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4 things we learned about the NFC in Week 12: The 49ers are the team to beat

The 49ers are starting to show their true colors

San Francisco 49ers v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

Instead of focusing on the overreactions from last Thursday night’s carving of the Seahawks, let’s talk about what we learned from Week 12 around the NFC and how that pertains to the 49ers.

These could all be viewed as overreactions.

The NFC runs through the Niners, even if it won’t be through Levi’s Stadium

The 49ers have the second-highest point differential in the NFL at +140. The only team higher than San Francisco is the Dallas Cowboys. We’ve seen how the previous few matchups between those two teams have gone. The 49ers are ten spots higher in strength of schedule according to DVOA than Dallas, too.

None of the other potential teams in the Wild Card hunt scare you. The Vikings just lost to Justin Fields on the road despite forcing what felt like 15 turnovers.

The Seahawks would’ve given up more than 30 at home to the 49ers had San Francisco played that game four quarters as if it were a playoff game. Jordan Love or Matthew Stafford aren’t taking down the 49ers in a playoff game.

That takes us to the divisional leaders. Jared Goff against this defense? Doubtful. Desmond Ridder? Not if you’ve seen him play. Which brings us to the big bad Eagles.

Philadelphia has been out gained by a combined 339 yards during their past three games against the Bills, Chiefs, and Cowboys — all playoff teams. Even against teams like the Rams, Commanders, or Jets, the Eagles always leave something to desire.

Now, the argument is that Philadelphia has won their close games. San Francisco dropped three in a row when they could’ve easily ended as the victor. I have a sneaky suspicion that the version of the 49ers we see this coming Sunday will be the one we see for the remainder of the year — including the playoffs.

Purdy and the power of the post route are why the 49ers are juggernauts offensively

The 49ers offense has faced the eighth-toughest schedule of defenses to date, according to DVOA. They are ten percentage points higher than the second-placed Buffalo Bills in offensive adjusted efficiency — despite the Bills ranking 23rd in the same metric.

We don’t have to pump the brakes on what we’re seeing from this version of the Niners offense. They’re juggernauts.

To me, per drive stats paint a better picture of how capable or potent an offense is throughout the game. The Niners lead the league in yards, points, and success rate per drive. No team is moving the ball or scoring at a higher clip than Kyle Shanahan’s crew.

Was it as simple as dropping a 23-year-old quarterback into this offense? Perhaps. I’ll take it a step further and say it was more about Shanahan finding a quarterback willing to throw the post route. That’s the same route Brandon Aiyuk caught in the fourth quarter to end any hopes of a Seahawks’ comeback on Thanksgiving.

Brock Purdy keeps the defense honest. He forces them to defend the entire field, and the dividends speak for themselves.

Sometimes, it’s the attempt that’s just as powerful as the completion. Purdy has been remarkable at giving the 49ers skill players opportunities to make plays down the field. This season, only two teams have attempted more post routes than the Niners: The Dolphins and the Texans.

It’s no surprise that the most aggressive offenses all come from the same coaching tree. But Purdy has taken the cap off the ceiling of this offense, simply by throwing the post route.

Pass rush will prevail

You don’t have to work in the NFL to understand that you’re toast in today’s NFL without a pass rush. Since Week 5, two teams in the NFC have at least three players in PFF’s win-rate for defensive lineman. They’re the teams with the two best records in the conference.

Since Chase Young’s addition, the pressure has turned into sacks. Only two teams have a higher sack percentage in the last three games than the 49ers. Getting out in front of your opponents and forcing them to throw doesn’t hurt, but the defense has gone through plenty of lulls this season when it comes to pressuring the quarterback.

Since Week 5, Nick Bosa leads in the NFL in total pressures, sacks, and quarterback hits. Any concerns that he’s not the same player as a year ago aren’t based in reality. Surprisingly, it’s Young that ranks higher than Arik Armstead and Javon Hargrave.

San Francisco has four above-average pass rushers, whereas even a force like Philadelphia has three. We’ve seen the signs in recent weeks, and Thanksgiving was a prime example of how potent the Niners pass rush can be. Seahawks’ quarterback Geno Smith was under pressure on 47 percent of his dropbacks, despite Steve Wilks’ only blitzing on nine of Geno’s 36 dropbacks.

If you can’t move, you can’t play

Purdy going out of his way to throw the ball down the field isn’t anything new. Neither is his mobility. There are countless occasions during the 49ers game when Brock is pressured, the defense has him dead to rights, only for Purdy to escape.

If aggressiveness is Purdy’s top trait as far as making a difference in this offense, running out of sacks and keeping the offense ahead of schedule is a close second.

The play referenced above, around the 18-minute mark, should be a sack and the Niners should be forced to punt after a negative gain. Instead, it’s an incomplete pass and they live to fight another down.

Teams will continue to blitz the 49ers. You want to get the ball out of his hands and force Purdy into a mistake. Seattle pressured Purdy on 44 percent of his dropbacks after blitzing him 40 percent of the time.

The two throws in the third quarter were more of a product of Purdy drifting in the pocket. I think it says more about Shanahan’s trust that Kyle was willing to let Brock throw out of his own end zone.

Focusing on one turnover worthy play ignores Purdy only taking one sack on 32 dropbacks. When facing the amount of pressure Purdy did, and you look around how other quarterbacks fared under pressure in Week 12, it’s evident that if you can’t move, then you can’t play.

Using Mac Jones feels like I’m cherry-picking to prove a point. Jared Goff may be a better example. Week 12 was ugly for quarterbacks who are a statue in the pocket. You take it for granted when you don’t have it. The 49ers should appreciate Purdy’s mobility.