SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Three days after their 19-12 win over the Cowboys, the 49ers continued to note how fast, physical and aggressive the Dallas defense was — and how it served as the perfect warm-up for the defense they faced Sunday will face in Philadelphia.
“I thought it would be a good game to have, work through and learn from,” said quarterback Brock Purdy, who had at least two touchdown passes in his first seven games but none against the Cowboys.
Every defense Purdy has faced this season has crowded the line of scrimmage to stop the 49ers’ running play and challenged the rookie quarterback to hit them over the top. He’s mostly committed, though the Cowboys were better than most at stopping phases of offense, particularly in the first half. Dallas seemed particularly keen to eliminate the runs in the outside zone, which are a cornerstone of the 49ers’ fast attack.
“Early on in the game, their linebackers were flying downhill more than usual,” noted guard Daniel Brunskill. “They overdubbed the runs but then still put in collateral to cover the back. They presented many challenges.”
Challenges are, of course, the theme of Purdy’s brief career. He was like the hero of a Greek epic who has to overcome another in every chapter. He got his first start with the NFL’s most experienced quarterback, Tom Brady, on the opposite touchline. His first away game was in famously rough Seattle, where the division title was at stake.
Kyle Shanahan recalls thinking the game against the Seahawks was particularly well-timed since it would give Purdy and his relatively inexperienced offensive line practice in using silent counts should they have to go to Philadelphia sometime in the playoffs.
“That was huge,” Shanahan said. “That was really the first game all year that (the silent count) mattered that much. And Brock had no experience with it.”
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Purdy was also struggling with a significant slanting load at the time — also tick “injury play” from his list of challenges — yet still finished the game for 217 yards and two touchdowns in a 21-13 win. He and the offensive line weren’t flawless in the noise of Lumen Field, but they also didn’t buckle like other offensive players.
“They got a few bounces off the ball that we didn’t want,” center Jake Brendel said. “That’s sort of the whole home field advantage for the defensive line – you have to keep silent (count). You have to go on pace, cadence.”
Purdy said practicing his cadence is just as important as his passing before what promises to be a roaring, ravenous crowd in Philadelphia on Sunday.
“It’s definitely a big focus of this week’s training – the little things, the details of communication and being to the point,” he said. “And that starts with the cadence. It’s going to be huge for us.”
As for the Eagles defense, only one defense has conceded fewer yards per game this season — the 49ers. San Francisco offensive players said the Eagles have just as much talent as the Cowboys, but that their styles are different.
The Cowboys were aggressive and used their speed to try to create disruptions and negative plays. Another reason the 49ers struggled with outside runs was because Dallas defensive ends — Micah Parsons and DeMarcus Lawrence — were fast enough to affect the game, sometimes when chasing from the back.
The Eagles’ defenders are slightly taller and play a more patchy style that forces an offense to advance the ball piecemeal.
“The Cowboys are trying to penetrate and cause havoc while the Eagles tend to bend but not break,” Brunskill said. “They try to play their gap, they try to play good football, they try to hold the gap defense and make you earn your way down.”
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Philadelphia is also one of the many teams using a system inspired by former 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, one that favors five-man fronts and even has a five-man nickel front (Fangio works in this season as a defensive adviser for the Eagles). It’s a style credited with slowing down attacks and shutting down league-wide scoring early in the season, but one the 49ers are familiar with having played (twice) the Broncos, Chargers and Rams. The Seahawks also use elements of this system.
Brendel noted that while the Eagles are slightly stronger than the Cowboys, that certainly doesn’t mean they are slow.
“You don’t get 70 sacks without speed,” he said. “That’s obvious. We definitely have a good plan for them. We just have to execute.”
Odds & Ends
• Speaking before practice, Shanahan said three of his top playmakers – running back Christian McCaffrey (calf), receiver Deebo Samuel (ankle) and running back Elijah Mitchell (groin) – would miss the session, but that all three are playing would in Philadelphia. However, once the training began, Samuel put his fellow athletes through their paces. Ahead of practice, Samuel said he was only struggling with “soreness” and was fine for the game.
Also included in practice was cornerback Ambry Thomas, who missed the last three games with a sprained ankle. Thomas and Samuel were listed as limited participants. Left tackle Trent Williams got a day off.
Reports of no training for Deebo Samuel have been greatly exaggerated. The WR and his sore ankle looked fine at the start of practice. pic.twitter.com/A3El7gFIeM
— Matt Barrows (@mattbarrows) January 25, 2023
• The 49ers began practice with a fiddly drill, which seems appropriate given Sunday’s venue. In 2011, the 49ers upset the Eagles, thanks in large part to a forced fumble from defenseman Justin Smith — he hounded receiver Jeremy Maclin at the game — that the 49ers were able to contain and collect on the sidelines.
Auxiliary exercise – appropriate given the history of the 49ers in Philadelphia. Note that Ambry Thomas (ankle) is back in training. pic.twitter.com/fai4fLqsy7
— Matt Barrows (@mattbarrows) January 25, 2023
• Purdy is in contention for the Associated Press Rookie of the Year Award along with Jets wide receiver Garrett Wilson and Seahawks running back Kenneth Walker III. The other two had a lead over the 49ers quarterback, who didn’t make his first start until December 11.
“I know other guys have been playing all season,” George Kittle said earlier this month. “But for a rookie quarterback to come in and play like he did — that’s pretty special. And I really don’t know anyone who has played at the level he has played at.”
A statewide panel of 50 members of the media who regularly report on the NFL completed voting ahead of the start of the postseason, meaning Purdy’s two playoff wins weren’t accounted for. Winners will be announced at the NFL Honors Show on February 9th.
The 49er with the best shot for an end-of-season honor could be Bosa, who is a finalist for Defensive Player of the Year along with Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones and Dallas Cowboys edge rusher Micah Parsons.
Running back Christian McCaffrey, who missed ten games last season with hamstring and ankle injuries, is a nominee for comeback player of the year along with Giants running back Saquon Barkley and Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith.
Shanahan competes with the Jaguars’ Doug Pederson and the Giants’ Brian Daboll for Coach of the Year. Pederson and Daboll led their teams to record wins in their first seasons as head coaches, while Shanahan’s 49ers have not lost a game since Oct. 23, despite losing their top two quarterbacks to injuries.
Finally, defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans, Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson, and Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen are finalists for Assistant Coach of the Year. Ryans is a top candidate to become head coach in 2023 as all five teams with vacancies have interviewed him for their position.
• The Washington Commanders have asked to interview 49ers assistant head coach/running backs coach Anthony Lynn for her vacant position as offensive coordinator.
(Photo by Brock Purdy: Christopher Mast / Getty Images)
https://theathletic.com/4126094/2023/01/25/brock-purdy-49ers-eagles-silent-count/ The 49ers are hoping Brock Purdy’s silent count experience in Seattle will help in rough Philadelphia