Happy days are here again. The 49ers looked like themselves in more ways that one during a dominating performance on the road on Sunday.
Brock Purdy: A-
He scared the hell out of all of us on his first touchdown throw, but the fact that that was the rockiest play of the day tells you about the quality of Brock's performance.
Despite being under pressure on a staggering 50%(!) of his dropbacks, Purdy mostly protected the football and still managed to make big plays down the field - like this one.
To me, that was Brock's most impressive throw of the game - and of his 49ers tenure thus far. Pass rushers in his face, no room to complete his follow-through, and the ball is essentially in stride outside the numbers 35 yards down the field.
On Sunday, Purdy threw for a career-high 143 yards when pressured, going 8-of-12 with 2 touchdowns on those passes. Really high-level stuff from Brock. Kyle Shanahan said he played his ass off, and he was right.
Ground Game: B+
As usual, Christian McCaffrey did most of the heavy lifting here with 95 yards on 16 carries, but Deebo Samuel did chip in with a beautiful 23 yard reverse for a touchdown as well. As a team the 49ers ran the ball 30 times for 144 yards and almost 5 yards per carry against the league's 4th best rushing defense coming into the day.
It's hard to imagine Trent Williams alone making that much of a difference, but it sure seems like he was the key to opening up things on the ground in this one. Especially considering Aaron Banks missed the game with turf toe.
The 49ers did a good job of spreading the love in this one, and it led to a very balanced passing attack. George Kittle provided the big plays with 116 yards on just 3 catches (including a touchdown). Brandon Aiyuk continued to squeeze all the production out of every catch with more than 18 yards per reception on his three grabs. Deebo Samuel caught all four of his targets for 30 yards and CMC paced the team with 10 targets overall.
This passing attack is as balanced as balanced can be right now.
Defensive Line: A+
Sunday was exactly what we all expected the 49ers to be along the D-line when the season began. Everybody got into the action: Nick Bosa, Chase Young, Arik Armstead, Javon Hargrave, and Clelin Ferrell all notched at least half a sack. The 49ers sacked Trevor Lawrence five times - especially impressive considering Lawrence has excelled at getting the ball out of his hands quickly this season.
Bosa in paticular had the kind of game worthy of the reigning Defensive Player of the Year: 1.5 sacks, two quarterback hits, one tackle for loss, one pass defended, one forced fumble, and a fumble recovered. Rumor has it he also collected tickets and sold hot dogs during the game. Just a game-wrecking performance by Nick Bosa in this one.
Javon Hargrave also deserves credit for his best game as a 49er.
Add in two more QB hits and a half sack from Chase Young in his debut and the 49ers have the disruptive force along the defensive line that John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan dream about at night.
The first two snaps of this game were indicative of how the afternoon would go for this unit. Fred Warner pressured Trevor Lawrence into an incompletion on first down and then immediately brought down a receiver after a short gain on second down. Rangy plays and good tackling were the story of the day.
Dre Greenlaw looked like his old self again after 14 days to heal his beat up body. Greenlaw tied for the team lead in tackles with eight, including six by himself. Fred Warner also added his third interception of the year following immediate pressure from the previously-mentioned Javon Hargrave.
In the team huddle in the locker room following the game Warner told his teammates, "I think it's safe to say we learned our lesson. From here on out, it's one game. One game at a time. Let's go get it next week against Tampa."
Trevor Lawrence hasn't exactly been lighting up the scoreboard in 2023, but he looked especially bottled up on Sunday.
The 49ers allowed 162 passing yards on the day, but 24% of that total came on screen passes on Jacksonville's lone scoring drive of the day. In reality the Niners' DBs played much better than they have in the last month.
The most encouraging sign? Trevor Lawrence had to hold the ball far more than normal. Lawrence's average time to pass was 2.73 seconds on the day, which is nearly .2 more than his next slowest in a game this year. The secondary was not giving Lawrence easy answers off the snap of the ball, and that allowed the pass rush to get home like we're used to seeing.
Which brings me to...
Steve Wilks: A+
No one appears to have benefitted more from the week off than the 49ers' embattled defensive coordinator.
Beyond simply moving to the field, which Kyle Shanahan called, "one of the most overrated things in the world," the 49ers made a variety of other changes defensively that paid immediate dividends.
Most noticeable among them was the removal of Isaiah Oliver, who had been getting absolutely roasted during the three game losing streak. Instead, Ambry Thomas moved to the outside in the nickel, and Deommodore Lenoir hopped into the slot. Thomas still had his hiccups, but he also made what was the play of the year for the Niners before it was called back due to guys being on the field.
In addition to that substitution, the 49ers varied their coverages in the secondary and got back to their tried and true defensive formula. According to Nick Wagoner of ESPN, Wilks only blitzed on 8% of the Jags' dropbacks, but San Francisco still got pressure on 31% of those plays. The 49ers had previously blitzed on 23% of opponent dropbacks and achieved a 26% pressure rate.
TLDR version: The 49ers blitzed way less than normal but got more pressure than usual. That's a hell of a combination, and it's the way this team was designed to work defensively.
Let's hope Wilks has found the winning formula and continues to use it going forward.
Special Teams: B+
Nothing sexy here, but everyone did their job on the day.
Mitch Wishnowsky landed two more punts inside the 20 yard line (including one downed at the goal line), and Jake Moody was a perfect 6 for 6 on the day.
You could argue he was actually 8 for 8 on the day, because of a weird sequence that saw him have to kick a 35 yard field goal three times at the end of the first half. First, Doug Pederson used a late timeout that forced the 49ers to attempt the kick a second time. Moody's second attempt was then blown dead for what I think was a television timeout but was never made clear during the broadcast. Shanahan said after the game that the TV network tried to ice his kicker. Moody made that kick and then barely snuck in his third attempt to give San Francisco a 13-3 lead at halftime.
They haven't all been pretty, but Jake Moody has made 12 of his 13 total kicks since missing the game-winner in Cleveland in Week 6. He's bounced back about as well as he could have since that debacle.