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Brock Purdy learned how to putt

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Pittsburgh Steelers
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

What we saw on Sunday from Brock Purdy should scare the rest of the NFL

The questions lingered well into August.

The San Francisco 49ers, fresh off a stunning run to a second-straight NFC Championship game, were credited by many for having perhaps the best roster in the entire NFL.

Aside from the quarterback position, that is.

While Brock Purdy’s incredible run from Mr. Irrelevant to being the starting quarterback in that game was the stuff of a Disney screenplay, the UCL injury he suffered that afternoon against the Philadelphia Eagles loomed large this offseason. Would he be ready for Week 1? Would he recapture that magic from a year ago? Would it even matter if he did, given the talent around the quarterback in San Francisco?

After Week 1’s dismantling of the Pittsburgh Steelers, consider those questions answered, and more.

Purdy completed 19-of-29 passes for 220 yards and a pair of touchdowns as the 49ers rolled to a 30-7 win in Pittsburgh. While the Steelers had become a hot pick thanks to a spectacular run in the preseason, it was Purdy and the visiting 49ers who looked every bit the part of contenders on Sunday.

For the quarterback himself, it seemed he had a little extra to start his 2023 campaign.

While many viewed the San Francisco offense as being “QB agnostic,” given the talent around the quarterback and the concepts dialed up by Kyle Shanahan, Purdy added some creativity and athleticism of his own on Sunday. Bringing those traits to bear in this offense?

That could be downright deadly for the rest of the league.

Take this first example, a third-down conversion early in the second quarter. The 49ers align in an empty formation, and just as Purdy hits his drop depth in the pocket he sees a flash of color on the interior. That comes from defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi. Upon seeing that flash, Purdy steps around the interior pressure, but he cannot drift too far away, as pass rusher T.J. Watt is bearing down on him from the right edge.

In a flash, Purdy changes direction and climbs the pocket:

Purdy starts towards the line of scrimmage on a near-sprint, all while keeping his eyes downfield. That allows him to find wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk breaking open late on a crossing route, and Purdy hits him in stride to move the chains.

For his part Aiyuk had a massive game, catching eight passes for 129 yards and a pair of touchdowns, and he also had a critical block downfield on a long touchdown run from Christian McCaffrey.

Take this third-down conversion from the third quarter, where Purdy again finds Aiyuk late on a crossing route:

Again it is Ogunjobi who applies the initial pressure, slicing through the line to move Purdy off the spot. The quarterback sees that threat, and simply slides away from the defensive tackle, knowing he just needs an extra bit of time to get off this throw. He hits Aiyuk in stride, and the 49ers have a fresh set of downs.

Sometimes pocket movement is more about the subtle, than the dynamic. Sure, Purdy could have pulled the ball down and rolled out more on this play, but he does not need to. He simply needs to create as much space as he can from Ogunjobi, which he does with his subtle slide and footwork, before finding Aiyuk to move the chains.

A good example of Purdy’s creativity comes from late in the first quarter. On this example you’ll see Shanahan do his best to outflank the Steelers defense, but Pittsburgh has something of their own up their sleeves.

But Purdy was able to respond under pressure.

The 49ers try and get the Pittsburgh defense flowing to their right by aligning Deebo Samuel in the slot on the right, and sending him in orbit motion into the backfield towards the left side of the offense. As the play begins, both Samuel and fullback Kyle Juszczyk run swing routes to that side of the formation.

But the real target is Aiyuk. When Samuel goes in motion that leaves Aiyuk along on the right side of the offensive formation, and he runs a slant route. The idea is to get the defense flowing to their right — away from Aiyuk — and create space for the slant.

However, defensive coordinator Teryl Austin has dialed up something that Purdy might not expect: He drops pass rusher T.J. Watt off the edge, and right into that throwing lane.

Purdy wants to throw the slant, but at the very last minute he sees nothing but Watt’s jersey in the throwing lane. He smartly pulls the ball down but with Cameron Heyward bearing down on him, he does not have much time.

But he has enough:

Purdy not only makes the initial “no-throw decision” by pulling the ball down and avoiding an interception thrown directly to Watt, but he gets his eyes back to the left, picking up McCaffrey on a quick slant route. The play goes for just a seven-yard gain, but on a snap where the defense had everything in place to generate a big play, Purdy is able to create a tiny bit of magic.

The second-year quarterback even made some plays with his legs, picking up four yards on a scramble in the second quarter to keep the offense on schedule, and then ripping off this 17-yard gain on a third down late in the game to help San Francisco salt away the win:

But the play that stood out the most from Purdy on Sunday, and shows his own ability to create in the San Francisco offense, is a completion to Samuel to move the chains in the second quarter. Let’s start with the pre-snap look:

Take a look at the left side of the offense. Samuel is the single receiver on the left, using a tight split. Lurking across the line of scrimmage is do-it-all defender Minkah Fitzpatrick, who is aligned inside of Samuel. With another defensive back aligned across from Samuel, Purdy is probably thinking a blitz is coming.

Which it does, as Fitzpatrick screams in off the edge.

Protection wise, the 49ers run dual half-man slides, as the left tackle and left guard fan to that side, while the center joins the right tackle and right guard in fanning to the right.

But with both Alex Highsmith and Isaiahh Loudermilk rushing on the left side of the offense, they occupy left tackle Trent Williams, and left guard Aaron Banks. That gives Fitzpatrick a free run at Purdy. Yet, because Purdy was anticipating that threat, he is able to spin away from the free runner, and find Samuel in space to move the chains:

Another example of a talented defense creating an opportunity for a big play, but Purdy being one step ahead of them.

The 49ers entered Week 1 with one of the most talented rosters in the NFL, but still facing questions about the quarterback position.

But the Brock Purdy we saw on Sunday answered those questions, and more.


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