The San Francisco 49ers season opening performance against Pittsburgh was dominating.
Brock Purdy silenced his offseason critics. The second-year quarterback showed the anticipation that helped him lead the 49ers to the NFC championship game in 2022. He also answered the questions about the strength of his surgically repaired throwing arm.
Christian McCaffrey and the 49ers rushing attack ripped off several plays of five yards or more.
On the defensive side, new defensive coordinator Steve Wilks has his group ready to play. A rejuvenated pash rush coupled with a strong run defense held Pittsburgh to five consecutive three and outs to start the game. By the time the Steelers offense managed to get a first down the 49ers were up by 20 points.
After reviewing the coach’s film, here are the plays I found key to Sunday’s victory.
Brock Purdy’s anticipation
The ability to see the field and throw with anticipation is one of Brock Purdy’s greatest assets. Time and time again, the 49ers quarterback gets the ball out of his hands quickly to the receiver before he’s become open.
In the example below, Purdy is reading the Steelers linebacker (54). He uses his eyes to move the defender, and as soon as the linebacker opens his hips to the sideline Purdy rips a throw into the open hole to Deebo Samuel for a gain of 22.
Brock Purdy’s arm strength
Purdy’s arm strength has been a topic of conversation throughout the offseason. since the beginning of training camp. His touchdown throw to Brandon Aiyuk in the second quarter should put that discussion to rest.
Facing second and 12 from the 19, Purdy threw a dart to Brandon Aiyuk for their second touchdown of the day.
What makes Purdy’s throw impressive is his ability to throw it on a line twenty yards downfield from the opposite hash to the right sideline. The deep 20-yard out is a throw which shows how strong a quarterback’s arm is.
Although Aiyuk isn’t running an out route on this play, the throw from Purdy to hit the back shoulder here is similar.
Teamwork leads to touchdown for Christian McCaffrey
When Christian McCaffrey broke free on the second play after halftime, it took some help from his teammates to turn it into a 65-yard touchdown.
On a zone run to the left side, Purdy breaks through the hole and spins free. As he begins to get up the field, wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk delivers a devastating block on a Steelers defensive back to spring McCaffrey down the sideline. Another receiver, Ray-Ray McCloud comes from the other side of the field to deliver another block, allowing McCaffrey to reach the endzone.
While many prefer deep passes, there is something about the teamwork involved in making a big run happen that makes it the most exciting play in football.
San Francisco’s run defense was a concern following lackluster performances during the preseason. However, with the starters all back on the field and a game plan to work with they took care of business at the point of attack.
Free agent acquisition Clelin Ferrell had a solid training camp. One of his biggest strengths was his ability to set the edge. This showed up on the Steelers first possession of the game. Pittsburgh tries to run a jet sweep at Ferrell who shoots up field and nearly gets the tackle for a big loss. Although he doesn’t bring the runner down, Ferrell holds on long enough to allow his teammates to come over and finish the play.
On the following Steelers possession Fred Warner shoots the gap, levelling Steelers running back Najee Harris for a loss.
While the tackle from Warner is terrific, this play is set up by Javon Kinlaw. The defensive tackle eats up two Steelers offensive linemen which opens the lane for Warner to make the stop.