File this under “famous last words,” but at some point Brock Purdy’s luck is going to run out. Eventually, he has to regress to the mean. The bubble has to burst. The ship has to sail. The mistakes have to come. Right?
As the Dallas Cowboys prepare to take the field later Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers for their divisional round matchup, they have to feel good facing off against a rookie. Even a rookie that’s been pretty darn lights out.
Since taking the reins in Week 13, Purdy has put up an impressive stat line. He’s posted 1,374 yards through the air, completing 67.1 percent of his passes for 13 touchdowns and just four interceptions. He’s driven the 49ers offense to a No: 1 ranking in EPA (expected points added) and he’s gone undefeated doing it.
San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan, has a reputation for making things easy on his signal callers. He applies a run-heavy attack, uses motion to move defenders and to expose coverages and he designs plays that uncover receivers and make reads easy. Purdy is the latest beneficiary.
Mike McCarthy recently discussed how the Cowboys are scouting Purdy and none of it involves college tape. “He’s not a rookie anymore in our eyes,” McCarthy said. “You don’t see a young player making panicked decisions.”
While ignoring the strengths and weakness of Purdy’s scouting report aren’t advisable (or believable), the point has been made: Purdy is a legitimate NFL QB who’s more than capable of winning playoff games with this ultra-loaded 49ers squad.
The Purdy ascension
Purdy, literally the last player drafted in the 2022 NFL draft, hasn’t just out performed his draft status, but he’s take it to heights no one thought imaginable. But can he sustain such heights?
Various film studies show Purdy is a passer who takes what is given to him. He’s not sitting in the pocket progressing through reads, and attacking close windows. He’s following play design, which many times, is absolutely brilliant. Of Purdy’s 30 passes last week against Seattle, only two qualifies as tight coverage (per PFF, inside a yard of separation).
The 49ers are elite on early downs so when they do hand the controls off to their quarterback, he’s facing some pretty ideal circumstances (easy reads, open receivers, thinly populated secondaries).
But the numbers suggest Brock Purdy’s numbers might not be sustainable. They suggest some regression may be on the way and his level of competition he’s faced this season combined with his small sample size, could lead to a decline.
Cowboys Stats and Graphics pointed out a few interesting things from statistics desk:
Purdy is underwhelming on early downs, ranking 30 in completion percentage over expectation (CPOE).
Third downs are carrying the weight, placing him in the top-5 in CPOE on that all important drive-sustaining down.
Purdy exists on both sides of the spectrum and therefore is due for a regression in both directions (early downs should get better and third downs should get worse).
Historically speaking, the regression on third down is to a more significant degree; his overall performance is likely to fall back to earth.
Can the Cowboys expose the rookie?
While a regression seems unavoidable, there are no guarantees this regression will happen this week, in this game. The Cowboys can’t sit back and let mathematics take their course. They need to nudge it the right direction. This San Francisco team is too darn good to beat themselves.
The sample size of data is small but his CPOE is poor on short passes but excellent (+9.5%) on intermediate passes in the 5-15 yard range. Dan Quinn’s coverage scheme should keep this in mind.
Both teams are facing a new test. Purdy and the 49ers are facing the best offense-defense combination they’ve seen this season. This is also the case for Dallas in what they face vs San Francisco. Purdy is due for a regression; the only question is when will it happen.