The San Francisco 49ers have jumped out to a 5-0 start under the guidance of head coach Kyle Shanahan, outscoring opponents 167-68 during that stretch while being one of the most dominant teams in the NFL.
For San Francisco, the talk of the town has been quarterback Brock Purdy, who has seen an ascendance in Year 2 to join the upper echelon of NFL signal-callers, even leading to some MVP discussions as the 49ers have been scorching hot offensively.
How has Purdy grown season-to-season to become one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks in such a short period of time?
Game slowing down
For many quarterbacks, the reason for an improvement in play begins with seeing the game at a quicker pace, which allows one to go through progressions and identify defenses better as they get more accustomed to the NFL landscape.
That sentiment goes for Purdy, who acknowledged on Thursday that the increased familiarity with the offense has led to him just being able to play, as there’s more comfortability.
“Yeah, I think honestly just the second year in and with this playbook just for how familiar I am with the terminology, the concepts, how we tie things together I feel like just the experience sort of helped me to be able to just play,” Purdy said. “[Head coach] Kyle [Shanahan] calls a great game and stuff, and so for me, I obviously trust in that. And they help me break it down obviously throughout the week, so I know what I’m looking at, and I’m prepared for different situations and stuff, so I’ve got great coaching, they allow me to just go out and play come Sunday.”
Purdy understands there's still room for improvement, as the quarterback is young in his NFL career, but the increased familiarity has translated to the film, as the 49ers signal-caller seems more poised in the pocket, throwing with better anticipation, while having a better feel for defenses in Year 2.
“I guess my second year into the system, I feel like I’m getting a little bit more comfortable with it. Still areas to grow.”
Is the game slowing down for Purdy?
“Yeah, a little bit, I’d say so,” the quarterback said ahead of Week 6. “The game’s always going to be fast and quick, but in terms of like the reads and the progressions, yeah.”
Keeping eyes downfield
Another ability that flashed during his rookie season was Purdy’s ability to extend the play, be it with his deceptive athleticism to scramble, or hitting receivers downfield after a play breaks down.
Looking into Year 2, Purdy has faced some realizations with his play style that have led to some improvements, understanding the value of extending the play, but keeping his eyes downfield, rather than immediately taking off.
“I would say [the ability to look downfield while extending the play is something I’ve] learned,” Purdy said. “Maybe both [learned and natural], but just there’s been plays in college and even in the NFL that, every once in a while it happens where you pull the ball, you run downfield, or the play is just off-schedule, and you miss a guy downfield, and so you sort of just like eat at yourself, like, dude, ‘if I would’ve just had my eyes up field, that would’ve been a big play.’”
With experience, Purdy has understood the difference between needing to take off when extending the play and keeping his eyes downfield, which has led to additional highlight plays for the 49ers offense.
“And so, I feel like it’s just something that you have to sort of experience, go through, remember, so that when you’re in the next moment, it’s just natural for you to, alright, I got to get my eyes up this time and keep downfield before I take off. So, that is something that I’ve had to learn, I think the hard way just throughout my life and career playing football.”
However, the quarterback hasn't needed to deal with those situations as much in 2023, which Purdy attributes to the pass-blocking of his offensive line for their performance in the scheme.
“Yeah, honestly, I feel like, [the lesser amount of scrambling], it’s more of like a testament to the guys up front doing a great job blocking and the skill guys being able to do their thing within the pass scheme. And then the great play calling,” Purdy said.
When he earns enough time to go through progressions and make plays, it’s all about timing for Purdy to effectively get the ball to his receivers in space, which leads to those chunk plays that San Francisco has seen on a regular basis.
“So, for me, it’s been great just in terms of going through progressions and reads, being on time and getting the guys the ball in space. When things happen, you have to break down.”
Now, Purdy doesn't feel like the ability to scramble has evaporated, but instead, his comfortability with the offense has improved, while his getting through progressions has led to a smaller necessity for those scrambles.
“I feel like having the ability to scramble is something that I could do, but I play quarterback and that’s what I try to do first, obviously, is go through my reads, progressions and trust the guys around me. So that’s sort of just how it’s gone. I haven’t told myself, alright, I’m not going to scramble as much or anything like that. That’s just how it’s gone.”
Another under-the-radar learning experience for Purdy has been the value of huddling with the offense, something new to him last season when entering the NFL landscape.
While college revolved around signals and focusing on what the coaches were saying, the huddles that San Francisco goes through allow Purdy to learn on the fly, which has improved his play as a whole.
“Yeah, I think [huddling with the receivers] is huge,” Purdy said. “Honestly, I learned that last year when I got here. In college, you’re always spread out. You’re getting a signal from the sideline and then you sort of just run the play, not really talking and communicating to the guys until you get to the sideline.”
“So being in a huddle and being able to talk to guys what they’re seeing, you know, how did this guy react to this or that, and then being on the same page moving forward, I think it’s huge. Or even just telling them ‘hey, on this play, I’m thinking this, be aware of what we’re doing.’ So I love it. I love how we huddle.”
Chip on shoulder
While Purdy has looked to improve in the several areas listed above, one aspect that he’s carried from Year 1 to Year 2 is the chip on his shoulder, which helps channel his fiery passion on the field.
The quarterback doesn't always look to the outside criticism to spark the chip on his shoulder, but rather focuses on the internal battle of looking to improve in certain areas as a way to add fuel to the fire.
“I mean, there’s little things [that help me maintain an edge every week],” Purdy said. “Just even when we’re in meetings, [quarterbacks coach Brian] coach Griese or [assistant quarterbacks coach Klay] Kubiak and Kyle saying, ‘you’ve got to do this, you’ve got to do this, got to do this’. So, there’s always something that’s like, ‘man, I could be better, you know’?
The underdog mentality that Purdy plays with is more so an attribution to himself that he can continue to improve, and it stems from the desire of never being comfortable.
“And so, when I step out in the field, man, it’s like still trying to prove to myself that I haven’t reached my full potential yet. And so, that’s like that chip that I always have on my shoulder and no matter what everyone else is saying, man, like I know that there’s another level that I can get to and so that’s where I’m trying to get. And you know, taking it one day at a time, but never being comfortable with where I’m at.”
Room for improvements still
The 49ers signal-caller has improved in several aspects of the field, but understands there's still room for improvement for him and the offense, despite the scorching start to the season.
“I feel like we, yeah, we still have left stuff out there, where we can be our best and still reach our full potential,” Purdy said.
The 49ers adapting head coach Kyle Shanahan’s mentality of looking to be perfect sets the standard for the team, which allows them to still play at a high level, while always desiring for more.
“I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to reach that just because that’s like a perfect game and I don’t know if you can play an exactly perfect game in the NFL, but that’s like the standard man, and that allows us to play really good.”
“So that’s what we’re always telling ourselves and, if we’re being real, yes, there is so many more mistakes and things that we can clean up and be better at. So, for us that’s like a thing that we’re excited about like we have every single week to go out and prove to be our best versions of ourselves.”
The 49ers quarterback has seen improvements in several fields, and his desire to continue leveling up has allowed him to ascend as an NFL quarterback early in his career.
Now, the question becomes: can that level of play continue as the 49ers hope to obtain their sixth Lombardi?
The answer to the question could define how the 49ers season ultimately goes.