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Steve Young breaks down how defenses could adjust to Purdy, path for rookie QB to succeed



© Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

It’s all on Brock Purdy’s shoulders now for the San Francisco 49ers. At least, Purdy and the offense will have to pick up whatever the league’s top defense can’t carry.

The 22-year-old rookie put in a performance for 25-of-37 for 210 yards, 2 TDs and 1 “good” interception that was the equivalent of a punt.

He impressed. But defenses now have NFL tape of a near full game to use.

Hall of Famer Steve Young joined Tolbert and Copes on Thursday and said he expects those defenses will adjust.

Kyle Shanahan, Young believes, will continue to use throws that he calls an extension of the running game: slip, bubble and tunnel screens, slants, etc.

But defenses know that’s coming. And the rookie QB will be challenged to make some deeper throws to force teams off the line of scrimmage and stop crowding the box to sell out on stopping the run.

“And so, defensively, what you’re going to say to Brock is, ‘We’re not going to give you those. We’re going to force you to make the big boy throws.’

And that’s where Brock has tremendous opportunity. Because they’re gonna crowd the line of scrimmage, shut the running game down, shut down the cheap bubble screen stuff, the Deebo stuff, the running. Like just put people at the line of scrimmage and say to Brock Purdy, ‘All right now, big timer. Let’s see you do something down the field.’ And I think that’s an opportunity.

But I can’t imagine defenses in the next few weeks, allowing Brock to be in that 25-of-37 [range] like they were against Miami. Because as they prepare for him, I suspect you’ll see them try to smother and take the air out of the out of the system.

And that Brock is going to have to expand it himself. Make those big throws under pressure, and then force them back… He’s going to have to force them backwards.”

Teams often stack the box against the 49ers and expect those short throws. The Dolphins certainly brought pressure and shut down a handful of those plays. But Young thinks that attention will be heightened in Purdy’s first start.

Still, even with the rookie at the helm, Young thinks the 49ers have a chance to the Super Bowl.

Much of that can be owed to the defense and the NFC not looking anywhere near as intimidating at the AFC gauntlet featuring the likes of Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen and Joe Burrow (not to mention Lamar Jackson and Justin Herbert).

“Like, you don’t think we can bully up a couple of weeks in a row? Keep people under 21 and with the Vikings, the Giants, whoever. We could still get there,” Young said. “And then then it’s one game. Then it’s the Super Bowl for one game, then you’ve got to beat Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes, Joe Burrow. And then in one game, anything can happen.

“So I think I’ve maintained because of our defensive prowess that seems to be gaining even more momentum and a heady young rookie that is not going to lose a bunch of games, I think you can still feel that way.”

He acknowledged it is unquestionably more difficult path without Garoppolo. But this is a team founded on physicality, with an elite defense and innovative run game in the weaker conference.

All the items are still there for a winning recipe, Young believes, it’s just tougher than it was before.

Listen to the full interview below. You can listen to every KNBR interview on our podcast page at knbr.com/podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Catch Tolbert & Copes weekdays from 2 p.m. – 6 p.m. on KNBR 104.5 / 680 and streaming live on KNBR.com.