To give a little look behind the curtain, I am writing this on Thursday night in my apartment with Gorillaz playing in the background, and I have no idea if Brock Purdy or Sam Darnold is going to start for the San Francisco 49ers as it looks to avoid its first three-game losing streak since 2021 against the Cincinnati Bengals, who have had struggles of its own.
For that, allow me to give you a free number to know right at the top that doesn’t necessarily apply to Sunday but also kind of does. San Francisco is 3-3 under Kyle Shanahan in games where a quarterback makes his first start for Shanahan’s 49ers:
Brian Hoyer - Week 1, 2017 vs. Carolina (L, 23-3)
C.J. Beathard - Week 7, 2017 vs. Dallas (L, 40-10)
Jimmy Garoppolo - Week 13, 2017 vs. Chicago (W, 15-14)
Nick Mullens - Week 9, 2018 vs. Oakland (W 34-3)
Trey Lance - Week 5, 2021 vs. Arizona (L, 17-10)
Purdy - Week 14, 2022 vs. Tampa Bay (W 35-7)
So, if Darnold starts, share that stat with your friends as you watch the game on Sunday. And if Purdy clears the concussion protocol, you now know this bit of trivia.
You’re welcome, I guess.
Here are the numbers to know about the players we know will be playing on Sunday:
Sack percentage. Bengals’ quarterback Joe Burrow has been sacked on 5.6 percent of dropbacks, the 10th-lowest percentage in the league.
The 49ers have faced one other quarterback with a lower sack percentage than Burrow this season. I’ll give you one guess as to who it is.
Yes, it was Kirk Cousins! Or no, it was Kirk Cousins. Depending on who you guessed.
And how did the defense fare against him? Monday night was the first game this season where it didn’t sack the opposing quarterback, while Cousins torched Steve Wilks’ defense to the tune of 378 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
However, unlike against Minnesota, Burrow has struggled when facing the pass rush, with a passer rating of 70.7 while under pressure. Cousins is ranked first at 108.1 after bumping it up 11 points with his performance against San Francisco.
Burrow has honestly struggled in all situations this season, ranking outside the top-15 in good stats like passing touchdowns (7), completion percentage (63.4), and yards per game (205.0) and bottom-10 in a few bad stats like sack percentage and interception percentage (5.7). It could be the effects of the calf injury he suffered during camp, or the league is figuring the fourth-year quarterback out.
It almost feels like a trap. A 49ers defense that in the past has been known for its ability to sack the quarterback is struggling to do that, facing a struggling quarterback who’s been tough to get to this season. Burrow is reportedly feeling 100 percent coming off the bye, and according to Charlie Goldsmith of the Cincinnati Enquirer, the Bengals quarterback has been taking snaps under center in practice this week, something that hasn’t happened much this season and maybe a sign that Burrow is indeed healthy.
Joe Burrow is working under center snaps into his pre-practice routine. A new part of the program for a Bengals offense that could play under center more going forward, as Brian Callahan said last week.— Charlie Goldsmith (@CharlieG__) October 25, 2023
Percent. Bengals’ pass rusher Trey Hendrickson has taken 100 percent of his snaps this season on the right side of the defense.
To reference the 49ers Monday night loss again, statistically, Hendrickson is like Danielle Hunter so far this season. Hendrickson and Hunter are tied for 16th among pass rushers this season with 27 pressures, tied for 17th with 17 quarterback hurries, with Hunter’s nine sacks leading the league with Hendrickson not far behind, tied for fourth with seven.
The Bengals’ pass rusher has exclusively taken on the left side of the offense this season, and he’s been one of the best pass rushers in the league. All but seven of his 270 defensive line snaps have had him lined across or on the outside of the offense’s left tackle.
That will either put him across from Trent Williams - which isn’t looking likely as of Thursday night - or Jaylon Moore, who didn’t allow a pressure in his first start of 2023 on Monday night but also didn’t have to face Hunter much, who took seven snaps across from Moore.
Hendrickson will take Moore head-on on Sunday in Santa Clara in a good test for the third-year tackle.
Rushing yards allowed per game. The Cincinnati defense has allowed 142.8 rushing yards per game, fourth-most in the NFL.
The 49ers were held to a season-low 65 yards against the Vikings Monday night, marking the first time the offense was held to fewer than 100 yards this season. Christian McCaffrey was held to just 45 yards on 15 carries against Minnesota in the loss.
And maybe it was because of the oblique injury, but McCaffrey’s struggles on the ground started back in Week 5 against the Cowboys. While the touchdown streak is the headline for the running back, it’s somewhat covered up McCaffrey’s carry-to-carry issues.
The running back averaged 2.7 yards per attempt on 19 attempts against Dallas, 3.9 yards per attempt on 11 carries in Cleveland, and a three-yard average on Monday night. It marks the first time since 2017 that McCaffrey failed to average four yards per carry in three consecutive games when he went five straight games from Weeks 4-8 of his rookie season without reaching the mark, according to Pro Football Reference.
The Cleveland game was the closest to hitting the four-per-carry mark, but the oblique injury obviously kept him under. With another under his belt and a week of full practices, a healthy McCaffrey facing a poor Cincinnati run defense is a prime spot to end the streak.