Quarterbacks will be a big storyline in this Week 17 matchup between the Las Vegas Raiders and San Francisco 49ers. Brock Purdy has been lighting it up for the 49ers and the Raiders enter the game as huge home underdogs after the decision to bench Derek Carr, according to our friends at DraftKings Sportsbook.
For this week’s five questions with the enemy, I made sure to ask Tyler Austin from Niners Nation about the most relevant quarterback in the NFL over the last month, Mr. Irrelevant, as well as a few other questions to give Raider Nation a preview of the matchup.
Question: What’s the biggest difference in the 49ers’ offense with Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback and Brock Prudy?
Answer: I know this is going to sound a little crazy, especially if you’ve seen a picture of Brock Purdy, but what he’s brought to the quarterback position that Jimmy Garoppolo hasn’t during his time in San Francisco is another level of athleticism and deep ball accuracy that had been lacking for years. Now you might be saying, “Tyler, I didn’t ask you about Trey Lance,” and I’d respond by saying, “I said what I said.”
Trust me, this might actually be the most shocking development for a fan base of a team that’s already lost its starting quarterback back in Week 2. However, it’s the God’s honest truth and the tape will show it all day long (or the collection of Brock Purdy fancams I have saved on a secret hard drive).
Purdy’s ability to escape pressure, either the blitz or blown pass pro, has been like manna from heaven for an offense that rarely ever succeeded when the structure broke down. We’ve already seen it on multiple occasions from 2022’s Mr. Irrelevant. There was his swim move to shake a defender against the Bucs, his scramble-slide for a first down to help seal the win in Seattle, and his sidearm throw around a charging Commander D-lineman to complete an early pass.
The reality is Purdy was the Gatorade Athlete of the Year in Arizona for his senior season and his fleetness of foot revamped the Iowa State Cyclones' offensive attack from the moment he stepped on campus. Clearly, nobody expected it to translate this well to the NFL or he wouldn’t have been selected #262.
As for his down-the-field throwing, he’s looked nothing like the scouting reports that questioned his arm talent. The truest encapsulation that I’ve seen of just how different Purdy looks than Jimmy G is a stat surfaced by The Ringer’s Benjamin Solack.
Touchdown Passes Outside the Numbers, 20+ Yards Downfield
Jimmy Garopollo (last two seasons): 2
Brock Purdy (one quarter against the Bucs): 2
Kyle Shanahan has already lauded the young player for his aggressiveness and eagerness to look for deeper developing routes, and it’s paid massive dividends for one of the league’s best play designers. In fact, against the Commanders, Purdy put a ball in the end zone expecting Ray Ray McCloud to run under it, but George Kittle, also wide open, caught it instead. Not bad.
Ultimately, that’s what’s changed with Purdy under center, of course, the million-dollar question is can this all last?
Q: San Francisco traded for running back Christian McCaffery near the deadline, so can you tell us about how he fits into the offense and how he’s looked since coming over?
A: The phrase, “like a glove” comes to mind. I’d suggest that, besides the other-worldly play of the defense, Christian McCaffrey has been the single biggest contributing factor to this Niners’ winning streak by far. He’s been the missing puzzle piece that Kyle Shanahan’s searched for to complete his vision since he took the job back in 2017.
The reason for this is two-fold.
1). The Niners were in desperate need of running back help when they traded for CMC. Elijah Mitchell, the first stringer, sprained his MCL in Week 1’s monsoon game and missed nearly half the season. With the drop off from him to Jeff Wilson Jr. and to the rest of the running backs that it became clear to the front office that a change had to be made.
So much of Shanahan’s scheme relies on the run game featuring a speedy back to make quick, decisive cuts. When you don’t have a player who fits that bill, the whole thing can come crashing down in a hurry. Thankfully, McCaffrey solved this problem just by stepping on the field.
2.) Shanahan has toyed with the idea of positionless football for years now. Most successfully so with Deebo Samuel, of course, but he’d also signed Jerrick McKinnon with similar hopes of deploying the running back more as a Swiss Army Knife type weapon. Now, McCaffrey can line up in the backfield, the slot, or on the outside, and he’s equally likely to be the intended target for each and every play. This element has further unlocked the Niners’ offense, allowing it to reach new heights of efficiency.
Q: How do Dre Greenlaw and Fred Warner complement each other, and how do you think those two stack up against another great 49ers’ linebacker duo, Patrick Willis and Navarro Bowman?
A: To oversimplify this answer, I would say that Fred Warner’s strength as a linebacker comes from his ability to disrupt passing lanes and cover anyone an offense throws at him, while Dre Greenlaw’s strength comes from his hard-hitting, bruiser-bully mentality as a tackler. This isn’t to take anything away from Warner, who literally launched himself like a human missile to bring down a running back earlier this year, and I want to make that clear because I’d never want to be on his bad side. Mostly, it just speaks to how well these two complement each other as a duo.
As for how they stack up to their predecessors over the middle, I’d start by saying much like Willis, Warner has become an unquestioned leader in the locker room and on the field. His command as “the quarterback of the defense” seems unrivaled anywhere in the league today, and his communication keeps everything running like clockwork.
Bowman, similarly to Dre, delivered punishment on a down-by-down basis. So, to answer your ultimate question, and this might possibly be just from recency bias, I’ll give the edge to the linebackers of today, if only because the defense around them has to be the best in my lifetime and they’re as much responsible for that as anyone. (Also, I really don’t want Dre Greenlaw mad at me. Kyle Shanahan once compared his style of play to Mike Tyson.)
4. If you were Patrick Graham, the Raiders’ defensive coordinator, what would your strategy be for keeping Defensive Player of the Year favorite, Nick Bosa in check?
5. DraftKings Sportsbook has Las Vegas’ O/U set at just 15.5 points. How do you think the Raiders’ offense compares to the 49ers’ defense and building on that, would you take the over or under?
This number dropped to 15.5 when the news of Derek Carr’s benching broke on Wednesday morning, which, frankly, feels a little low. I guess the question is do I think the Raiders can score two touchdowns and a field goal? Honestly, I’d be surprised, but in the NFL, it just takes three plays of Davante Adams blowing by a flat-footed defender and you’re there.
As far as how these units stack up, I’ll point out that the Niners' D leads nearly every major statistical/analytical category that measures how good modern defenses can be, and the Raiders' offense doesn’t. Except for Carr who currently leads the world in interceptions.
I suppose with my life on the line I would take the under here, even though the uncertainty of Stidham is concerning and I’m morally opposed to taking unders.