When you go through quarterback stats for the first half of 2022, you’ll find Jimmy Garoppolo in the top-10 of seemingly every category. Then, when you filter those same stats from the time Brock Purdy became the starter, it’s nearly identical.
There are a couple of takeaways here. First, Kyle Shanahan does an incredible job of doing the heavy-lifting for whoever is under center before the ball is snapped, mostly by using multiple pre-snap motions and window dressing. That’s why post-snap, generally speaking, whoever the intended target is doesn’t have a defender within two yards of him.
Brock performing comparatively to Jimmy in his first half season of starts is beyond admirable; it’s impressive. That’s the second takeaway.
What’s Garoppolo’s biggest calling card? His quick release. Jimmy was No. 2 in the NFL in attempts in fewer than 2.5 seconds last year. Brock finished sixth in the same category. Without pressure, Garoppolo was largely identified as an upper echelon quarterback. Jimmy was fourth a year ago in EPA per pass without pressure. Brock finished third.
Check out how Jimmy and Brock stack up against each other, using EPA, courtesy of Sharp Football Stats.
Brock vs. Jimmy
|Stat||Brock Purdy||Jimmy Garoppolo|
|Stat||Brock Purdy||Jimmy Garoppolo|
|Passing without pressure||3rd||4th|
|Passing from the pocket||4th||6th|
|Early downs without play action||2nd||1st|
|1st downs through 3 quarters||4th||8th|
|Attempts in fewer than 2.5 seconds||6th||2nd|
|Passes outside the red zone||4th||5th|
Purdy understands the offense and sees the game in a similar lens as a quarterback that’s been in the league since 2014. That’s what the table tells me.
The metrics referenced above should have less variance than most counting stats year over year, so, on paper, Purdy will more or less be the same quarterback we saw a year ago, assuming Shanahan adjusts as defenses do.
It’s impossible to forecast how a quarterback will perform under pressure. Everyone knows that’s not Kirk Cousins’ forte. But the sample size for Purdy isn’t large enough. Last year, Brock was 15th in EPA per play when he was under pressure. Middle of the road works when you’re in the top-10 across the board in everything else.
Jimmy finished 27th in the league when he was under pressure. So, the Niners got significantly better QB play when the going got tough. That explains why the scoreboard had more 30s than ever last year.
Having stability along the offensive line will help. In Jimmy’s defense, he played with several combinations upfront. But a year of starts under the belt for Aaron Banks and Spencer Burford should go a long way, especially since Jake Brendel is back at center for another year.
Colton McKivitz remains the ultimate wild card. He’s been thrown into some difficult spots during his career, but the truth is McKivitz has struggled when he’s been on the field. Sports Info Solutions had McKivitz allowing a 7.5 percent career pressure rate as a tackle, which would have ranked 62nd out of 67th in 2022.
That’s one way for Purdy to regress. But we’ve seen what Shanahan has done in this offense with the surrounding talent worse. His scheme is tops in the league. If you don’t believe me, then explain how Nick Mullens ranked sixth in expected completion rate in 2020, or C.J. Beathard ranked first in 2018. Kyle will get receivers open, it’s on the quarterback to execute.
The biggest difference between Brock and Jimmy, and Brock and preseason Trey Lance, is that Purdy is a gunslinger. It’s odd to say that about the last pick in the draft who, by all accounts, has an average arm, but that’s how he plays.
If Garoppolo throws the five-yard route, Purdy is throwing the 12-yard route. When Brock got out of the pocket last year, he was searching for the home run. And it was a beautiful thing for fans, but paid off for the offense.
On Wednesday, Shanahan said, “one thing Brock does is he lets it rip.” Here is Kyle’s full quote explaining the difference between being aggressive at practice and in a game:
“And so, there’s sometimes in games that you see something you hesitate a little bit because of some scar you might have had in practice or something from letting it go, and you don’t let it rip because you did that in practice. And then we watch the tape after, and we try to learn if that was real or not or if that was just a scar from practice. Those things happen. You try to coach it the exact same, but where you learn is practice, and then you get to the games, and you never tell someone to change.”
On early downs, Brock did what he was supposed to. The ball came out quickly, he ran the offense and moved the chains. But on third down, he let it fly. There was a noticeable difference from the eye test that the 49ers offense was pushing the ball down the field on third downs. This chart confirms as much:
Chart courtesy of Sharp Football’s Almanac
Defenses were forced to defend the entire field, something they weren’t accustomed to doing when Garoppolo was under center.
San Francisco was two percent above league average in explosive play percentage on third downs because of this. It’s important to note that Purdy’s aggressiveness shouldn’t be mistaken for greediness or carelessness. The Niners passing success rate was well above average on first and third downs.
Opposing defenses will do everything they can to keep Purdy in the pocket and not allow him to make plays out of structure. I’d make Brock prove he can consistently make throws outside the numbers. Defenses struggled to do so last year, but the schedule was also lackluster. Purdy saw one defense during the regular season that was inside the top-10 of passing defenses.
Thankfully, that shouldn’t change much in 2023. Going through the 49ers schedule, the Cowboys, Browns, Seahawks, Eagles, and Commanders are the only teams to finish in the top-10 during the second half last year in EPA per dropback. If we use success rate, which is more about how you perform on a down to down basis and somewhat filters out the one-off explosive plays, only the Commanders, Bengals, and Steelers made the cut.
This team will be challenged more in 2023. They won’t have the fortune of playing a home game for a month straight. It’s unlikely they’ll run into a four-game stretch of backup quarterbacks. But the matchups favor the 49ers, and even if Purdy’s play plateaus, the offense will be top-five.