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Defending 49ers QB Brock Purdy

Marc Adams
Nov 18, 2023 at 8:00 AM--

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The criticism of Brock Purdy is becoming more and more pronounced among national media members. Fans of the San Francisco 49ers should be used to having their quarterback ripped by media members who don't cover the team. While it happened some with Jimmy Garoppolo, the national chatter surrounding Trey Lance was constant. And it started before he ever played in his first game as the 49ers starting QB.

Now the national media seems to be fixated on Purdy. Less than a year after proclaiming him the best story in the NFL, some are now saying the QB is showing why he was barely drafted. Nick Wright, on the show, "First Things First," said this week that, "The Niners would be a more viable Super Bowl contender with Baker Mayfield. The Bucs would be in Caleb Williams sweepstakes with Purdy. That I know."

Wright, who always seems to be criticizing 49ers' QBs, actually seems to believe that Tampa would be worse than they are with Purdy and that the 49ers would be better with Mayfield. Even after Purdy's game in Jacksonville, Wright says his opinion of Purdy hasn't changed, despite his having a good game last Sunday.

Skip Bayless, the outspoken Dallas Cowboys fan, has also been on Purdy's case lately. After saying Purdy was running away with the MVP award a little over a month ago, Bayless has changed his tune and is now saying Purdy is showing why he was the last player drafted in the 2022 draft. But Bayless is known for flip-flopping, so this should come as no surprise.

Shannon Sharpe has also been critical of Purdy, saying (among other things) that Purdy isn't a franchise quarterback. But Purdy is at or near the top in several passing categories. And he seems motivated to continue proving his haters to be wrong.

Nick Wagoner, of ESPN, recently wrote a piece evaluating Purdy now that he has 17 starts under his belt. In the story, Wagoner noted that even though Purdy hasn't been the 49ers starting quarterback for quite a year, he has played a full season's worth of games, if you include the postseason. As Wagoner pointed out, not even Purdy realized he had played that many games. "I didn't know that," Purdy said. "It went quick. That's crazy to think about."

This makes the theory that "once Purdy has played enough for the league to figure him out, we'll see him for what he truly is," all the more laughable. He has played enough to be figured out, and yet he still is performing at a high level. And while he's made his share of mistakes in recent weeks, he's also played some of his best football lately.

I've heard several different criticisms of Purdy. And I've read numerous claims as to why he will not succeed. So I decided to address some of those and defend Brock Purdy.

(Cue the Terrell Owens "that's my quarterback" tape.)

Claim #1. He's not "the guy."

Well, the 49ers sure believe Purdy is the guy. So much so that they moved on from Garoppolo, a quarterback who always seemed to win, and Lance, on whom they used three first-round draft picks. Purdy's teammates believe he is the guy. And that may mean even more than what the organization believes. Sure, the players loved Garoppolo. Sure, they talked like they believed in Lance. But they really believe in Purdy, and you can tell.

And how about Kyle Shanahan? We all saw how he called plays with Garoppolo under center. He was cautious most of the time. With Lance, Shanahan barely seemed willing to throw the ball. But with Purdy, Shanahan calls a more aggressive game. This is best seen on third and fourth down, as well as in the red zone.

Shanahan told KNBR's "Tolbert & Copes" on Thursday, "I want a guy who gives us a chance to win the game, not a guy who is just hoping everyone else wins it for them." That says a lot about where Shanahan is in his trust of Purdy.

Some may not believe Purdy is "the guy." But his team does, his coaches do, and so far, he's played like he is.

Claim #2. He's a bust.

While I haven't heard this one very much, there have been a few to utter this phrase. But how can you be a bust when you were a barely-drafted seventh-round pick? This makes zero sense. People said Lance was a bust. I said you can't call someone a bust when they've barely played. And with Purdy, I don't think he can be considered a bust when he was drafted so low.

Claim #3. He can't score with the game on the line.

Except that he has.

Last season, in Las Vegas, the Raiders tied the game with just over one minute to play. Purdy got the ball at his own 25-yard line and quickly hit Brandon Aiyuk for a couple of big gains to get the 49ers into Las Vegas territory. Then after hitting Aiyuk for another couple of passes, Purdy put his team in field goal range, only to have Robbie Gould come in and miss a 41-yarder as regulation expired. Sound familiar?

Fortunately, the game was tied, so the two teams went into overtime. The defense took the ball away and Gould redeemed himself with a game-winning field goal. The 49ers weren't behind when Purdy led them into field goal range, but he still led a late-game drive that should have won the game. And then he did it again in 2023.

Purdy brought his team back late in the game in Cleveland. And if not for a missed field goal by Jake Moody, the 49ers would have won that game and everyone would be talking about how Purdy put the team on his back and led them to victory.

Josh Dubow, of the Associated Press, posted, "Brock Purdy has 121.2 passer rating when team is tied or in the lead (2nd best among all qualifiers). He has an 82 rating when trailing (17th best)." However, the sample size of Purdy trailing in the 4th quarter is small. With Purdy at the helm, the 49ers just haven't trailed that often. So it's too early to say he's not a QB who can bring his team from behind. Especially when he's actually done it.

Claim #4. He's not good in the 4th quarter when the pressure is on.

There have been games in which Purdy hasn't been good in the 4th quarter when the pressure is on and the game is close. He turned the ball over twice in the 4th quarter in Minnesota, and three times against the Bengals in the final quarter. But he's not the only QB who has done that. Specifically, he's not the only young QB who has done that. Nor is he the only 49ers QB who has done that.

In the 2013 NFC Championship Game in Seattle, Colin Kaepernick turned the ball over three times in the fourth quarter, including a famous underthrow to the end zone that sparked a memorable rant by Richard Sherman. Hall of Famer Steve Young threw two 4th quarter interceptions in the 1992 NFC Championship Game. So it happens.

Wagoner noted, "Pro Football Focus tracks turnover-worthy plays, which includes fumbles that the offense recovers and interceptable passes that the defense drops. Through nine games this year, Purdy has 14 turnover-worthy plays, sixth most in the NFL, and that comes after he had seven in 10 games in 2022.

"Of more concern is that Purdy's picks have come at the worst possible times. Three have been in the fourth quarter with the Niners trailing and in opponent territory, and six of his eight career interceptions have come in the second half when trailing."

Yes, there have been some miscues. But young quarterbacks need time to learn how to handle the pressure of a tight fourth quarter. Purdy is learning, but he has the makeup and the tenacity to overcome those mistakes and move on.

Claim #5. He can't throw deep.

Purdy may not have the arm strength that other NFL quarterbacks have, including Garoppolo and Lance. But what he lacks in physical skill, he makes up for in his ability to read a defense, process quickly, and make anticipatory throws. When you can do that, arm strength isn't as important. Even so, Purdy isn't afraid to throw the ball deep.

Wagoner wrote, "One of the biggest myths about Purdy is that he simply checks the ball down to his pass-catchers and they do all the work with yards after the catch. But the reason Purdy leads the NFL in yards-per-attempt average (8.9) since becoming the 49ers' starting quarterback is because Purdy is pushing the ball down the field and his teammates are getting yards after the catch."

Young and Joe Montana were legendary at this. Bill Walsh built the West Coast Offense in such a way that accurate passers could put the ball in the right spot to give their receivers a chance to turn routine plays into big ones. Montana and Young were exceptional at giving their receivers a chance to make plays after the catch. Purdy is doing the same thing.

As Wagoner pointed out, Purdy is willing to throw deep and is "fourth in completion rate (52%), ninth in yards (779), eighth in yards per attempt (15.6), tied for sixth in touchdowns (six), and eighth in QBR (93.2) on throws traveling 20-plus air yards." So he's not simply dumping the ball off to Deebo Samuel and McCaffrey.

It's very rare that an NFL quarterback has to throw a ball 50 or 60 yards in the air. For what he's asked to do, Purdy is doing it well, even when he needs to push the ball down the field.

Claim #6. He needs a talented offense around him.

And there's nothing wrong with that. Montana won two Super Bowls before Jerry Rice came along. But once he had Rice, along with John Taylor, Brent Jones, Roger Craig, and Tom Rathman, Montana was even greater. Wagoner wrote, "Purdy profits from an excellent scheme and surrounding talent while still doing his part to make it go. At its core, Shanahan's offense remains a run-first scheme with back Christian McCaffrey as the focal point, which is why Purdy's 26.3 pass attempts per game is 23rd in the league since he took over as starter."

You can't hold the 49ers' talented offense against Purdy. He still has to make the plays, which he does. As Wagoner mentioned, the 49ers' offense is still a run-first offense. And yet Purdy continues to play like he's one of the better QBs in the league.

What will Purdy become? It's still too early to tell. He may be the next great 49ers QB. Or he may not be. But at this point, the criticism is a little premature.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.
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