The San Francisco 49ers continued their winning streak with a 28-16 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, improving to 10-3 and claiming control of the No. 1 seed in the NFC after the Dallas Cowboys defeated the Philadelphia Eagles.
It was a strong performance on both sides for the 49ers, as quarterback Brock Purdy threw for a career-high 368 yards, while the defense limited Seattle to six points over the last three quarters after settling in.
But, one key that popped out again was the play of wide receiver Deebo Samuel, who has now compiled a string of strong performances over the past few weeks.
Sunday’s outing was Samuel’s second consecutive game with over 100 receiving yards and multiple touchdowns, as the wideout compiled seven catches for 149 yards and a receiving touchdown, as well as a one-yard rushing score.
Over his last four games, Samuel has averaged 5.25 catches for 101.75 yards a game, while scoring six touchdowns.
Overall, the wideout now has 45 catches for 739 receiving yards, while rushing for 161 yards and scoring nine total touchdowns.
With his 149-yard performance on Sunday, Samuel has already eclipsed his 2022 season totals, where he caught 56 passes for 632 yards and five total touchdowns.
How has Samuel been able to turn things around?
It all started with a realization in the offseason, as the wide receiver openly admitted that his 2022 tape was “awful”, pointing out the lack of work prior to that season as a reason for feeling “sluggish”.
“I’ll never put anything like that on tape again,” Samuel vowed.
And he was right. As the weeks have gone along, Samuel has consistently shown flashes of his 2021 self where he was named a first-team All-Pro, and could even be reaching the peak of his performance at this point.
At least that’s what head coach Kyle Shanahan thought when proudly discussing Samuel’s change after the win over Seattle, praising his receiving for his work following the injuries.
“It’s been very good,” Shanahan said of Samuel’s play this season. “We’re not done yet, so there’s a lot more football to play, so we’ll see at the end of the year. But I thought Deebo came into this season very ready to go. I thought he was looking really good those first couple weeks. He didn’t have all the stats to show it, but that was just the way the ball went, but he was really ready to go.”
“Then he had a huge setback with his injuries which took him a while to get back from him and when he did, it still took some time to get back in the football shape. But starting a few weeks ago you could see it and I think he’s at the top of his game right now,” Shanahan said.
That setback was apparent in his performance, as Samuel went from averaging 82.3 yards on 5.7 catches and 9.3 targets over the first three weeks to putting up 85 receiving yards total over the next four weeks while dealing with knee and shoulder injuries, sustained in Week 3 and Week 5, respectively.
But, after taking two weeks off to fully heal ahead of San Francisco’s bye week, Samuel has come out firing and looks explosive as ever, which was apparent in his dominant performance against the Seahawks.
Have his teammates noticed a change in Samuel’s approach?
“I feel like he’s just more intent with the little things,” quarterback Brock Purdy said. “And then, obviously his effort when he is not getting the ball, carrying out fakes to open up [RB] Christian [McCaffrey] or play-action pass, he’s doing it right. Last year was my first year with him, so I didn’t really know a whole lot. I thought he balled last year. You get the ball in his hands and he still killed it.”
“But, he came back this year in great shape, looking good and then has given everything to this team. So, very proud of him. And obviously when you do get him the ball, he’s the same old Deebo, makes plays.”
Last season, with Samuel’s struggles in the route-running and drop categories, given his “sluggishness”, the 49ers utilized the wideback in a role primarily near the line of scrimmage.
As a result, Samuel’s average depth of target was just 4.3 yards, while the wideout earned just 2.5 yards before catch per reception.
This season, Samuel is still being utilized as a prominent weapon in the short range of the field, given his ability after the catch, but the 49ers are also bringing back the crossers that made him a prominent wideout in 2021, among other route combinations to free him up.
As a result, Samuel’s average depth of target has jumped to 6.8 yards, and the receiver is earning 6.2 yards before catch per reception.
With his absurd 10.2 yards after catch (YAC) per reception, Samuel’s yards per catch has jumped to 16.4, a top-five mark in the NFL.
Speaking to reporters after his monster game against the Seahawks, Samuel acknowledged the setbacks that came with his injuries earlier in the season, but believes his play has improved on a weekly basis.
“This year, since coming back from an injury, I can see the level of play just getting better and better week in and week out. I just take it one day at a time, [and try] to be the best me I can be for the team,” Samuel said.
The tape seems to relay that same message, as the 49ers have now re-unlocked another element to their dangerous offense.
Samuel’s arguably playing at the best level of his career, and it couldn’t have come at a better time for the 49ers, who are preparing for the stretch run of the season, looking to hold on to the No. 1 seed in hopes of hosting their first NFC Championship Game since 2019.