49ers mailbag: Who does Brock Purdy remind you of? Where does SF rank in QB pressures?

Wait a second: How good is Brock Purdy exactly?

There appears to be a touch of hesitance among some 49ers fans to fully embrace the team’s quarterback — he remains undefeated in any game he’s started and finished — because his early success seems too good to be true. Is it real? Or perhaps there’s a contingent out there who aren’t ready to fully give their hearts to someone who’s started only nine regular-season games. (They’ve been burned before, after all).

Purdy leads this week’s mailbag, which has a lot of questions about San Francisco’s pass rush, about the cornerback situation and about George Kittle’s lack of touches. 

As always, thanks for your questions, some of which have been altered slightly for content and clarity.

Can you put into context how Purdy’s start as a 49er (nine regular-season starts) compares to other great starts to QBs careers? Is he benefiting from a historically great opportunity with a great 49ers team or are we seeing the beginning of a potentially special career? – Will L.

I think nine regular-season starts — plus two start-to-finish playoff games — is enough to declare that Purdy is no flash in the pan. He reminds me of Drew Brees — someone without eye-popping physical traits but whose mind seems to be working faster than everyone’s around him. Processing speed appears to be Purdy’s superpower and is something I wrote about in detail in February.

I don’t think we’ll know if the Brees comparison is a good one until he’s played at least a full season. But if that’s correct, then the 49ers have someone who, when paired with a strong play caller, ought to be special.

As for 49ers QB context, the best comparisons are good quarterbacks who took over really talented teams. Joe Montana, for example, got his first starts when the 49ers were just emerging from a late 1970s funk and were among the worst teams in the NFL. His record over his first nine starts: 2-7. Better comparisons: Steve Young was 7-2 in his first nine regular-season starts; Colin Kaepernick was 6-3 in his first nine. Purdy is 9–0.

At the quarter pole, who are the 49ers’ best All-Pro/Pro Bowl candidates? – Marvin F.

Here’s my Top 5:

  1. RB Christian McCaffrey. Duh.
  2. OT Trent Williams. He’s allowed no sacks and three pressures and the offense has been very left-leaning.
  3. QB Purdy. He leads the NFL in passer rating (115.1) and the NFC in completion percentage (72.3 percent).
  4. DT Javon Hargrave. His 17 QB pressures are tied for third in the NFC among interior linemen.
  5. LB Fred Warner. If I was granted the authority to create a clone army, I would use Warner as the archetype. We’d have a Death Star fully operational by Mother’s Day.

Should 49ers fans be worried about the low sack numbers? I get it that they are pressuring QBs at a high rate, but the NFL is a results league and the sacks haven’t been there, after a focus of the offseason was to improve on last year’s sack numbers. – Alex A.

Count me among the old-school codgers who think that sacks are better than pressures (You know, because of all the lost yardage, the opportunity for forced fumbles and the tendency for QBs to become skittish when they’ve been knocked around a bit).

Still, pressures are the next best thing, they are precursors to sacks and the 49ers are creating them at a higher rate than they were last season. That’s mainly due to their interior rushers. The team added Hargrave (17 pressures, 3 sacks) while Arik Armstead (11 pressures) and Javon Kinlaw (12 pressures) are far healthier than they were at this time last year. That’s 40 pressures and three sacks altogether.

Last year, the interior trio of Armstead, Kinlaw and Kevin Givens had 11 total pressures and one sack (Givens) through four games.

So which team leads the league in quarterback pressures? And where do the Niners rank? – Haider N.

The Seahawks. Here’s the 1-32 list, per PFF:

1. Seahawks 98
2. 49ers 97
3. Cowboys 95
T4. Lions 93
T4. Jets 93
T4. Ravens 93
7. Eagles 88
8. Packers 87
T9. Patriots 81
T9. Steelers 81
11. Commanders 77
12. Chiefs 76
T13. Chargers 75
T13. Saints 75
T15. Bills 73
T15. Bengals 73
T15. Buccaneers 73
T18. Dolphins 72
T18. Texans 72
20. Browns 71
21. Titans 69
22. Colts 68
23. Raiders 66
24. Rams 65
25. Falcons 63
26. Giants 59
T27. Bears 57
T27. Vikings 57
29. Jaguars 55
30. Cardinals 51
T31. Broncos 49
T31. Panthers 49

Given the extensive usage (touches), is Kyle Shanahan concerned about the durability of Christian McCaffrey and having him strong at the end of the season? – Keith N.

I recently noted to McCaffrey that his usage numbers — carries, snaps — were up around his 2018-19 levels in Carolina. His response: “Those were good years.”

Indeed. He finished with 1,098 rushing yards in 2018 and 1,387 yards (plus another 1,005 through the air) a year later. Which is to say, he’s accustomed to this load. Also noteworthy: His 47 snaps on Sunday were his fewest of the season and have been decreasing since his season-high 58 snaps in Week 1. 

What family secrets can Trey Lance give Dallas, and will he be released on Monday? – Jeff D.

I think Jeff D. might be alluding to the fact that the Cardinals released offseason 49ers offensive lineman Ilm Manning the day after they lost to the 49ers. I don’t think Lance will be treated as “ilm-ly” as Manning.

There’s a nice bit of intel Lance could share if asked. He not only knows the 49ers offense as well as any non-49er (except maybe No. 10 in Las Vegas) and he’s very close to Purdy. He’d have a lot of details on Purdy’s strengths and weaknesses, the plays he likes and the ones he’d rather avoid.

Could Trey Lance help the Cowboys understand some of the 49ers’ offensive tendencies? (Mitchell Leff / Getty Images)

Having said that, the Cowboys have faced the 49ers three times in the last three seasons and are familiar with how they operate. They also can learn Purdy’s strengths and weaknesses from watching his games. 

Meanwhile, Kyle Shanahan’s playbook is vast. The Cowboys might have a good idea about how Shanahan and Purdy will attack them, but the devil is in the details.

The 49ers have been looking for that talented No. 2 tight end for three years now. Have they found him? Thoughts inside the organization? – Annabelle P.

The team’s No. 2 tight end through four games has been Charlie Woerner. He’s been a strong blocker and is one of the special teams stalwarts. But he hasn’t caught a pass since Nov. 28, 2021.

The team obviously has high hopes for third-round draft pick Cameron Latu, but given that he’s on injured reserve for the season, we won’t see him in action again until 2024. 

You have to wonder what the 49ers would have done with all the draft picks they sent to Miami in 2021 so they could trade up for Lance. Their 2022 and 2023 first-rounders would have come at the end of the first round, a nice spot for grabbing a tight end. How good would this offense be with Sam LaPorta and George Kittle? 

Is Kittle OK with touching the ball less? – Jonathan K.

Is he OK with it? Yes. Would he much rather have 10 targets per game? Yes. Any competitive offensive player is going to want the ball in his hands as much as possible. (I tried to answer that exactly like Kittle might).

His lack of touches early on is a bit of a surprise considering how heavily he was used once Purdy became the starter last season. Kittle had five or more targets in all five of those regular-season starts and he scored an astounding seven touchdowns in that span. His single target on Sunday was the lowest number he’s ever had in a regular-season game. He had one target — a 19-yard reception — in the 2019 NFC Championship win over the Packers, a game the 49ers dominated on the ground so thoroughly they attempted just eight passes.

Given the offseason hype over him from within the building, do you see a role for Darrell Luter Jr. or will the missed time set him back to redshirt status? – Mike M.

Luter, the team’s fifth-round cornerback, is eligible to come off the PUP list this week, though there’s no indication it’s going to happen just yet. The 49ers are likely to start the process by opening up a three-week practice window at some point.

It’s hard to see Luter seeing much action at cornerback given that he missed training camp and the preseason with a knee injury. But there’s value in allowing him to get his feet wet so that he gets a running start in 2024. Perhaps he eventually becomes one of the team’s special teams gunners, a role that practice-squadder Kendall Sheffield had on Sunday. Sheffield played 11 end-of-game snaps on defense.

Any predictions for the late-season cornerback lineup? I wonder if Samuel Womack or Luter might push Ambry Thomas down the depth chart. Isaiah Oliver has been better of late, but his coverage skills in the slot still worry me. I’d like to see Womack get a shot somewhere. – Joe B.

For some reason, the Womack-at-nickel experiment ended last summer. He didn’t line up there at all this offseason despite all the tinkering at the position.

The plan at outside cornerback seems to involve veteran Anthony Brown, 29. He was inactive on Sunday as the 49ers are giving him time to A.) learn the defense B.) Continue to recover from his December Achilles tear.

If all goes well, the 49ers think they’ll have an experienced cornerback in reserve for the second half of the season. If they continue to experiment with Deommodore Lenoir at nickel cornerback, maybe it’s Brown, not Thomas, who enters the game on the outside from mid-November onward.

If that turns out to be the case, their timing will have been impeccable. Both the Cowboys (Brown’s former team) and the Bills suffered major injuries at cornerback after the 49ers initially acquired Brown.

Jake Moody has now had two kickoffs go out of bounds. Is he trying to do something that’s not working or just a bit of bad luck? – Simon A.

Well, he slipped on the SoFi Stadium turf while attempting a kickoff in Week 2. He didn’t appear to slip on Sunday’s miscue. But he’s been trying to kick directionally — to the near corner of the end zone — which creates an opportunity to tackle the returner inside the 25-yard line. Obviously, that’s easier said than done.

It’s an interesting topic given Sunday’s opponent. Special teams has been a big deal versus Dallas in the last two playoff matchups. Two seasons ago, the 49ers had a costly roughing-the-kicker penalty on a Cowboys punt deep inside Dallas territory and they also were victimized by a fake punt.

In last year’s playoffs, Ray-Ray McCloud fumbled on a kick return, which led to a Cowboys field goal. Later, the 49ers gave up a 44-yard kickoff return, which set the Cowboys up nicely on another drive that ended in a field goal. Take those mistakes away and the differentials — six points in 2021 and seven last season — wouldn’t have been as tight.

San Francisco lost the time-of-possession battle on Sunday. Are you worried that TOP could play a bigger factor this week? – Guy T.

No, it’s generally not something I worry about. Also, the 49ers have won the time-of-possession battle in their last two meetings with the Cowboys.

2021: The 49ers had more first downs, 21-20, and held the ball for 33:59

2022: The 49ers had more first downs, 21-15, and held the ball for 32:53

I’m curious why the team, which has been notoriously tight-lipped in the Shanahan era, often leaks pregame injury statuses before they need to be announced (e.g Adam Schefter reported that Brandon Aiyuk wouldn’t play on TNF well ahead of the game) – Steve H.

Sometimes the information comes from the player’s agent and not the team. And some national reporters are represented by the same agencies that represent the player. (It’s called: one hand washing the other). You didn’t ask, but I’m represented by Sally Weaver’s Dimstar Talent Agency, which operates out of Clearwater, Fla. I no longer do cruises.

(Top photo of Brock Purdy: Michael Owens / Getty Images)

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