Brock Purdy has a 126.7 passer rating on throws outside the numbers
If the 49ers offense feels different with Brock Purdy under center than it does with Jimmy Garoppolo, that’s because it is.
Purdy has been more willing than his predecessor to let it rip down the field and especially outside the numbers. For the most part, he’s been successful on those plays. He’s completing 72.3% of his passes and has an eight-to-one touchdown-to-interception ratio.
Overall, Purdy has just been great. He’s 0.01 better than Garoppolo in EPA per dropback, has a superior adjusted yards per attempt (8.55) mark and has even added far more EPA per scramble. I don’t think Purdy can be fairly categorized as a caretaker.
Now, if Purdy has a stumbling moment at some point during the postseason, it won’t be some out-of-nowhere event. This guy was the last pick in the 2022 draft. But nothing about how he has played thus far would indicate it’s coming. There isn’t a piece of the matchup data with Seattle that would suggest this will be the moment.
The 49ers are outright loaded. Just about everything is on their side when it comes to making a Super Bowl push. The only way the train slows down is if Purdy fumbles the bag. Maybe he does but I won’t be betting on it.
Kenneth Walker III went over 100 yards in last three games
The entire Seahawks offense slowed down in the second half of the season. Geno Smith regressed to near the league average after being one of the most efficient passers in the game to start. There’s no shame in that and he should still be their 2023 starter but it’s just the truth.
The running game also got stuck in the mud. Kenneth Walker III started hot, then slumped prior to getting injured. He took a while to get back on track but eventually got going with 354 yards (4.5 per carry) over the course of Weeks 16 to 18. The Seahawks went 2-1 in that span.
The passing game likely remains the key to Seattle’s offense reaching its ceiling but the run game can help keep them out of bad down and distance. Walker playing well can keep them on schedule.
A matchup with the 49ers isn’t the cleanest spot to keep the good times rolling on the ground.
Only one running back went over 60 rushing yards on the 49ers all season. It was Josh Jacobs and it took overtime in Week 17 to get there.
If Walker is able to break the mold against San Francisco, that would go a long way to Seattle pulling an upset. Based on all the data available, that would be a huge upset. Walker and the Seahawks are facing an uphill battle running into the teeth of this defense.
Austin Ekeler has the second-most catches (29) among all players when his QB is pressured
With Mike Williams out for Saturday, Austin Ekeler will come into big focus as a primary receiving factor. He’s always a big part of the passing game, but almost all of his receiver stats go up when Williams and/or Keenan Allen miss time. No shock there.
The Jaguars have been a good situational blitzing team of late. Since Week 10, Jacksonville allowed the seventh-lowest yards per pass against the blitz with a 58.6% completion rate. They have the fourth-highest pressure rate overall in that span.
The lack of quality pass protection for Justin Herbert has been a big issue for Los Angeles all season. The Chargers activated Rashawn Slater but he won’t be able to play until next week, at the earliest.
If the Jags' underrated defense can heat-up Herbert in this game, expect Ekeler to catch a lot of passes. And as Austin has told us himself all season on “Ekeler’s Edge,” him catching a ton of non-red zone passes isn’t always the best thing for the overall health of the offense.
The Chargers have allowed the fourth-fewest catches to slot receivers
Despite all the post-free agency jokes, Christian Kirk has been a key cog for the Jaguars' offense this year. He was the most productive player in the passing game against Tennessee to lift Jacksonville into the playoffs and finished as a top-12 fantasy receiver.
Another one of their big free agent signings, tight end Evan Engram also saw 40% of his targets from the slot. He ended up being a revelation for this offense, especially down the stretch.
The Chargers have the horses to stick with these two pass catchers. They’ve allowed the third-fewest yards to slot players overall and have Derwin James coming back this week. James splits his time between deep safety, box defender and slot corner. He’s a huge factor in erasing these middle-of-the-field mavens.
If Engram and especially Kirk aren’t able to get rolling in this matchup, there’s always Zay Jones. However, Brandon Staley’s been great at muddying the waters for throws outside the numbers late in the season with physical press play from his corners.
It’s chalk to say this against the Chargers but this really needs to be a big Travis Etienne night. The ascending young back is coming off one of his worst games last week but L.A. still gives up steady-sized chunks on the ground. If he can get rolling, then you’re only asking Trevor Lawrence to pick his spots against this defense, not shoulder the burden of an extreme pass rate.
The Dolphins averaged 5.1 yards per rush in Week 18
It’s sad that the Dolphins have to enter the playoffs with their quarterback room in this state but, here we are.
If they have any chance of upsetting the Bills in Buffalo they’ll need to put up a dominant rushing performance. Luckily, they’re coming off just such a game in Week 18. However, there are two problems.
There have been times over the last three years when the Bills' run defense has been leaky; not so much this year. Buffalo ranks fourth in rushing EPA allowed on the season and third since Week 10.
The Bills did give up some big plays on the ground to Miami last time they played but now don’t have to worry about RPOs or any of that trickery with Tua Tagovailoa unavailable.
Also, Raheem Mostert didn’t practice most of this week with an injury he sustained in Week 18. Mostert might be their best back overall but there’s no question he’s their best home-run hitter.
In theory, the Dolphins' passing game should be quarterback-proof with how well it’s schemed up and the players in the receivers room. So far, that hasn’t played out. So the run game will need to step up and answer the call here with Skylar Thompson under center again. Jeff Wilson is going to need to have the game of his life if Mostert doesn’t play. This is a difficult spot for Miami unless it can just run all over this Bills team 37 to 43 times on Sunday.
Josh Allen has a 5.5% sack rate this season
I would say there are six extreme scramble threats at quarterback in the NFL right now. Justin Fields, Josh Allen, Daniel Jones, Patrick Mahomes and Jalen Hurts all have 40-plus scrambles this season. Obviously, we’d put Lamar Jackson (26) in this group, he just hasn’t played as much as the others.
Mahomes and Allen are the only ones with a sack rate below 7.0%. They’re avoiding big mistakes in the pocket while creating offense for their teams that otherwise wouldn’t be on the table. Mahomes is at an absurd 3.9% sack rate. He’s not real. However, Allen’s low 5.5% mark shows the growth he’s made as a player.
Allen has been rightly criticized for putting the ball in harm’s way through the air this season. He deserves equal amounts of credit for avoiding catastrophic losses in the sack game, though. Especially when you consider how much he creates out of structure. As long as he avoids any mistakes against Miami, the Bills should be able to get out of this wild-card round pretty smoothly.
The Giants have 285 blitzing dropbacks this season, most in the NFL
That’s over 30 more than the second-highest team. The Giants are essentially almost a full game’s worth of blitzing ahead of anyone else. This is in an era when just about everyone is dialing back their extra pressure package rate.
There isn’t a tiger that refuses to change his stripes quite like defensive coordinator Wink Martindale. But all the credit to the longtime man of aggression, the Giants' defense has over-performed their personnel for large chunks of the season.
Kirk Cousins was hit more than any other quarterback this season (131). We know the book on Cousins. If you can rattle him and get it done early, you can send the game in a direction unpleasant for the Vikings. Their major losses to other contenders like the Cowboys and Packers are the proof. If the Giants pull off this upset, it’s probably because Wink and Co. dialed up the heat on defense.
Daniel Jones was 11th in EPA per dropback on the season
Not much to add here other than to say Daniel Jones has legitimately executed this offense quite well. Despite the strikingly weak receiver room and some holes on the offensive line, Jones has given the Giants his most efficient season by far.
The last time Jones played these Vikings he dialed them up for 334 yards and completed 71% of his passes. That was merely his work through the air.
Minnesota’s defense has been a weak point all year. There have been many calls for the Vikings to abandon their soft-zone ways and play more man coverage. You just can’t do that against the Giants. While it’s tempting to man up on these receivers, Jones can fillet you with his legs if your secondary players turn their backs to him.
The Ravens rank third-best in EPA per play allowed since the Roquan Smith trade
The Ravens' defense has turned back the clock and looks like one of their ferocious units of old since acquiring Roquan Smith from the Bears. Baltimore awarded him with a massive contract extension heading into the playoffs.
There is no doubt Smith is a great player and has improved the play of the defense with his own output and elevated those around him — you can see it on film. Still, it’s worth noting Baltimore hasn’t exactly faced the stiffest competition since the trade deadline.
The full-strength, playoff Bengals will easily be their most difficult test.
Joe Burrow and Co. have captained the eighth-best offense in EPA per play since Week 10. The receivers are all healthy and flying. The Bengals' run game is a weaker point of the offense, no question, and Smith can give them trouble there. However, unless they can slow down the perimeter passing attack and hold the Bengals to under 20 points, this is going to be a long day for the Ravens.
J.K. Dobbins is averaging 6.96 yards per carry since Week 14
That’s great. J.K. Dobbins hasn’t even looked fully healthy through that entire stretch and he’s still been one of the most efficient runners in the league.
Unfortunately, the Ravens have gone 2-2 and have averaged 12.3 points per game in that span thanks to the state of their passing game.
My thought was Dobbins is going to have to take over this game if the Ravens have any hopes of hanging with the Bengals' offense — even assuming their defense gets the job done. This shows just how hard it is for a back to truly take over the game when he doesn’t get featured-level carries and doesn’t have a role in the receiving game.
Maybe we see a different usage plan for Dobbins after he was rested in Week 18 but with Gus Edwards on track to play, I’d be surprised.
CeeDee Lamb has 2.98 yards per route run on third and fourth down since Week 10
If you can slow down CeeDee Lamb, you can put the Cowboys' offense in a bind. Nice idea in theory. Teams haven’t been able to pull it off.
Lamb has taken the leap to ranking, at worst, right at the top of the Tier 2 receivers in the NFL. He’s been absolutely fantastic on money downs this season. When Dak Prescott needs a first down, he’s looking for 88. And 88 is delivering.
It’s difficult to truly take away Lamb for the entire game. His role as a slot and pre-snap motion receiver makes it hard for teams to dedicate true double teams his way. You can’t deploy cloud coverages his way like you can for pure boundary receivers. Making sure your inside and outside leverages are covered is a chore. Even when you do get the coverage right, Lamb is such a detailed technician he can make you wrong anyway as a route-runner.
The Bucs' defense hasn’t been up to its old standard this year but for all his flaws as a game manager, Todd Bowles is still capable of pitching a heater at any time. If he finds a way to force Prescott and the passing game to run through the boundary receivers, Dallas will get upset in Round 1. Easier said than done.
The Cowboys have the second-most pressures since Week 10
Dallas has also played Cover-1 at the second-highest rate in that span. Dan Quinn deserves a ton of credit for the fluidity of his defenses. Once a pure Cover-3 artist in his Seattle and Atlanta days, the coach has remade his Dallas unit into a group that alternates between man and Cover-2 looks.
Dallas can get away with those Cover-1 packages because its pass rush is so ferocious. Tom Brady has struggled to hang in the pocket all year. He has the fastest time to throw of any full-season starter.
If the Cowboys can get quick pressure on Brady they can play with fire in Cover-1 and get away with it. If they don’t get home, we’ve seen what can happen when you have to roll out backup cornerbacks — as Dallas is right now — against Mike Evans’ go routes. If he doesn’t have his internal clock rolling, Brady can still cut you up.
Taking that risk might be preferable to going down the Cover-2 route. I can’t imagine how eager Brady will be to pummel Chris Godwin on quick in-breakers if the Cowboys choose that adventure.
The Cowboys' pass rush has to show up here. There is no other path to victory. If they don’t Brady will go to work on that No. 2 corner spot. Quinn and co. can’t allow that matchup to become what dictates the game.