49ers Minutia Minute: Brandon Aiyuk’s Improved Condition to Watch in 2022

There’s no saying the 49ers aren’t rested for the playoffs.

In Week 18 of last season, their starters played four quarters and nearly one full overtime before defeating the Rams. At the beginning of the fourth quarter on Sunday, almost all the starters watched from the sidelines. Only three players were involved in 100 percent of their unit’s snaps.

Yes, their Saturday afternoon playoff game means the 49ers have a short week to prepare for the Seahawks. But if they win, they have at least one more rest day than their preliminary round opponent and don’t have to travel.

The 49ers played 52 snaps in defense against the Cardinals, the third fewest of the season (46 vs. Miami in Week 13; 49 vs. Seattle in Week 2). They played 62 on offense.

Here’s how the individual snaps broke down in the regular-season finale:

Quarterbacks: Brock Purdy 51, Josh Johnson 11

Purdy’s biggest mistake against the Cardinals was perhaps the 17-yard sack he suffered third in the first quarter. Kyle Shanahan wanted him to throw the ball away.

“Throw it out with your left hand β€” anything,” the 49ers head coach said after the game.

Shanahan softened his stance Monday after watching the feature film. Purdy was flushed first by JJ Watt, who had monster play in his NFL swan song, and then chased by linebacker Isaiah Simmons, who ran a 4.39-second, 40-yard dash before the 2020 draft. Purdy is fast, but not that fast.

“Simmons has a pretty good 49, and he sneaked up on him pretty quickly (while rolling left),” Shanahan said. “I think he was very well aware that he wasn’t supposed to take a sack there, but it wasn’t the easiest of situations for him either when (Simmons) chased him and ran to the left right there.”

With the win, Purdy became the first rookie quarterback in 49ers history to win his first five NFL starts. A win on Saturday will see him tie former Steelers quarterback Mike Kruczek for the second-most straight wins to start a rookie season. Another Steeler, Ben Roethlisberger, has the most consecutive wins to start a rookie season – 13.

Brock Purdy remains undefeated as the 49ers’ starting QB. (Cary Edmondson / USA today)

Previous race: Christian McCaffrey 30, Kyle Juszczyk (back) 27, Jordan Mason 14, Elijah Mitchell 10, Tyrion Davis-Price 8, Deebo Samuel 3

McCaffrey, who had accumulated plenty of playing time in the last five competitions, was the first starter to come out of Sunday’s game. His last snap came at 10:23 to play in the third quarter. The only week he played less this season was in Week 7 (23 snaps) when he had just arrived in Santa Clara and was unfamiliar with offense. It is worth noting that McCaffrey had two seasons cut short through injury but has featured in all 17 games this season.

McCaffrey’s offense snaps

2017: 746
2018: 966
2019: 1039
2020: 171
2021: 272
2022: 777

wide receiver: Brandon Aiyuk 45, Samuel 39, Jauan Jennings 26, Danny Gray 17, Ray-Ray McCloud III 12

Consider Aiyuk’s plight in 2022. He spent the offseason doing a report with Trey Lance, the heir apparent at quarterback. He then had to abruptly switch to Jimmy Garoppolo when Lance was injured in week 2. Then he had to try to build chemistry with a rookie quarterback, Purdy, who was severely limited in practice early in his tenure due to a strained oblique injury.

Aiyuk was ultra-consistent despite the uproar. In fact, you could say he’s in the midst of his best part of the season. Before Purdy took over, Aiyuk was receiving an average of 63.5 yards per game. Over the past three weeks, that average has been 80.3 yards. He had 59 yards on Sunday despite sitting out the fourth quarter.

Aiyuk’s conditioning also deserves attention. Not only has he started all 17 games, he’s rarely had to come out of a match because he’s out of breath. Eight times this season he played 95 percent or more of the team’s offensive snaps. A year ago he only had one game where he played 95 percent or more of the snaps.

Short end: George Kittle 44, Tyler Kroft 23, Charlie Worner 12

Kittle is a great receipt tight end, but he doesn’t score many touchdowns. That was a criticism of Kittle’s first five seasons, when his season high in that category was six. He led the team with 11 touchdowns that year and had two touchdown games in three of the last four weeks.

Kansas City’s Travis Kelce narrowly led this season with 12 touchdown catches. Second highest after Kittle were New Orleans’ Juwan Johnson and Chicago’s Cole Kmet, each scoring seven points.

Kittle’s 11 touchdowns was the third most for a tight end in franchise history. Vernon Davis finished 2009 and 2013 at 13.

Offensive line: Spencer Burford 62 Daniel Brunskill 62 Jake Brendel 51 Mike McGlinchey 51 Trent Williams 45 Jaylon Moore 17 Colton McKivitz 11 Nick Zakelj 11

Burford was the only offensive player to play 100 percent of his snaps from where he started the game, right guard. Brunskill started at left flank, then switched to center in the fourth quarter.

Zakelj replaced Brunskill at left flank and his 11 snaps was a career high. He was previously snapped at the team’s Week 5 blowout in Carolina. He would also have been the ER if both Brendel and Brunskill were injured. McKivitz also got some snaps down the middle leading up to the Cardinals’ game.

It’s interesting that Moore was Williams’ replacement at left tackle. He was the backup there early last season and then lost the spot to McKivitz at the end of the year. McKivitz replaced McGlinchey – a free agent in March – in a proper tackle on Sunday.

line of defense: Charles Omenihu 35, Samson Ebukam 28, Jordan Willis 26, Nick Bosa 25, Javon Kinlaw 22, Arik Armstead 22, Michael Dwumfour 18, Kerry Hyder Jr 16, TY McGill 16

Bosa led the league in sacks and quarterback hits, but Dallas linebacker Micah Parsons passed him in quarterback pressure Sunday. Notably, Parsons, Bosa’s closest competitor for NFL Defensive Player of the Year, played 46 snaps in his final against 25 for Bosa. Parsons also played in all 17 games that season, while Bosa missed a game and a half with a groin injury.

Drake Jackson has been a healthy scratch in two of the last three games. With Armstead and Kinlaw struggling with a locker room bug – both questionable for the game – the team looked to return to defensive tackles.

Also, Willis is more valuable than Jackson on special teams and logged 14 special team snaps on Sunday. Willis was the 49ers’ top-rated defenseman by Pro Football Focus, finishing with three tackles, a sack and a forced fumble.

Linebacker: Azeez Al Shair (48), Fred Warner (35), Oren Burks (25).

The 49ers were reduced to two linebackers for a stretch of Sunday’s game. Dre Greenlaw missed the competition with a back strain. Shanahan said Greenlaw will “hopefully” return to training sometime later in the week.

Meanwhile, Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles missed most of the game with a neck injury and has been in it day in and day out this week. Al-Shair sat out four snaps with what appeared to be a left leg injury but returned to the game. The team has two linebackers it could promote off the practice team, Curtis Robinson and rookie Marcelino McCrary-Ball.

Warner had eight tackles against the Cardinals, allowing him to pass Greenlaw for the team lead. The final record: Warner 130, Greenlaw 127


Fred Warner played long enough on Sunday to pass Dre Greenlaw for the team lead in tackles. (Darren Yamashita / USA Today)

cornerback: Deommodore Lenoir 52, Jimmie Ward 40, Charvarius Ward 35, Janoris Jenkins 17, Samuel Womack III 8

The good news: Lenoir has only allowed one passing touchdown this season. The bad thing: There was another game on Sunday in which he was teased by the opponent.

Lenoir was targeted eight times, allowing six catches for 93 yards. Obviously, the biggest came on the opening drive, as AJ Green snagged a jump ball, dodged a poor tackle by Tashaun Gipson Sr., and then brought Lenoir down stiff-armed on his way to the endzone.

Yes, there was a well-placed arm on Lenoir’s back as Green jumped for the ball. But it’s the second time in two games that Lenoir was in good position against a tall, experienced receiver but couldn’t make a game. In the past five weeks, he’s been tackled 35 times and given up 25 catches for 312 yards.

Jenkins, a practice team member, was elevated for the game and was the best replacement for the outside cornerback. Ambry Thomas missed the game after sustaining an existing ankle injury, Shanahan said.

Security: Talanoa Hufanga 44, Gipson 44, George Odum 8, Tarvarius Moore 8

Gipson’s two interceptions allowed him to overtake Hufanga for the team title in that category, five to four. Hufanga still led the team with takeaways due to his two forced fumbles. Gipson had none this season.

Gipson’s 141 interception return yards are the most for a 49er since safety Tony Parrish had 202 yards in 2003.

Special teams: Woerner 24, Kroft 21, Odum 20, Burks 20, Womack 19, Mason 18, Tarvarius Moore 16, Willis 14, Jenkins 13, Gould 13, Mitch Wishnowsky 11, Taybor Pepper 11, Brunskill 6, Jaylon Moore 6, McKivitz 6, Burford 6, Zakelj 6, Brendel 6, McCloud 6, Al-Shaair 5, Hyder 5, Juszczyk 4, Hufanga 4, Flannigan-Fowles 4, Davis-Price 4, Jimmie Ward 3, McGill 2, Gray 2, Warner 2, Ebukam 2 , Lenoir 2, Omenihu 2, Gipson 2, Charvarius Ward 1

Odum had two special teams tackles on Sunday and led the league in that category with 21. Flannigan-Fowles placed fourth at 15.

McCloud’s 10.8-yard punt return average ranked fourth in the NFL among returners with 20 or more attempts. To put that in perspective, last year’s top returner Aiyuk averaged 7.2 yards per return. McCloud’s 23-yard kick return average ranked 11th among returns with 20 or more attempts.

Woerner’s tight end snaps fell when Kroft returned to the lineup midseason, but Woerner led the 49ers in special team snaps with 371.

(Top Photo by Brandon Aiyuk: Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

https://theathletic.com/4073942/2023/01/09/49ers-snap-counts-brandon-aiyuk/ 49ers Minutia Minute: Brandon Aiyuk’s Improved Condition to Watch in 2022

Russell Falcon

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