: 2023 NFL playoff QB rankings, from 14-1: Skylar Thompson to Patrick Mahomes

Brock Purdy

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at San Francisco 49ers
Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Since Brock Purdy’s entire sample size is quite literally limited to only a small sample size, we have his five starts to look at, along with most of the game against the Miami Dolphins since Jimmy Garoppolo went down with an injury on the 49ers’ first series.

While Purdy did throw two or more touchdowns in each of those games, in turn setting multiple records, it’s been his distribution of the ball that has really been the key.

That’s where George Kittle and his seven touchdowns over San Francisco’s last four games enter the equation.

There’s no doubt Purdy has been spreading the ball all over the field, with Christian McCaffrey and Brandon Aiyuk co-starring as frequent favorites in the targets category. However, when you factor in Deebo Samuel’s absence for the majority of Purdy’s time as the 49ers’ starter, it’s pretty remarkable that the red-zone connection with Kittle has been able to sustain this level of success.

With that said, the ‘Niners do not expect or need Kittle to dial up the catch count in order to be effective against the Seahawks. What they do need is this recent big play resurgence by Kittle to make an appearance once or twice, coupled with his usual run-blocking excellence.

Related: Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers: 4 bold predictions for NFC Wild Card Playoffs

Purdy and Smith vs. the expected rain in Santa Clara

NFL: Washington Commanders at San Francisco 49ers
Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

With an expected kickoff time of 4:30 PM ET on Saturday afternoon, The Weather Channel is showing a healthy 100 percent chance of rain in Santa Clara to go along with winds of up to 20 miles per hour.

Considering both Purdy and Smith will be making their very first playoff start, this is hardly an ideal scenario for the veteran or for the kid.

In fact, this is the type of forecast that would bother just about any quarterback in the NFL. That list would even include the great Tom Brady, and we’ve probably lost count of his career playoff starts at this point.

When it comes to Purdy’s play as it pertains to rainy conditions, we don’t have a whole lot to go on. Although there is some footage — roughly four minutes and change — from The Athletic’s David Lombardi that was taken during Wednesday’s practice where the ball apparently only touched the ground once.

Please proceed with caution on all of that. Again, it was practice. We’re talking about practice.

But if we rewind the 2022 season tape all the way back to the 49ers-Seahawks game in Week 2, we do have a sampling of Geno Smith playing in the rain, and it was at the same Levi’s Stadium he’ll be playing in on Saturday.

He fared well when it came to completion percentage — 80 percent on 30 attempts — but Smith threw for just 197 yards and failed to reach the end zone. As a matter of fact, the Seahawks’ only points that afternoon came on a blocked field attempt by Robbie Gould.

Expect to see both Purdy and Smith lean on their respective running backs even more so than they already would on a friendly sunny day. Now, that’s not to say either one of these guys will suddenly become apprehensive in the passing game. They both take chances, so don’t expect that to change just because it’s raining.

Related: NFL Playoff rankings: Top-16 running backs, including Christian McCaffrey

Purdy vs. Smith in avoiding the sack

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at Seattle Seahawks
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

It’s already been mentioned that Geno Smith is in no way a true dual-threat quarterback. An even safer thing to say is there’s no NFL defense out there that will ever be scheming around Brock Purdy as a “running threat.” But he is sneaky elusive when he needs to move the chains and handles a fierce pass rush and a broken play about as well as any rookie quarterback in recent memory.

So it more or less boils down to how each of them reacts to pressure and the blitz while also finding a way to extend plays more often than not.

With Purdy, it’s a little confusing. In his first four starts, he was sacked a total of four times, with Seattle getting one of those in the previously mentioned Thursday night game. But, in the season finale against the Arizona Cardinals, Purdy was sacked four times in that game alone.

Glass half-full? Keep in mind two of those sacks came courtesy of living legend J.J. Watt, who was appearing in his final NFL game and moving heaven and earth to ensure he went out with a bang.

As for Smith, it’s a wildly different story on taking sacks.

In his 17 starts, the Seahawks prevented Smith from getting sacked in exactly one game, and that was a lifetime ago in Week 4. In those 16 other starts, he was sacked at least twice or more. Even more startling, he was sacked three times or more in 10 games.

Given the presence of Nick Bosa and his league-leading 18.5 sacks paired with the rest of the 49ers’ imposing defensive line, Smith faces a potentially long day in the slop if he so chooses to step back and sling it.

And he may very well do just that because Geno Smith is playing with house money at this point.

Related: 2023 NFL defense rankings: Best defenses in NFL Playoffs, Wild Card previews