49ers quarterback has some shaky moments early, but eventually masters Giants’ presure schemes
SANTA CLARA, Calif. — With the left side of their offensive line and their star running back out, the New York Giants figured a full-court press on 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy was their best chance to win.
Apply pressure to the child from all sides. Get a few sacks and turnovers, and who knows what will happen? An overmatched 10 1/2 point underdog might have a shot.
Blitzing Brock doesn’t seem to be the solution either. The Giants sent enough blitzers to make Purdy look off his game early on, but by the time the 49ers secured a 30-12 victory at Levi’s Stadium Thursday night, the quarterback had done what he’s done every time he’s gone wire-to-wire: win.
Purdy is now 8-0 in regular-season starts, with two playoff victories. His only defeat came in the NFC Championship Game, when he was knocked out early against Philadelphia.
“I thought it was a huge challenge, one of the biggest Brock’s been in,” coach Kyle Shanahan said after the 49ers’ 3-0 start. “They have six guys on the line of scrimmage, half of the time they’re coming, half of the time they’re not.” He remained calm throughout, and it was good enough for the win.”
Purdy’s final stats — 25 of 37 for 310 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions, and a 111.3 passer rating — didn’t reflect how he looked, especially early in the game. He was fortunate not to have any interceptions, with George Kittle essentially acting as a safety to break up a pass intended for Adoree Jackson on the first drive, and another deflection landing in the hands of Ronnie Bell for a gain.
Purdy wasn’t looking like the smooth operator he’s been since taking over as the 49ers starting quarterback last season when Jauan Jennings caught a pass thrown behind him for a first down on a third-and-8. His first five passes were all incomplete.
Purdy was uninterested in celebrating his big statistical day, which included being sacked only twice.
“I don’t get wrapped up in the stats and stuff,” Purdy explained. “There were some throws out there that I missed that could’ve helped us take the lead earlier, quicker, and more efficiently.” Those are the things in my mouth that give me a bad taste and that I want to improve on.”
The Giants’ approach to Purdy was predictable. Don “Wink” Martindale, their defensive coordinator, has made a career out of experimenting with overloads and “zero” coverages with no deep safety.
Depending on which statistic you believe, the Giants came at Purdy with extra rushers anywhere from 73% to 86% of the time.
“I played in Baltimore when Wink was there,” said fullback Kyle Juszczyk. “I’m familiar with his demeanor. They’ll send the house all the time to put your rules to the test. They will occasionally break the rules. He’ll throw the dice, as we saw tonight.”
Spencer Burford, a second-year right guard for the San Francisco 49ers who started all 16 games last season, said he’d never seen anything like it.
“I don’t think we saw the same blitz twice,” said Burford.
One thing to keep in mind about rolling the dice: doing so against the 49ers can result in snake eyes because they have the offensive talent to capitalize when too many players rush the passer.
On third-and-15, Deebo Samuel gets 30 yards on a quick screen left for a first down. On third-and-13, Christian McCaffrey on a screen right for 17 yards.
Samuel caught six passes for 129 yards, Kittle seven for 90 yards, and Christian McCaffrey five for 34 yards with Brandon Aiyuk out with a shoulder injury. The majority of the yards were YAC (yards after catch). Which, by the way, counts the same as a majestically thrown downfield ball.
“You’ve got to get rid of the ball fast, but you’ve also got some good looks to run with it,” Shanahan said. “If you make one guy miss, there’s no one else left, and we have some guys who are pretty good at making people miss and breaking tackles.”
According to NFL Films, former Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells told his quarterbacks in training camp that once they figure it out, they’ll love it when teams blitz because it creates opportunities for big plays.
Purdy, who saw pressure while coming off the bench against Miami last season but nothing like what he saw Thursday, appears to be catching on.
“That’s the risk the defense is taking when they’re blitzing,” Purdy explained. “With some big plays on offense, we can capitalize, and we had some stuff dialed in for what they were doing when they blitzed.” They will get to you if you are not on point. They got us a couple of times, but we were able to get a couple of plays here and there on their blitz and capitalize.”
Colton McKivitz, the 49ers’ starting right tackle, credited center Jake Brendel for communicating to the rest of the line where the pressure would come from and Purdy for getting rid of the ball despite the pressure.
“We’re seeing a lot of six-down linemen, that’s the biggest thing,” McKivitz said. “If they want to press him, we’ve got a guy who can go after ’em.” He’ll stay in there and take a hit in order to get the ball out.”
The early struggles Thursday night only seemed to enrage doubters on social media who can’t understand how the draft’s last pick can live such a charmed life — as if Purdy was nothing more than a bystander being carried by his supporting cast.
“That seems to have been the case with this team for the last seven years,” Juszczyk said. “It doesn’t matter how much we win or how far we advance in the playoffs; our quarterback gets hammered.” I don’t think Brock deserves it, but I guess it comes with the territory.”
Purdy did end his day with a bang, especially after being chastised for missing three relatively deep shots in the previous victory over the Los Angeles Rams.
Purdy lofted a perfect 27-yard strike to Samuel on a back shoulder fade to the right against Jackson for the game-winning touchdown.
“He missed a couple of throws, but he also made some that I didn’t think were there,” Shanahan said. “I was very pleased with him.”
Until he loses a game, that is. It will happen someday, though Purdy has served notice that blitzing isn’t always the best way to go about it.