Brock Purdy seems to have the trust of Kyle Shanahan. For how long?
Two weeks ago, the San Francisco 49ers throttled the Arizona Cardinals by a final score of 38-10. That victory improved the 49ers to 6-4, spawned numerous articles about how Kyle Shanahan was constructing his offense, and sparked talk about a run to the Super Bowl.
Today? Well, the 49ers are now 8-4, thanks to a pair of wins over the New Orleans Saints and the Miami Dolphins. But the conversation has shifted a bit, due to the potentially season-ending injury suffered by quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo in Sunday’s win over the Dolphins.
Because now the offense is in the hands of Mr. Irrelevant, rookie passer Brock Purdy.
Pressed into action on Sunday, Purdy performed well given the situation, completing 25 of 37 passes for 210 yards and a pair of touchdowns, along with an interceptions. These are not eye-popping numbers, as Purdy’s NFL Passer Rating of 88.8 placed him 15th among quarterbacks this week.
But some of reasons for the excitement about the 49ers two weeks ago — the weapons around the quarterback position, the presence of one of the NFL’s best defenses — are still in place.
The only issue now is whether Purdy can do what Garoppolo was doing, which was execute the San Francisco offense at a very efficient level.
Entering play on Sunday, Garoppolo was one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the league this season, ranking fourth in the league with an Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt of 7.60 (behind MVP candidates Tua Tagovailoa, Patrick Mahomes, and Jalen Hurts). Viewed through the lens of Expected Points Added, Garoppolo was fifth in the league in that category, with an EPA/Play of 0.235:
Is there a chance that Purdy can match that efficiency?
It would be a tall task for a rookie, but there were a few plays from Sunday that offer hope for San Francisco fans.
We can start with a pair of throws from the third quarter. With the 49ers facing a 3rd and 5 on their own 30-yard line. They pick up the first down, with Purdy hitting Jauan Jennings on a bang-8 post route on the left side of the field.
What stands out about this play is the anticipation, as well as the feel for the underneath zone coverage. Miami drops into Cover 3 on this play, and Purdy reads it perfectly, throwing Jennings open in the secondary window, around linebacker Duke Riley:
This is a very heady play from Purdy. He first has to navigate Miami’s presnap look, and postsnap rotation. Before the play the Dolphins show pressure, with both Riley and Jerome Baker walked up in the A-Gaps. Beyond that, every player is withing six yards of the football. Purdy might expect Cover 0 here, something the Dolphins are known to use.
But they drop into zone, and Purdy reads that out as the play unfolds, throwing Jennings open in the secondary window with great timing and feel.
A few plays later, the 49ers picked up another first down, with Purdy hitting Deebo Samuel on a dig route working off play-action:
This is a tough play for Purdy to read, and execute. He aligns in a pistol formation, and carries out a run fake to his left, before turning to throw. With Samuel coming from the right, not only does Purdy have to turn his back to the defense, he then has to come out of a fake to his left and “set the hallway” — getting his feet and hips aligned properly — to make a throw back to his right.
He does that well, and then puts this throw to Samuel in the absolute perfect spot.
Two other snaps from this game highlight both Shanahan’s trust in Purdy, as well as the rookie’s ability to deliver on that trust. In the fourth quarter, the 49ers faced a 3rd and 1, leading by seven.
Shanahan put the ball in Purdy’s hands, and he delivered a first down:
This is another really good read from Purdy. It is a 3rd and 1 situation, and the QB opens to his right to try and hit Jennings on a quick slant route. But the Dolphins drop eight into coverage, including pass rusher Jaelan Phillips. Phillips is aligned over right tackle Mike McGlinchey, but when he drops off the edge, that puts him right into the throwing lane for the slant route.
Purdy reads this unexpected drop perfectly, flipping his eyes and feet to the other side of the field. he then manages to fit in a throw to Samuel between two defenders, moving the chains and picking up a critical first down.
But his best play of the game came much earlier in the contest. With the 49ers facing a 3rd and 10 before halftime, the Dolphins had a great chance to get a stop and perhaps break the tie prior to the break.
And it sure looked like Miami wanted to press the issue:
Miami shows a Cover 0 look before the play, putting eight defenders on the line of scrimmage and leaving three players deep.
But, as we saw earlier in the game, they drop into zone coverage and send just four after the QB:
Purdy still makes them pay. He opens to his left, but seeing the play unfolds, he gets his eyes to the right side, where tight end George Kittle is running a dig route. With heavy pressure in his face, Purdy makes an incredible anticipation throw:
“Screenshot scouting” sometimes eliminates essential context when studying a play. But this moment tells you just how impressive a throw this was from Purdy:
Phillips is right in his face, Kittle has yet to turn, but Purdy knows exactly where he needs to go with the football.
The connection moved the chains, and the 49ers would score just before halftime to take a 17-10 lead.
Speaking of context, here is a little more. Purdy is still a rookie. He was a seventh-round selection for a reason. And there are other options out there for the 49ers to consider. Late on Sunday the team signed veteran Josh Johnson off the Denver Broncos’ practice squad. Johnson has made nine NFL starts, including two last season, first with the New York Jets and then for the Baltimore Ravens.
Then there is the Baker Mayfield question. With reports swirling that the Carolina Panthers are going to release Mayfield later today, would Shanahan and John Lynch put in a waiver claim on the former first-overall selection? Back in 2019, prior to a game between the 49ers and the Cleveland Browns, Shanahan was effusive with his praise for Mayfield:
You can tell how [Mayfield] carries himself, how he plays. I mean, I love that type of person. You can tell football means everything to him. He’s going to give everything he has. He’s not totally worried about how he looks and comes off. He’s just caught up in the moment and is who he is.
That stuff doesn’t bother me. I think he’s a very good player. I loved him coming out of college. He’s had a year and four games in the NFL, and I think he’s been as good as advertised.
Nobody’s perfect. He has made mistakes, just like everybody does, and everyone will continue to do, but he deserves what he’s gotten, and I know he can get a lot better as this keeps going. He has the weapons to do it. He has the talent to do it. And you can tell he’s got the mindset to do it.
If Shanahan still feels that way about Mayfield, San Francisco could be a landing spot for the quarterback.
But Shanahan has also been effusive with praise for Purdy. Back in the summer, when Purdy made the roster out of training camp, Shanahan indicated that while the team anticipated Nate Sudfeld would be their backup, Purdy won the job: “I thought he was going to be on our practice squad because we were real happy with Nate. But Brock won that job.”
Furthermore, Shanahan indicated that had the team not brought back Garoppolo, they were comfortable with Purdy as the backup behind Trey Lance. “And we were going to go into the year with him as the No. 2,” Shanahan said. “And we were good with that because that’s what he earned.”
Shanahan continued that praise Sunday night, after the rookie’s outing against Miami. “Brock came in and made some big plays,” Shanahan said. “He’s got some balls out there, forgive me for saying it that way. Just throwing him in there in the heat of battle like that, they had some good adjustments, taking away our hot throws.
“We were having to change a lot of stuff on the fly which put a lot of pressure on him that way. I thought he did a hell of a job doing it.”
So while there are options out there, Shanahan might be comfortable with Purdy. Everything he has said about him so far — coupled with what we saw on Sunday — might be the evidence we need to make that conclusion.