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There is a perception in today’s NFL that a team cannot make a legitimate Super Bowl run without an elite quarterback. Well, the San Francisco 49ers are ready to test that theory.
San Francisco is now in the third quarterback of the season. Yet as the 49ers showed once again on Thursday night, their defensive and offensive lines are strong enough to challenge the best the NFC has to offer.
Are the Seattle Seahawks among the best in the conference? No, but 7-7 Seahawks isn’t easy either. Thursday’s match was a tough, physical divisional battle as San Francisco faced off in a hostile environment. Although the 49ers didn’t show it easily, they dominated the trenches, made necessary mistakes on defense and secured a decisive 21-13 win.
The 49ers have now had seven consecutive wins and are as hot as any team in the NFL. They keep rolling with the aforementioned third series of quarterbacks.
Let’s talk about rookie quarterback Brock Purdy for a moment, because he’s one of the most important stories in San Francisco right now. Taken by the 262nd and final pick of 2022, Purdy was Mr. Disinterested in draft weekend and largely unknown in Week 1.
Starter and the third pick in the 2021 general classification, Trey Lance suffered an ankle injury at the end of the season in Week 2. Jimmy Garoppolo suffered a season-ending ankle injury two weeks ago, which gave Purdy the keys.
Purdy has done nothing to disappoint in the two-plus games he’s played since then. Against Seattle, he finished 17 of 26 for 217 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for a key on his last drive to San Francisco. He did it all without being one of the 49ers’ best players on Deebo Samuel.
More importantly, the rookie showed balance, accuracy, a solid understanding of Kyle Shanahan’s offense and the ability to push the ball off the court. Take a look at this game from Thursday, when Purdy scoured the field, worked on his progressions, and found the tight end George Kittle escaped in the second.
49ers in NBCS @NBCS49ers
GEORGE KITTLE AGAIN 😱 pic.twitter.com/k54u1Viu4g
This was Purdy’s second touchdown pass of the game to Kittle. The first came as the result of a very creative game design by Shanahan.
bleach report @bleach report
BROCK PURDY HIT WITH DOUBLE FAKE 😮
As a result, anyone who was high in the 49ers a few weeks ago when Garoppolo was healthy should still be extremely high, even with Mr Irrelevant leading the offense.
And a lot of people must have been obsessed with the 49ers because of their defence, running play and offensive line.
The line, led by All-Pro Trent Williams, could open loopholes for Christian McCaffrey’s in-season trade buyout. The former Carolina Panthers star became a force in San Francisco, entering Thursday’s game with 426 fast yards, 316 welcome yards and six touchdowns.
McCaffrey rumbled against Seattle for 108 fast yards, 30 receiving yards and a touchdown.
That streak helped pave the way for a nine-game, 71-yard drive to the ground at the end of the game to break the final 3:35 and seal the win.
The line can also give Purdy time in his pocket to survey the area, which is critical in a distance-based pass attack. Shanahan does not rely heavily on timing models, instead using the threat of run and route models to turn on buyers.
It has shown that if Purdy has time to see the buyers open, it can be dangerous. The 49ers are full of offensive quarterbacks and are expected to have Samuel back at some point in the postseason.
According to ESPN, the 49ers expect Samuel to “return at some point during the regular season.” Nick Wagoner.
Purdy has shown that he can get the ball to these quarterbacks.
Prime Video Sports Analytics and Insights @PVSportsStats
Brock Purdy found his TEs and RBs tonight with great success. He is 11/14 & 2 tank destroyers for 89 yards. The EPA/TGT values are 0.43, which is an extremely effective number when measuring how successful these shots are in helping the SF score.
Then there’s the defense, which has been dominant since losing 44 points to the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 7. Since then, San Francisco has not delivered more than 17 points in any game.
On Thursday, the 49ers finished first in fielding clears, 12th in fielding clearances, first in total yards allowed and first in points allowed for the season.
Starring Nick Bosa, Dre Greenlaw and Fred Warner, this outstanding defense gives San Francisco a huge margin of error, almost regardless of who’s under center.
That margin, San Francisco’s ability to protect the passer (24 sacks allowed per season) and ability to manage the ball is exactly why the 49ers were able to beat teams like the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys in the playoffs.
The Eagles, with the best 12-1 record in the NFL, were fantastic. However, they were successful in scoring (first on score), sacking (49) and forcing turnovers on defense (23).
Philadelphia also ranks a modest 24th in yards per rushing allowed (4.7).
Dallas is a similarly built team, third in scoring, third in points allowed, accumulating 48 sack records and 23 defensive turnovers — but also allowing 4.4 yards per game on the field.
Jalen Hurts and Dak Prescott give the Eagles and Cowboys a quarterback advantage, respectively, while San Francisco pairs extremely well with both the Eagles and Cowboys. The Minnesota Vikings, 10-3 but also heavily offensive, are an even better matchup for the 49ers.
Minnesota is 10th in scoring, but dead end in yards allowed and 24th in points allowed. This isn’t a formula that works well, especially against a 49ers defense that was limiting points in the second half.
49ers defense JURISDICTION pic.twitter.com/4vYtNrrEUG
San Francisco gave Seattle 10 points in the second half, but it’s worth noting that Charvarius Ward, who started the corner tie, was injured before the Seahawks scored their first goal.
According to the Amazon post, Ward went out for a concussion evaluation and was cleared but never returned. Before that, DK Metcalf all-stars were fantastic against the Seahawks.
Next Generation Statistics @NextGenStats
Charvarius Ward lined up against DK Metcalf on 25 of 35 routes (71% shadow) in the first three quarters, then left the game after being injured.
Ward allowed 4 receptions for 33 yards by forcing 3 narrow gaps on 6 targets in coverage against Metcalf.#SFvsSEA | #FTTB pic.twitter.com/pK4Raqkmbs
Seattle was held for a total of 277 yards and 16 first drops while converting just four of their 13 third-inning attempts. Rookie sensation Kenneth Walker III was kept at just 3.9 yards per carry after averaging 4.7.
Geno Smith was fired three times and faced constant pressure throughout the game.
Now, before we crown the 49ers as early Super Bowl favorites, it’s worth noting one big fact. We did not see how Purdy performed when faced with a significant deficit. There is a difference between being a trusted game manager and looking for a signal that could trigger a comeback.
Of course, with that defensive and offensive line, the 49ers might not face another major deficit before this year, at least until Super Bowl LVII if they go that far.
The 49ers’ formula to win in cover, defense and on the field has led them to two NFC championship games in the past three years. There is every reason to believe it could increase them to a third in the coming months.