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Film review: Assessing how far 49ers can go with Brock Purdy at the helm



© Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

That didn’t look like a man who was one pick away from becoming an undrafted free agent.

In a monumental game, jolted into the starting role by another gut-punch injury to the starting quarterback, Brock Purdy delivered.

He’s going to have to do it again. And again. And again.

There was much ado about the news Tuesday that Jimmy Garoppolo could potentially return in 7-8 weeks, but that timeline, reported by Adam Schefter, appears misleading, and at best, rose-tinted.

Kyle Shanahan said Wednesday that it’s 7-8 weeks for Garoppolo to heal and that there’s a “way outside chance” for him to come back late in the playoffs. Maybe Shanahan was downplaying it so as to not create false hope or expectations, but it doesn’t sound like Garoppolo will even have a shot to be back unless the 49ers make the NFC Championship Game, and more likely, the Super Bowl.

(A seven-week healing timeline would mean he could start practicing the week leading up to the NFC Championship.)

That’s if they opt not to place him on injured reserve. If they do, Shanahan indicated he won’t return.

It’s the Purdy show now. He’s got five weeks to help the 49ers lock up the NFC West, starting with Tom Brady’s Buccaneers, then a short-week road game in Seattle which could either seal the race, or have the 49ers looking over their shoulder down the stretch.

Before getting into any of the nitty gritty, there was more to like than dislike about Purdy’s performance.

Thrust into the fire of a major game against a particularly talented Dolphins front (there are questions for them elsewhere, excluding safety Jevon Holland), with consistent pressure in his face, Purdy was decisive and made more key throws than the ones he missed.

His start wasn’t superb. There were a handful of ugly misses. But he performed exceptionally well even if you remove the context of the situation and grade him like any other quarterback.

Looking at his performance objectively, by assessing his decision-making and execution, it was unquestionably impressive.

Below is a drive-by-drive breakdown of Purdy’s performance. If you want more of the bigger-picture takeaways, skip to the next section.

The breakdown

1st drive (49ers’ 2nd)

He opened with a third-down conversion to Christian McCaffrey, who ran a perfect whip route outside the numbers. Purdy hit the easy completion with nice timing.

His second throw was one of his worst. There was unabated pressure in his face on a play-action bootleg, but he had more than enough time to find a wide-open Deebo Samuel. He sailed it over his head.

The next one was a missed defensive pass interference on Samuel that got made up on the next play. If There wasn’t an immense amount of separation, but if Purdy led him more, he likely would have had a touchdown. It’s far too flat and gives the defender a chance to make a play, which he does.

Purdy does a good job of selling with his eyes that he’s looking at Brandon Aiyuk and George Kittle (who are both double-covered). It took safety Jevon Holland out of the play and got a one-on-one for Samuel. The throw just needed to lead him more and come out at a steeper angle, and maybe a touch quicker.

Purdy earned a DPI on Aiyuk on the next play. He saw nothing open on a rollout to his right, stepped up, and found him on the other side of the field. Aiyuk had made an off-schedule, scramble drill break to the open field. The defender got there a tad early and the 49ers got into the red zone.

Three plays later Purdy made a quick throw to Kyle Juszczyk to the flat for his first touchdown. Then celebrated like this:

2nd drive

The next drive, he found Aiyuk on a quick slant. It’s a little behind him and prevented Aiyuk from running after the catch.

Jerome Baker wasn’t close enough for Aiyuk to be in danger, and Aiyuk has a tendency to flatten rather than go vertical on his first step with the ball post-catch, so Purdy shouldn’t have had a fear of throwing a hospital ball here.

McCaffrey got stuffed for a loss of 2 yards a couple plays later. Those extra Aiyuk yards could’ve been the difference in avoiding a punt there.

3rd drive

Purdy took a checkdown to Kyle Juszczyk. He maybe had a window to Aiyuk on an intermediate crosser, but there was a linebacker underneath. He pumped, then decided to hit Juszczyk underneath.

There are a few times in this game he shows a tendency to avoid layered throws when there are linebackers sitting.

It’s something that bears watching going forward. Is he not making those throws because he can’t layer the ball — his passes have fairly low trajectories for the most part — or because he knows it’s smarter to take the checkdown rather than a higher-risk throw?

It wasn’t a major problem in this game, but teams could adjust to force him to make throws he’s not comfortable with.

He had no shot on the next play. Miami read the quick out to Samuel — it was the same concept as the Juszczyk TD with the two receivers next to Samuel acting as decoys, then blockers — but it was sniffed out from the start by Keion Crossen. Just great defense.

4th drive

He opened with a first-down throw to Tyler Kroft on the left sideline. On first watch, it looks like he waited too long to throw it. Upon watching again, he’s reading the outside third corner between Aiyuk and Kroft.

He’s seeing if the corner takes Aiyuk on the vertical route or Kroft to the sideline. He chooses Aiyuk, and as soon as the corner commits, Purdy hits Kroft wide open.

Purdy maybe had the space to hit Kroft earlier, but he forced the defender to commit and got him out of the picture.

After taking a pretty unavoidable sack — there’s maybe an argument he could’ve forced a dangerous checkdown to George Kittle — Purdy came back with his first truly great play of the day.

He escaped pressure, then hit Brandon Aiyuk on the run in a tight window. It’s the type of play you’d see on a Mahomes highlight reel.

What followed was his interception.

Most rational people understand this is a net positive play.

He faced a blitz from everyone but the high safety and players in coverage, and has no chance to hit the checkdown to McCaffrey underneath. He saw one-on-one coverage for Aiyuk a 4th-and-4 and took his shot while getting clobbered. There’s no time to get to anything else.

And the interception was a good thing. It’s an arm punt that gained San Francisco 20 yards of field position. The throw wasn’t superb, but it’s a split-second toss with Aiyuk immediately out-leveraged.

5th drive

This was the money drive.

It kicked off with a tunnel screen to Samuel, who made outrageous plays — even by his standards — on every single touch on Sunday. His 63 yards of offense do no justice to his performance.

On the next play, Melvin Ingram II didn’t buy the play action for a second and was on Purdy in a blink. He did a nice job to get a throw off to avoid a sack.

On third down, Purdy read McCaffrey on what looked like an option. Purdy anticipated his decision, throwing the moment McCaffrey settled down for a first-down catch underneath the defense.

It’s on McCaffrey to turn upfield for the first down, and Aiyuk is open over the middle, but it gets the job done.

His worst throw followed. He just airmailed Aiyuk in acres of space. It’s inexcusable.

But, a la Jimmy Garoppolo, his best throw came next.

On third down, with pressure immediately in his face, he delivered this absolute dart to George Kittle over the middle for an 18-yard gain. I still don’t fully understand how he got this off.

To make matters more impressive, Shanahan told Peter King after the game that Purdy recognized the pressure pre-snap and actually signaled to Kittle to shorten his route.

He missed Jauan Jennings on another hot read the next play — Jake Brendel got beaten badly — but it’s a tough play. Jennings wasn’t quick getting out his break and it’s a near miss.

The two promptly connected on an easy completion that Jennings turned into an 19-yarder.

Purdy then fired to Samuel on a quick slant under pressure, which drew a DPI.

The near-TD screen to McCaffrey followed. It went for 18 instead of a touchdown because Jennings badly missed his blocking assignment.

McCaffrey dropped an absolute dime thrown by Purdy a couple plays later in the end zone. It’s an outrageous, tight-window throw that goes to the only spot McCaffrey can make a play on it.

He made up for it a play later when Purdy read him again and threw with anticipation for a near last-second touchdown.

From the 3rd-and-10 throw to Kittle on, Purdy was excellent.

6th drive – SECOND HALF

He kicked things off with a nice far sideline throw to Juszczyk. This is another one of those plays where he took the underneath route as soon as the intermediate defender — in this case, between Juszczyk and Aiyuk — hesitated.

The defender took a step back towards Aiyuk and Purdy went underneath. It’s good reading of the defender, but he could’ve taken the shot to Aiyuk anyway. He will probably need to be a bit more aggressive against better coverage units going forward.

His next ball was basically the Kittle play all over again, just slightly less dramatic. Purdy had pressure coming at him and fired a dart over the middle to Jennings for 15 yards. He froze linebacker Duke Riley to create space and delivered.

The drive stalled out when he attempted the Justin Fields escape tactic out of the back of the pocket and instead ran right into the sack.

The more frustrating play is the one before it. Aaron Banks got beat up the middle, but then recovered on the tail end which left a clean pocket for Purdy to step into.

There’s a split second for him to move into the pocket where he had viable throws over the middle to either Samuel or Aiyuk, but he leaked out left and threw the ball away.

He avoided the sack, so it’s not a bad play, but you’d like to see him step up here.

7th drive

He opened this with another throw that, like with the ball to Kittle, is nonsensically good. Again, it’s an impossibly tight window, and he found Samuel.

He came back with a nice throw on a slant to Aiyuk. He followed that up by buying himself time before rolling to his right and finding Samuel for a first down.

McCaffrey is the unsung hero of the play. He recognized that his defender is about to clobber Samuel, and just stopped his route, setting a quasi-pick. He took a shot because of it but ensured the play worked out.

There’s a run that followed when it appears Purdy forgot to send Juszczyk in motion and the two nearly collided on a handoff to Jordan Mason. Luckily, Daniel Brunskill pancaked his assignment and it was a 6-yard gain.

On 3rd-and-3, Purdy made a good play that could have been better. He bailed to his left with a late, looping A-gap blitz and found McCaffrey on the move. He waited a tick too long and delivered the ball to McCaffrey’s inside shoulder instead of his outside, and Jevon Holland made a perfect tackle to force a 4th-and-1 that the 49ers converted on a QB sneak.

Purdy could’ve delivered quicker and with a better ball, but did an excellent job to even find the completion.

The failed end-around to Samuel which followed, could arguably go on Purdy for not recognizing Holland, who creeped up to the line and was anticipating the snap. He blew the play up and Samuel had the most impressive 4-yard-loss in recent memory. That play killed the drive.

8th drive

Another McCaffrey drop was the downfall of this drive. Purdy hit him on the Texas route with space to roam and McCaffrey just couldn’t hold on.

But the ensuing play might be a frustrating one for Purdy to watch back. He has Kittle running free on a now throw, but he hesitated. The window closed quickly and he took the checkdown to McCaffrey.

The issue is he took that checkdown too quickly. There are too many underneath defenders for McCaffrey to get a first down.

He was expecting pressure to get there like it had on just about every snap to that point, but it didn’t. He had time, and if he held on for a second longer, he might’ve found Samuel, who hasdan opportunity to make an off-schedule dash to the half of the end zone that’s open. SF was already in safe field goal range; the checkdown didn’t net them anything.

9th drive

This started with one of Purdy’s worst throws, just a total miss way behind Aiyuk on a quick slant.

After taking a checkdown to Samuel, he made up for that Aiyuk throw with another dart, to Samuel again.

That’s his last impressive throw of the evening, with a weird miss to Jennings coming a couple plays later. It’s unclear if it was a route mixup, if the ball came out badly because Purdy got hit as he threw, or a combination of both.

10th drive

This is the last drive Purdy had, and he started by hitting Samuel with a quick out.

He also got a first down on a 3rd-and-1, but makes the clear wrong choice on the bootleg. He hit Kittle, who turns upfield for the first down, but Tyler Kroft is wide, wide, WIDE open in Purdy’s view. He just locked in on Kittle, and made the harder throw.

If he hit Kroft, it’s a potential touchdown. At the very least, it’s a massive gain. He’ll want that back.

What to make of it

On the whole, there was a lot more to like than dislike.

There’s probably a better grading system, but here’s how Purdy’s play looked on my weird scale.

He had two very bad plays (the throw behind, and the throw over Aiyuk). The Kroft miss counted as bad because the play still netted a key first down and the overthrow of Samuel was counted as bad because he was under pressure when he threw it.

Here’s the breakdown:

  • Very bad: 2 plays
  • Bad: 9 plays
  • Neutral: 17 plays
  • Good: 8 plays
  • Very good: 7 plays (completion over middle to Kittle, Jennings, 2x to Samuel, dropped TD by McCaffrey, 2x completions escaping pressure on the run to Samuel, Aiyuk)

Purdy was clearly prepared. Teammates raved about his preparation before every game, even when he wasn’t suiting up. The way he made adjustments and hit hot routes under pressure, standing in the pocket and delivering, should provide more confidence than doubt about his capabilities going forward.

Center Jake Brendel told KNBR on Wednesday that Purdy’s preparation is nonpareil.

“It comes down to work ethic. The guy probably watches more film than anyone else I’ve seen,” Brendel said. “The guy knows the defense that we’re going up against. Even at the beginning of the season, when he wasn’t dressing, it was still something that he prepared like a starter, which is what you’ve got to do in that position. That’s the only way you’re gonna learn and progress and get better and actually start playing and producing like a pro.”

Purdy hit major throws in tight windows. They’re the same types of throws Garoppolo hits and which the 49ers offense relies on, especially to move the chains on third down.

He also showed an off-schedule ability to extend plays and escape pressure that clearly exceeds Garoppolo’s capabilities.

The issues are when he leans on that too much. There were at least three plays when Purdy had more time than he realized, and/or had room to step up in the pocket. He chose to run on two of those plays, running into a sack once, and potentially missing a big play on the other. On the third, he hit a (for all intents and purpose) meaningless checkdown instead of taking the time he didn’t realize he had.

To his credit, the pressure from the Dolphins was so consistent, that Purdy’s decisions to run and deliver quickly were understandable.

There were also couple run plays that had issues with timing or pre-snap recognition, which will improve.

But in dropback situations, he looked prepared for most of what the Dolphins threw at him.

His ability to recognize coverages and then manipulate them with his eyes is a massive point to be optimistic about. Because of his diminutive stature, he’s also had to learn to throw from different arm angles. The speed of his release is as fast as any quarterback in the league.

What you worry about is his arm talent and the arc on his passes. His passes tend to come out a bit flat; his throw to Deebo Samuel on the eventual first touchdown drive was underthrown and it was broken up because of that.

Questions remain about the things that had other teams passing on him. That’s why he nearly went undrafted. His lack of traditional measurables is apparent.

But his anticipation is excellent because it has to be. He’s learned to throw off different platforms and with different arm slots because he needs to be crafty about delivering the ball.

And the guy gets through his progressions. You can see him identify what he wants pre-snap and how he’s going to get there.

He throws with excellent anticipation and showed a great feel for option routes, especially to McCaffrey, and his footwork is borderline perfect (which it has to be). He stands in the pocket under pressure when he has to with stunning poise.

There will likely be a dud or two in this stretch. But if that dud means one interception and not several, or missed explosive opportunities and some inconsistencies, that might be fine for this team. They’ve got plenty of experience with that while winning.

Purdy, based on what he showed Sunday, is good enough for this team to close out the season with an NFC West title. He’s also good enough for them to win against a likely non-premium first-round opponent like the Giants or Commanders.

Beyond that, it’s too early to say that he can keep them competitive enough to win a Super Bowl. Defenses improve substantially in the playoffs and the gap between him and premium quarterbacks might become glaring in those high-level games.

But he has a swagger about himself, and a pretty sincere confidence that showed up on the field. Players are buying into that. That means something to the most talented roster in the NFL outside of the QB position.

If Purdy continues with the same level of preparation he had last week, this is not going to be a team anyone can write off.


Please, for the love of all that is holy, stop with your “Mr. Relevant” puns. For one game, sure. It’s short notice. A natural, layup, bad pun. I get it. But we are better than that.

George Kittle opted for a nickname he declined to disclose, but commented “BCB” on Purdy’s Instagram. He admitted the nickname rhymes.

So, do with that what you will, just please, stop with the “he actually IS relevant,” stuff.