Two things can be true simultaneously: Brock Purdy erases expectations of a rookie in the seventh round, and this version of the 49ers is one of the most quarterback-resistant teams in recent memory.
The combined result: In six of Purdy’s seven games, the 49ers have scored more than 30 points. In the one game they failed to do so, Purdy was too injured to even initiate pre-game practices.
Kyle Shanahan is doing some of the best work of his career as a play designer and play caller, opening wide receivers. Against the Seahawks in the wildcard round, Purdy’s completion percentage over expectations (CPOE) was -0.5 – meaning that although he threw three touchdowns and ran for another, he did not necessarily surpass his situation. When Purdy hands the ball to his point guards, the 49ers have the best collection of yards-after-catch (YAC) specialists in the league. And to go along with that QB-friendly offense, the 49ers have the best defense in the NFL.
Historically, teams with elite defenses only needed game managers, like the 2000 Ravens with Trent Dilfer or the 2002 Buccaneers with Brad Johnson. But being a true stopping defense in this age of passes and the growing list of defensive penalties is tough. Against the Seahawks on Saturday, the 49ers defense and Purdy were both out for much of the game — and San Francisco still dominated.
Even with the Seahawks focused on stopping the run, the 49ers rushed for 110 yards in the first half. To stop the run, the Seahawks used more core personnel (three defensive linemen, four linebackers, four defensive backs) and got another defender in the box playing less frequently than normal. Seattle instead played more traditional point drop covers, which Shanahan exploited with game action.
13:14 remaining in the second quarter, first and 10
The 49ers spammed this route combination with a deep turn and a digging route throughout the game. According to TruMedia, Purdy was 3 of 4 for 99 yards when targeting the dig route, but he also checked the ball once when the dig was wide open.
Usually the 49ers would run this combination with a high cruiser, but in this game they had the back receiver throw a dig instead.
The Seahawks ran a Drop Cover 3 spot with three deep defenders and four low defenders. By running the dig route instead of the crosser, Brandon Aiyuk quickly gained depth and got as far behind the bottom defenders as possible before breaking inside. If he had crossed the pitch sooner, the defenders below might have been able to recover and feel him running through their areas.
The Seahawks under-defenders with their eyes on the quarterback had no idea where Aiyuk was because Aiyuk had so much depth. As soon as Aiyuk ran through the defender in the spotlight, he had a huge gap in coverage to run into. All Purdy had to do was anticipate that window opening and deliver the ball.
Purdy tossed the ball before Aiyuk cleared the defender off the hook and hit him in stride.
Race scare caused the Seahawks to play this style of defense, and they didn’t adapt quickly enough. This concept worked so well that the 49ers used it in the two-minute practice with no game action and still hit Aiyuk for 31 yards.
With Christian McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel and George Kittle, a short check can turn into an explosive game. Since Shanahan was hired as the 49ers head coach, the 49ers lead the YAC league by reception. They deliberately explore and seek out players who can create after capture, and Shanahan is adept at creating space below for his YAC monsters to work. According to TruMedia, Purdy ranks eighth among 39 qualified QBs in share of his passing yards after catch (51.4%) and Jimmy Garoppolo ranks first (59.4%).
11:45 remaining in the fourth quarter, first and 10
On this play-action concept, the Seahawks were once again in their base 3-4 with a rotating safety in the box. Instead of a dig, the 49ers had Samuel execute a low crosser and Kittle execute a high crosser behind him. This concept was designed to raise/lower the weak side of cover and get the ball to Samuel below with space.
Weak side linebacker Tanner Muse and solid safety Ryan Neal were tough on the fake action play. Once Muse realized it was a fake, he desperately tried to grab Samuel before Samuel could meet his face, but his attempt was futile. Samuel caught the ball without a defender within 10 yards of him on the 49ers 34-yard line and ran the rest of the way for a 74-yard touchdown.
– NFL (@NFL) January 15, 2023
On a shot-by-shot basis, Purdy didn’t play particularly well but calmed down in the second half after initially looking nervous, which is expected for any quarterback starting his first playoff game. It could have been rain, but Purdy’s ball placement was poor, he didn’t see any open receivers and he was restless in the pocket. His passer rating on third down was 67.1. And the 49ers still scored 41 points.
15:00 remaining in the fourth quarter, second and 11
Going into the fourth quarter, the 49ers had gained only six points. Shanahan called one of his signature stunts: leaking. Although the deep route usually comes from a player lined up away from the game sim, this version featured a deep route on the same side as the game-action sim.
Rookie cornerback Tariq Woolen bit hard on false play even though he was responsible for deep coverage, leaving Jauan Jennings open on the sideline.
The free safety in midfield was the only defender who could have made a play on the ball. Purdy should have kicked the ball down the sideline, but instead drove Jennings inside, which allowed the free safety to almost make a play on the ball or put a big hit on Jennings.
– NFL (@NFL) January 14, 2023
Ultimately, the pass was completed, but it’s details like this that Purdy will want to iron out before the divisional round of the playoffs.
Purdy’s ability to play outside of the structure was a clear advantage over Garoppolo. Including the playoffs, on comebacks in which he took more than three seconds to throw, Purdy ranks fourth in hit rate (47.1%). Garoppolo’s success rate on such dropouts (35.1%) ranks 24th.
However, Purdy needs to manage the pocket better than he did against the Seahawks. He may have struggled to see over the line, but he needs to step into the pocket more often and resist his instinct to bail on the outside.
41 seconds remaining in the second quarter, first and 10
On this play, Kittle ran a split route through the middle of defense, but he was likely an ‘alert’, meaning Purdy would only look at him if he liked the pre-snap look or looked at him after the snap. .
Purdy’s first read is McCaffrey on the route of choice, followed by Jennings running a stick china road.
After the snap, free safety Quandre Diggs left midfield and jumped outside. He might have thought Kittle was going to run a corner and be wrong. Kittle was wide open in midfield, but Purdy didn’t see it.
Based on the pre-snap look, it might have been hard to predict Kittle would open wide. Purdy turned to McCaffrey, but the ‘lurk’ defender helped McCaffrey.
Purdy appeared to turn to his next read, Jennings, but didn’t pull the trigger. Purdy had a clean pocket and plenty of room to step forward, but instead ran back, bailed out to his left and eventually tossed the ball.
Overall, Purdy’s ability to stretch led to two touchdown passes, and he should have had another spectacular touchdown throw to Aiyuk that was waived.
San Francisco offensive tackle Trent Williams had a fair assessment of Purdy after the game.
“I love that Brock is getting the attention he deserves. He’s a good player, man. And I think anyone who watches football can see that,” Williams said. he’s the next Aaron Rodgers or Pat Mahomes, but he does everything we need him to and more. I think we can keep winning with him, obviously.
Purdy arguably plays at a higher level than Garoppolo. But it’s worth noting that his last line of stats on Saturday (18 of 30 for 332 yards and three passing touchdowns, as well as a rushing touchdown) doesn’t reflect his game overall. This 49ers team — including the coaching staff — is incredibly well-built, providing Purdy with an ideal environment.
But it’s the playoffs, and better teams await us, starting with the Cowboys on Sunday. Shanahan’s practice wheels will eventually have to come off, and Purdy will be asked to win in the straight rematch to lead San Francisco to a Super Bowl. It might not be fair to ask a rookie this, but can Purdy succeed where his predecessor failed?
(Top photo: Michael Owens/Getty Images)