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Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Brock Purdy and 49ers offense among the best in team history

Marc Adams
Dec 9, 2023 at 6:00 AM--

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Where does the 2023 San Francisco 49ers offense rank among the franchise's greatest? Based on what they did in Philadelphia last Sunday, scoring a touchdown on six consecutive possessions, they should be considered among the best in team history. Nick Wagoner, of ESPN, wrote that what the 49ers did last Sunday was the first time a 49ers offense had scored on six straight possessions in a game since 1992. And it's only the second time it's been done over the past decade.

In 2023, the 49ers have three games in which they only scored 17 points. There was a time when the defense carried the 49ers offense, and they would win some games scoring only 17. But those three games are the lowest output by the 49ers offense this season. They have scored 30 or better in eight of their 12 games, and more than 40 in two games. And the two games in which they've scored over 40 were against two of the better teams in the NFC.

Because the 49ers had almost 20 years of offensive excellence, and five Super Bowl victories to show for it, it's hard to compare the 2023 49ers with those teams. Until the current 49ers win a Super Bowl, they'll never be considered on the level of the teams led by Joe Montana and Steve Young. But we still can see that the 2023 49ers offense is doing things that we haven't seen in San Francisco in a long time. And they're showing that they are one of the best offenses in team history.

In 1981, when the 49ers started being known as a creative offensive team, Bill Walsh's 49ers beat the Dallas Cowboys 45-14. It was a game that sent a message to the rest of the league that the 49ers were for real. One of the touchdowns scored that day came from the defense, a Ronnie Lott interception returned for a score, but the offense was starting to make a name for itself.

By 1984, the 49ers offense was becoming a juggernaut. In the Super Bowl XIX matchup with Miami, it was billed as Montana versus Dan Marino. The 49ers defense was outstanding, but Montana was named Super Bowl MVP, and Walsh's "West Coast Offense" was considered the league's best. In the coming years, more and more teams would start running the 49ers offense.

In the dynasty years, San Francisco was known for its great offenses. From 1981 through 1998, the 49ers consistently had top-ranked offenses, highlighted by five championships and back-to-back Hall of Fame QBs. Although the 49ers have been known more for defense in recent years, the offense is what the team was known for in the '80s and '90s.

The 1983 49ers scored over 40 points four times, including back-to-back weeks of 48 and 42. All four of the 40-plus point games in 1983 included a defensive touchdown. That seems to be how it normally goes. When a team scores that many points, there's often a defensive touchdown in there. It's not always that way, and certainly not with the 49ers win in Philadelphia last week.

Here are some of the team's top-scoring and yardage teams:

  • 1984: 475 points scored, 6,366 yards (Playcaller: Walsh, QB: Montana)
  • 1993: 473 points scored, 6,435 yards (Playcaller: Mike Shanahan, QB: Young)
  • 1994: 505 points scored, 6,060 yards (Playcaller: Shanahan, QB: Young)
  • 1998: 479 points scored, 6,800 yards (Playcaller: Steve Mariucci, QB: Young)
  • 2019: 479 points scored, 6,097 yards (Playcaller: Kyle Shanahan, QB: Jimmy Garoppolo)

The 1994 Super Bowl team scored over 500 points. And Mariucci's 1998 team tallied an impressive 6,800 yards. Over 2,500 of that was on the ground. Those were two of the more impressive offensive seasons.

In the 1992 game that Wagoner referenced, when the 49ers scored a touchdown on six straight drives, Young led the 49ers to a 56-17 victory over the Atlanta Falcons. They scored eight offensive touchdowns in that game.

Of course, there have been numerous games in which the 49ers scored a lot of points. They scored 55 on Detroit in 1993, 52 on the Bears in 1991, and 51 on the Panthers in 2019, just to name a few. Some of those games included the defense doing some of the scoring.

And who could forget the 55 points (eight offensive touchdowns) they scored in Super Bowl XXIV? Or the 49 points (and seven offensive touchdowns) the 49ers scored in Super Bowl XXIX? Those were elite offenses.

So what is it that makes these offenses so great? Well, for starters, the scheme is fantastic. When you have play-callers and play-designers, like Walsh, Mariucci, and the Shanahan father-son duo, you should have some well-coached and well-schemed offenses. And when you have offenses that several other teams in the league start to run, as was the case with Walsh's offense, and now is the case with Shanahan's offense, it just shows you how effective that scheme is.

But the coaching and scheme is only part of it. You also need the players to make it click. Walsh had Montana, Roger Craig, Jerry Rice, John Taylor, Dwight Clark, and Brent Jones. George Seifert had Young, Rice, Taylor, Jones, and Ricky Watters.

Shanahan currently has Brock Purdy, Christian McCaffrey, George Kittle, Deebo Samuel, and Brandon Aiyuk. Each of those offensive players is at or near the top of the most productive players at his position. Having player-makers like that is critical, and when you combine the coaching/scheme and the right players for the scheme, you end up with a dynamic offense that is being compared to some of the best in franchise history.

McCaffrey is doing things that we rarely see running backs do. He's a mismatch, and Shanahan is using him like Walsh used Craig, and how his father used Watters. He's a threat as a running back and as a receiver.

According to Matt Maiocco, of NBC Sports Bay Area, "George Kittle has 445 catches for 5,989 yards since entering the NFL in 2017. He can become the fourth tight end in NFL history with at least 450 receptions and 6,000 receiving yards in his first seven career seasons, joining Antonio Gates, Jimmy Graham and Travis Kelce." That's an impressive stat. Not to mention the fact that Kittle either owns, or will soon own, every receiving record for a 49ers tight end.

Aiyuk is having, by far, his best season. In some games, he seems unguardable. And Samuel continues to be a threat to take over any game, much like he did in Philadelphia.

And with the latest surge in love that Purdy is receiving, we're even seeing comparisons to Montana. Rex Ryan said on ESPN's "Get Up" on Monday that when he sees Purdy play, he feels like he's watching Montana. Even the national media, which has a very slow learning curve, is starting to warm up to Purdy.

There have been some former 49ers who have jumped on the Purdy-Montana train. Two-time Super Bowl Champion, Darryl Pollard, was on the "Steiny and Guru" show on 95.7 The Game, a couple of months back. When the conversation turned to Purdy, Pollard said, "I'm in a group text with all the old DB's who watched the development of Joe (Montana) and this is exactly how Joe became who he became. Montana and Purdy are guys with a lot of skill, intelligence. Brock's a sponge, but he's not a know-it-all. Shanahan was forcing both Jimmy and Lance to play ahead of their game. Instead of mixing oil and vinegar, Kyle's now mixing sugar and water. The sweetness is what we're seeing with Brock Purdy."

Now, there are some massive differences between the days in which Montana played and now. When Montana played, you could massacre quarterbacks. Today, you can barely breathe on them. Not only that but how you're allowed to play receivers is different. In Montana's day, a corner could maul a receiver even if he didn't have the ball yet. Today, it's simply not like that. So receivers in 2023 have an easier time getting open.

But still, you can't ignore what Purdy is doing. And you can't overlook how the 2023 49ers offense is producing. This is an elite offense, being run by an elite play-caller who has elite players at his disposal.

Maiocco also reports, "Brock Purdy can become the fourth quarterback in NFL history to have a completion percentage of 70% or higher in seven consecutive games within a season in NFL history. He can join Pro Football Hall of Famer Joe Montana (eight consecutive games in 1989), Drew Brees (seven in 2016) and Sam Bradford (seven in 2016)." I'm not sure how Bradford got on this list, but other than him, Montana and Brees are great QBs to be listed alongside.

Here are some interesting numbers comparing what Montana did in his first full season as a starter, and what Purdy is doing in his first full season as the 49ers starting QB:

Joe Montana, 1981, 3rd season in the NFL

  • Started one game as a rookie (1979). It didn't go well, as Montana finished 5-12 for 36 yards. Started seven games in his second season (1980). He completed 64.5% of his passes and threw for 1,795 yards and 15 touchdowns. Montana also threw nine interceptions. His passer rating was 87.8.
  • In his breakthrough season of 1981, Montana led the 49ers to a 13-3 record, won the Super Bowl, was named Super Bowl MVP, runner-up for league MVP, third-place in Offensive Player of the Year, was second-team All-Pro, and made his first Pro Bowl.
  • In that championship season, which was Montana's first as the full-time starting QB, he passed for 3,565 yards, 19 touchdowns, 12 interceptions, and completed 63.7% of his passes. His passer rating was 88.4.

Even in that magical season, Montana had five games in which his completion percentage was under 60% and three games in which his QB rating was 61% or less. In one of those games, a loss to the Cleveland Browns, his passer rating was 51.0. Montana also had three games with two interceptions. Again, he played in a different era than Purdy does.

Brock Purdy, 2023, 2nd season in the NFL

  • If you count the Miami game, in which Purdy replaced Jimmy Garoppolo, the rookie QB finished the season 6-0.
  • As a rookie, Purdy completed 67% of his regular season passes and threw for 1,374 yards and 13 touchdowns. He had only four interceptions. His rookie passer rating was an outstanding 107.3. Montana didn't have a QB rating higher than Purdy's rookie rating until his 112.4 rating, in his 11th season, when he was NFL MVP, Offensive Player of the Year, First-team All-Pro, and Super Bowl MVP.
  • Montana entered his 1981 Super Bowl season with eight career starts. Purdy entered 2023 with five starts, plus the Miami game, and three postseason starts.
  • Through 12 games this season, Purdy has completed 70.2% of his passes, and thrown for 3,185 yards and 23 touchdowns, to go along with six interceptions. His current passer rating for the season is 116.1.

Yes, it's hard to compare players, or even teams, from different eras. And I'll stand by my assertion that Montana and Young played in a much more difficult time for quarterbacks. But they also played with Hall of Famers like Rice, Terrell Owens, and someday soon Craig. Though in 1981, Montana didn't have the kind of weapons he would have just a few years later.

You can't dismiss the fact that the 2023 49ers are one of the greatest 49ers offenses in history. And you can't ignore that the quarterback is playing at a level much like his Hall of Fame predecessors did in San Francisco. Now Purdy and his teammates just need to bring home a trophy of their own.
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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