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Shanahan’s trust in Purdy on third downs is paying off

Purdy knows where to go with the ball, and his playmakers are doing the rest.

Washington Commanders v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

The 49ers' offense is slowly catching up to their defense that’s playing lights out. Since Week 10, which was after the bye week and when they’ve had a chance to fully acclimate Christian McCaffrey into the offense, the offense is second in DVOA only to the Chiefs. San Francisco is also fifth in EPA per play, which tells you they’re generating explosive plays.

It’s not like the Niners are playing the bottom of the barrel. The Commanders were a top-10 defense coming into last week. The 49ers have the Jimmy’s and Joe’s, but it’s the down-to-down execution, blocking, and process from Brock Purdy that’s aided them during this winning streak.

Trusting the rook on third down

The 49ers have converted 45 percent of their third downs during the past month, which is good for the sixth-best mark in the NFL. It doesn’t take long to realize Kyle Shanahan has the ultimate trust in his rookie signal caller, Brock Purdy.

Shanahan dialed up a shot play to Ray-Ray McCloud on a 3rd & 4. Those are the plays we’ll remember, but Purdy’s ball placement on 3rd & long makes everything else possible.

The score is 0-0, and you’re in a 3rd & 9 against one of the better defensive fronts in football. Had the Niners failed to convert, how would the game have gone? They didn’t have to worry about that thanks to Purdy’s awareness and accuracy:

Purdy places the ball low to protect Jauan Jennings from getting hit. That’s the third most impressive part about this rep from Purdy. If you watch the linebacker, #52, turns his back to Jennings. Purdy knows there’s little chance he has to make a play on the pass.

It’s hard not to be impressed when Purdy releases the ball. Then you realize there’s a defender in his face. We’ve seen Purdy use his agility, elusiveness, foot speed, or pump fakes, you name it, to escape and keep the offense on schedule.

McCaffrey makes it happen

Christian McCaffrey has proven to be one of the most valuable players in the NFL. His addition to the Niners is a direct correlation to their offensive success. It’s almost a given that the drive results in multiple first downs when McCaffrey touches the ball.

Those add up, and eventually, McCaffrey finds his way to 100 yards:

But it’s the plays that fly under the radar where McCaffrey shows his worth. The play below is the first play of the drive. Ray-Ray McCloud just had an impressive return that gave the Niners tremendous field position.

The Commanders guess right. They figure the 49ers will run the ball behind Trent Williams on first down. And why wouldn’t you? So, as you’ll see below, the slot cornerback blitzes where he believes McCaffrey is going.

What the defender failed to account for was a nasty stiff arm. That’s a tackle for loss for the overwhelming majority of running backs in this league, and this possession ends up in a punt. But San Francisco picked up a first down on the next play thanks to McCaffrey’s superior ability.

Playing for each other

The blocking has been outstanding this season. Whether at the point of attack or 30 yards down the field, the Niners could put together quite the highlight reel.

Watching the other ten players when they don’t have the ball gives you an idea of how they feel about each other and how they play for one another. George Kittle’s second touchdown last weekend was a prime example.


Jauan Jennings winds up throwing his guy to the ground. But there are players over 20 yards away from the ball sprinting toward Kittle, attempting to celebrate with him as he scores. That’s cool to watch; you can see it resonates with the rest of the team. Again, they come off as selfless.

Nobody cares if they’re not going to be the one on the stat sheet. But, you can’t help but appreciate how each player sells out for the other. The effort is the furthest thing from an issue for Kyle Shanahan’s crew.

When you do the little things, like block, you get rewarded. We’ve gotten this far without mentioning Brandon Aiyuk, who had five receptions for 81 yards, including a 50+ yarder.

To a man, San Francisco plays with a level of physicality and tenacity that other teams simply aren’t accustomed to. It’s a style of play that’s showing itself in the win column and for the Niners' opponents the week after they play.