There’s no reason to overreact to the San Francisco 49ers’ defensive performance against the Green Bay Packers. Self-inflicted wounds happened on seven of their nine drives. The hottest team entering the playoffs in the NFC gave the Niners a scare, but it wasn’t because the defense was getting beat left and right.
The offense didn’t exactly light up the scoreboard. There isn’t a person outside of Wisconsin who would’ve predicted the 49ers would only score seven points in the first half. Moving the ball on early downs was an issue for the third time this season.
Only on the road against Cleveland and at home against Baltimore were the 49ers less efficient through the air. The numbers in those games were affected by multiple turnovers. On Saturday night, it felt like Brock Purdy tried to overcorrect for the conditions, affecting him for three quarters.
Kyle Shanahan was asked if he thought the weather affected Purdy’s play. Here’s what he said:
“I think it did a little bit with, I think, a couple. Even just watching [Green Bay Packers QB Jordan] Love too. You watch the first play of the game that he had on that swing route, the ball’s slipping, throwing in front of the guy. There’s a couple that got him. So there’s definitely a few that got Brock, a few that he probably just missed trying to throw around a guy so it doesn’t get tipped and a couple that you just can’t explain, that just do happen.
You usually have a couple in the game, but then you add a couple more with weather and a couple more just not being exactly on the throw. He had a few too many of them.”
I counted eight passes Purdy threw that weren’t just off the mark, but he missed by a wide margin. The most concerning part was several of these throws came within seven or eight yards of the line of scrimmage.
In Purdy’s defense, he was hit just as he was throwing the ball on a couple of occasions. Still, more yards were left on the field Saturday night than combined all season. The play below sums up how the first three quarters went.
The formation called for the linebacker to cover Christian McCaffrey. Purdy checks into the correct play. Since the offense is in empty, Purdy is responsbile for the free rusher as the offensive line slides to their left. Purdy is a half count late, which allows the defender to hit him. The ball sails on him and instead of an explosive passing play for McCaffrey, it’s an incomplete pass.
Then, one play later, Purdy scans the field, comes back to his third progression, and hits Jauaun Jennings on an intermediate in-breaking route for the first down.
Struggling without Samuel
Kyle Shanahan and the coaching staff spent all week making Deebo Samuel the main character for Saturday night’s movie, but they lost him before the opening credits were finished rolling. There was no replacing Eddie Murphy’s script.
Kyle Shanahan tried, maybe a little too hard as evidenced by a Jennings carry to begin the third quarter. Leading up to the game, we talked about how the 49ers destroy opposing defenses when they’re in an empty formation.
My biggest critique of Shanahan would be that he didn’t spam the plays the team had success with out of empty enough, especially early on in the two-minute drill:
The 49ers could’ve gotten Aiyuk or Jennings on a linebacker anytime they wanted to. It’s not as if they didn’t attempt to throw both the ball, they had six targets. But there was no evidence of Green Bay slowing Aiyuk down on the isolation routes as you see in the video above.
This team has spoiled us into thinking that 24 points isn’t good enough to win, despite them proving otherwise. It’s less about the result and more about the process.
The pressure on Purdy happened at the most inopportune times. Through three quarters, it seemed like the lights were too big for Purdy in this spot, weather or not. He was only 7-for-16 under pressure. The inaccuracy was unfamiliar.
We’ve discussed the importance of quarterback measurables and hand size, but it was more than a few rain drops as the reason that Purdy was off. That is, until we wasn’t.
Making amends in the end
Purdy came up with two of the more memorable throws of the season in the fourth quarter. They both came on third down and if he had put the ball anywhere else, it would’ve been an interception or an incomplete pass.
The difference between 4th & 10 & 4th and 5 on the same drive. I don't know what you do differently here if you're the Packers DB. The definition of "there's no defense for a perfect throw." pic.twitter.com/HUv8d0CxAy— KP (@KP_Show) January 22, 2024
The 49ers were unable to get points on the drive on the throw to Jennings due to miscommunication. But on the next drive, the throw to Aiyuk may have saved the season.
Shanahan highlighted both throws during Monday afternoon’s conference call:
“He also made some hell of a throws too. Dropping some of those balls over that middle linebacker to get to [WR] Jauan [Jennings] was unbelievable. The low and away ball to B.A. [WR Brandon Aiyuk] on third down when they had pretty tight coverage on it. It was a hell of a throw and a hell of a catch that kept us out there, after the drop. So, he did a lot of good things too. By no means was he perfect, but it was really cool when we needed him to be at his best, he was. So, it gave us the best chance to win at the end.”
I may sound like a broken record, but this is who Purdy is. At his core, he’s a gunslinger. He wants to push a defense to its limits and see what he can get away with. It’s part of the reason I was surprised he didn’t pull the trigger on this throw at the end of the first half.
Given his mindset, the 49ers will always have a chance to win with Purdy. It helps that Brock is an equal-opportunity quarterback. Chris freaking Conley caught a pass on the final drive. Raise your hand if you had that on the bingo card.
We saw a quarterback go from looking shaky for three quarters and having little to no control over where he could throw the ball to being pinpoint accurate when his team needed him the most.
Purdy’s play embodied the 49ers in the Divisional round much like it has for the team all season. As he goes, so do the Niners. And if Shanahan and company are destined to become Super Bowl champions, they’ll need the version of Brock who took the field with 6:18 remaining to play.