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One area where Brock Purdy excelled at last year - and one area where he must improve

The 49ers QB was a master at the intermediate level, but his sandlot style got him in trouble when the team made it inside the 10-yard line

NFC Championship - San Francisco 49ers v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

Whenever there’s a success story like Brock Purdy, there’s always a group of know-it-alls who can’t wait to undermine what said player accomplished. In Purdy’s case, it was the 49ers lack of formidable opponents, or the fact that his supporting cast was full of All-Star caliber players.

Purdy took the Niners offense to new heights. They won convincingly in every game that he started and finished. He was near the top of the league in every advanced stat we cite, from EPA to Passing Points Earned Per Play to Points Above Average Per Play. So, whether it was a pass in the quick game or a play where Purdy needed to create, he went above and beyond.

The most significant difference between Purdy and Jimmy Garoppolo was their effectiveness over the middle of the field. To me, that’s where Purdy elevated the 49ers offense the most.

Incredible in the intermediate

It’s evident that the 10-19 yard portion of the field is where Kyle Shanahan wants to live as a play-caller. Garoppolo’s numbers weren’t bad. On 59 attempts, he completed 62 percent of his passes for 10.5 yards per attempt, including seven touchdowns to two interceptions.

As we know, that underneath defender, usually the linebacker right in front of Jimmy, gave him fits. PFF charted Garoppolo with four turnover worthy plays compared to five big-time throws, a 6.3/7.8 percent ratio.

In that same range on 46 attempts, Purdy completed 72 percent of his passes for 14 yards per attempt. When you account for drops, Purdy’s adjusted accuracy was 82 percent compared to Jimmy’s 66 percent. His turnover worthy percentage was slightly lower at 5.9 percent, but we’re talking about a player drafted in 2022 compared to one drafted in 2014.

No player benefited from Purdy being under center more than George Kittle. I’ll reference the Cowboys game in the Divisional Round, as that’s when the stakes were the highest. The play technically didn’t qualify, as Kittle caught the ball just beyond 20 yards. But it highlights everything that’s right with Purdy.

Dallas boasts a ferocious pass rush. We’re in the playoffs. Every dropback will not be clean. Knowing that, your quarterback must understand he still must operate and occasionally that’ll result in him landing on his backside after a throw.

After carrying out a play-fake, Purdy’s right tackle gets blown up, despite only taking a 1-step drop. Brock doesn’t flinch, despite not having any room to step into his throw, and delivers a seed in stride to Kittle.

On the afternoon, Purdy finished 5-for-6 for 95 yards in the intermediate range against Dallas. And those weren’t empty, meaningless throws. Three of those led to Robbie Gould field goals, while another set up Christian McCaffrey’s go-ahead touchdown run in the fourth quarter.

Previously, Shanahan would treat 3rd & forever as a give up down. We’d see a screen to Deebo Samuel, or maybe a quick pass to McCaffrey hoping that he’d break a tackle. That was no longer the case with Purdy. We’d see longer developing routes, which is a sign that Shanahan trusts Purdy to make the correct decision.

This is a 3rd & 15 play, where Brandon Aiyuk turns the cornerback around on a nasty “read” route:

That’s the difference in attempting a long field goal and 1st & goal.

This game is a prime example of how difficult it can be to score in the NFL without the benefit of generating chunk plays. Shanahan will get his best players in 1-on-1 situations. And more often than not, they’ll win. But it’s on the quarterback to be on time and accurate, regardless of the pressure in front of him.

Save the sandlot football

The offense stalled near the goal-line after that Aiyuk conversion. Purdy was pressured on the following third down, was forced to flee the pocket, and effectively erased half of the field before throwing the ball away.

One area where he must improve is inside the 10-yard line once the field shrinks. That’s something to keep an eye on this year. Purdy was 4-of-8 on passes from the 10 and in from Weeks 13 to 17, and 1-of-2 for two yards against the Cowboys. But against the Cardinals and Seahawks in Week 18 and the Wild Card Round, Purdy went 4-of-5, with all four of those resulting in touchdowns inside the 7-yard line.

When Purdy felt pressure, his first instinct was to revert to his sandlot style mindset. Purdy would attempt to outrun the defense behind the line of scrimmage as he bought more time to make a play for his receivers down the field.

More often than not, it’d result in him throwing the ball away and the play being blown dead. You never want to coach the playmaker out of somebody. In Brock’s case, he’s too creative to scold. But there’s a fine line when it comes to playing within the structure of the offense.

At his best, Purdy hangs in the pocket as makes throws on the money, much like the one to Kittle above. And while Sandlot Purdy is fun and creates highlights, the structured version of him is why the 49ers reeled off double-digit victories with him under center.