The San Francisco 49ers have more weapons on offense than some teams would know what to do with. When you have George Kittle, Deebo Samuel, and Christian McCaffrey on the field at the same time, and Kyle Shanahan calling the plays, that’s a spicy meatball for any defense.
But with all those weapons, we may be giving Brandon Aiyuk short shrift. The fourth-year first-round pick from Arizona State has become a major factor — he leads the team in targets with 63, only Kittle (46) has more receptions than Aiyuk’s 45, he leads the team in receiving yards with 881, and he’s tied with Kittle for the team’s most touchdown receptions with five.
One of those touchdowns came against the Seattle Seahawks on Thanksgiving night, and it was a fascinating look into how well quarterback Brock Purdy is playing, and how solid his connection with Aiyuk is.
With 7:59 left in the fourth quarter, the 49ers had second-and-7 at the Seattle 28-yard line. At the snap, Purdy read the play from left to right against the Seahawks’ Cover-3 defense. The first read was to fullback Kyle Juszczyk to the left flat out of motion, the second was to Kittle on the deep post, and the third was to Aiyuk on a post that was affected by cornerback Devon Witherspoon.
The nuances of the play were impressive. Purdy ran short boot-action, drifting to his left, as he made the reads. The Seahawks showed a two-high look presnap, but dropped into single-high as safety Quandre Diggs came down to the second level, and linebacker Bobby Wagner dropped into coverage on Kittle. Diggs, Wagner, and safety Julian Love had Kittle boxed in, and Purdy saw that as he dropped to throw. So, the big pay was to Aiyuk, but Purdy had to wait that out, and he had to trust Aiyuk to be where the throw was before Aiyuk even bent the route — which is when he threw the ball.
Add in the fact that Purdy had to short-hop the throw because pressure was coming, and the fact that he hit Aiyuk right on the hands with Witherspoon and Love tightly converging was something else.
“I have all the confidence in the world in B.A.,” Purdy said a couple of days before San Francisco’s31-13 blowout win. “You watch the film, the separation that he creates, you get the ball in his hands, obviously the second gear that he has to pull away from DBs or whoever’s on the field. He does it all. And I think he’s just one of the most underrated receivers I think in the NFL. We have so many playmakers, like Kittle, McCaffrey, and Deebo , but B.A. and what he’s done in his production as a receiver, he’s got it. And so, I have all the confidence in the world in him and he’s always where he needs to be. As a quarterback, that’s all you could ask for.”
Purdy’s sense of anticipation — he already has a veteran’s understanding of how routes will break — has not been lost on his receivers. Aiyuk in particular has said that Purdy just understands what routes he’s going to run. That sounds simple, but if you watch enough bad quarterbacking, you’ll know that it isn’t.
“I know people say this all the time, but it’s just reps on reps,” Purdy said. Practice. It started out I think in camp for us when I got back it was just studying how B.A. runs, how he breaks in and out of breaks. He is different from Deebo, he is different from George. And so, sort of just taking note of that. And then B.A.’s just got length, man, he’s got range. And so, I know where he can get to and where I shouldn’t throw the ball and where he’s not going to be. And then obviously the games and stuff and the experience that we had last year together, we’ve built on that, I feel like. But, throwing with anticipation is huge for me. And so, he understands that. And when I let the ball go, he gets to where he needs to be, and we’ve made it happen.”
They’ve made it happen all season long, they made it happen against the Seahawks, and they’ll try to make it happen again on Sunday when the 8-3 49ers take on the 10-1 Philadelphia Eagles in what might be the game of the year so far.
In this week’s “Xs and Os with Greg Cosell and Doug Farrar,” the guys detail this play, and discuss Purdy’s maturation into a top-tier processor.
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