After finally beating Tom Brady, the Dallas Cowboys managed to win a road playoff game. A feat that had eluded them for almost thirty years. Now, after exorcising a couple of their playoff demons, they are one step closer to returning to the NFC championship game, also for the first time in nearly thirty years.
Standing in their way is the San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers have won eleven consecutive games, including a home playoff game last week against the Seattle Seahawks. It’s almost poetic in a way. The Cowboys must go through one of their most bitter rivals historically as they did so many years ago to finally find success again in the postseason. The same rival that beat you in your home stadium last postseason.
This game won’t be decided by an Aikman or Young. Montana or Staubach but a surging Dak Prescott and (checks notes) Brock Purdy? Just exactly who is Brock Purdy? The rookie was selected with the last pick of this year’s NFL draft and tabbed Mr. Irrelevant. Purdy was given an opportunity due to unfortunate injuries at quarterback for San Francisco and so far, Purdy has made good on the opportunity.
The 49ers are undefeated in his five starts and seemingly have caught lightning in a bottle. However, there may be more than meets the eye, or in this case, the TV broadcast. In today’s special edition of Film Finds, we take a closer look to see if Purdy is the man for the 49ers faithful or fool’s gold.
Put in a position to succeed
Today we’re going to examine Purdy’s game last week against the Seahawks and what are the things that stood out. The first thing that stood out was the constant pre-snap motion of the Shanahan offense. There are several different moving parts opposing teams have to account for to have any chance at limiting their offense. Opponents have to be disciplined and relay adjusted assignments quickly to avoid being caught out of position. Naturally, this makes the defense have to think an extra second or two and that alleviates pressure on the young passer.
To also lessen his burden, many route combinations were comprised of two or three receiving options. On this first play, you’ll see the 49ers motion Brandon Aiyuk before the snap and then fake the outside zone run to Christian McCaffrey. Shanahan does a great job of designing this to look like a run play and at the same time gives Purdy a simple read with max protection. This should be an easy completion to Deebo Samuel, but Purdy never sees it.
Then on the second play, it’s a very similar setup. The tight end George Kittle shifts across to the other side of the formation to help in pass protection. The 49ers sell the run fake and this time Purdy delivers on the crossing pattern to Aiyuk.
Seeing the field and protecting the football
As alluded to earlier, there are some difficulties with how well Purdy is seeing the field. The stats aren’t indicative of that. He had a high passer rating last week and has thrown thirteen touchdowns to four interceptions during the regular season. Yet, it’s always important to not merely rely on the box score.
This is an example of being a young player and telegraphing his throw. Purdy drops back in the pocket, starts to look down the middle of the field, and then back to his left. He wants to hit Samuel on the slant, but he stares down the route a bit too long and takes an extra tick in patting the ball before letting it go. He’s lucky the ball is thrown behind the receiver and not targeted between the numbers or it’s likely intercepted.
The same goes with this play down in the red zone. Purdy locks his eyes on Jauan Jennings and the linebacker Cole Barton (#57) is reading his eyes and makes a break on the ball nearly intercepting it. Also like before, Purdy pats the ball one time to give Barton extra time to close in on the throw.
I’ll keep it brief for this one, Purdy needs to hit this throw. It’s as open a window as an NFL passing lane can be and Purdy misses it. Jennings does a great job of widening the defender to get the step inside and the offensive line gives him a good pocket to work with. Purdy simply misfires.
Purdy and Shanahan let out a sigh when they saw this play on film this week. There’s George Kittle lined up tight to the right of the formation. The Seahawks give him a clean release off the line of scrimmage. He gets inside leverage on the safety Ryan Neal and Kittle knows he got him beat. Kittle raises his hand to let Purdy know he’s open for six but Purdy doesn’t see him. Instead of stepping up in the pocket, Purdy scrambles to his left and throws the ball out of bounds.
He’s got a little magic
Purdy is in the perfect environment for where he is in his development. With the talent the 49ers have on both sides of the ball, it’s a great equalizer. With all the negatives pointed out here, remember there are redeemable traits about Brock Purdy and those traits have already shown they are more than enough to win games. This final play is an example.
The 49ers go back to the well and utilize the pre-snap motion, this time with Kyle Juszczyk. The guard pulls to give the illusion of the run, and this forces the linebackers to commit too aggressively. Now off balance, they run back in the other direction to defend the crossing route to the left. Meanwhile, Purdy’s primary target is Brandon Aiyuk on a slant and go but the immediate pressure from Bruce Irvin forces him back to his right. Purdy somehow spins away from Irvin, rolls back to his right, and finds a wide-open Eli Mitchell for a touchdown.
For the most part, Purdy is playing with a good understanding of the playbook and what he’s being asked to do by his head coach Kyle Shanahan, who is one of the best in the business. That said, Purdy is a young player having to process what he is seeing quickly in what looks to be simplified reads. That’s to be expected. He doesn’t have a big arm, but it’s adequate to get the job done.
Plus, he’s got enough mobility and arm talent to make things happen outside of the framework of the offense. It’s not quite there but somewhat reminiscent of Tony Romo in 2006. All in all, he’s such a young passer that the coaching staff has created a safe haven for him, largely aided by an intimidating defense and an exotic rushing attack that’s synonymous with the Shanahan name. The objective is the same as last week for the Cowboys. As difficult as it will prove to be, score fast, score often, and thrust the game onto Purdy who is making only his seventh NFL start.