To break down Sunday’s game, SB Nation’s JP Acosta and I had a conversation about what to expect on each side of the ball, why young quarterbacks are mistake-prone, and a score prediction.
49ers O vs. Jaguars D
Here’s what JP said when asked if the Jaguars defense is as good as their defensive metrics say:
“They absolutely are. I think they are one of the best defenses in the league. I think it’s just the change from the development of the young guys from last year to this. It’s allowed them to be more versatile.
They want to line up in base [defense]. They line up in base a lot. They want to be in base on early downs. They want to stop the run. Mike Caldwell comes from the Todd Bowles tree. They want to play big on early downs and get into their pressure looks on late downs. They’ve turned themselves into one of the best defenses in the league.”
You’d think, based on the last three weeks, that the sky is falling for the 49ers offense, and they can’t accomplish anything on this side of the ball. Nope. Not the case. Even without Trent Williams and Deebo Samuel, they’ve still be able to generate big plays.
Now, where they’ve missed Deebo the most is the ability to throw him a scream, where he ricochets off defenders and gains 13, 26, and maybe even 58 yards.
Still, the Niners are top three across the board in most advanced stats and are scoring at the second-highest clip per drive in the NFL. They are still really freaking good.
When Samuel is healthy and involved, this is an offense that’s been the best in the NFL. No offense in the NFL has a higher success rate this season in the quick passing or screen game. That’s the Deebo effect. Likewise, Jacksonville has the highest defensive success rate against both passes.
If Jacksonville is going to live in their base defense, that means a linebacker or safety must walk down and cover Samuel or Christian McCaffrey. That’s a significant advantage for the road team this weekend.
JP heaped plenty of praise on linebacker Devin Lloyd for Jacksonville and his ability to allow the Jags to be versatile. Samuel and CMC have to make Lloyd and the Jaguars inside linebackers tackle and tackle consistently.
Jacksonville living in their base defense plays right into the hands of Kyle Shanahan, who has made a living off dictating matchups in 21 personnel. Only one team in the league stacks the box more than Jacksonville, who have a heavy box on 49 percent of their plays, per Sports Info Solutions.
Even if Trent Williams plays, this isn’t the type of defense you want to run McCaffrey into. If anything, Williams returning should give Shanahan more confidence in his offensive line to protect the quarterback.
Brock on the road
As I wrote about, young quarterbacks make mistakes. That’s inevitable and a part of the developmental process. We’ve lived in a fantasy world long enough to think Purdy will be perfect. That’s not real life. I’d go as far as saying Purdy faced with this kind of adversity and dealing with the learning curve is necessary for him to improve as a player.
Brock Purdy’s completion percentage dips 12 percentage points on the road and his passer rating drops 39 points. He’s been sacked more, despite fewer dropbacks, and Purdy’s yards per attempt dips nearly three full yards.
Opposing offenses haven’t wasted time running into the teeth of the Jaguars defense. Bills QB Josh Allen threw for 359 yards for nine yards per attempt back in Week 5. Gardner Minshew and Derek Carr had 55 passing attempts in success weeks.
There isn’t a passing offense in the NFL that’s been more efficient than the 49ers. So, will Shanahan give Purdy the keys on the road against a playoff team? I believe so. This offense has evolved immensely with Brock under center.
Here’s JP on Purdy:
“When we discuss Brock Purdy we always discuss him in the lens of Jimmy G and Shanahan QBs. If we’re gonna do that, then Purdy is able to maximize this offense. I kind of call it the free bird thing. He has a free bird guitar solo playing in his head.
When things aren’t perfect, he’s like, ‘ok, it’s guitar solo time. He just goes and tries to create something outside of the pocket. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But you need that. You need to not have a QB where you don’t have to hold his hand every single play.
That’s what Jimmy G was. He was a paint by the numbers QB. You tell him where to go, and he’ll throw it there. If he doesn’t know where to go, he’s not going to throw it.
Purdy will do that creative stuff. It’s just, he’s doing the young quarterback thing. A lot of the passes looked interceptable during the five-game winning streak. Defenders just dropped it. Now they’re getting caught.
QBs are getting younger. There’s going to be more growing pains. It’s not going to look perfect all the time. But you have to ride with it. You have to go through the ups and downs. Sticking with Purdy through that is going to be huge.”
Variance wins at QB! You need a playmaker. You need a guy under center with a gunslinger mentality. “No risk it, no biscuit,” as Bruce Arians would say.
Jacksonville should get back two quality starters in the secondary with free safety Andre Cisco and cornerback Tyson Campbell set to return after missing time.
The Jags feature a secondary full of players who can run and are competitive. But this is an area where the 49ers wideouts have to put the game on their back. They need to win their 1-on-1 matchups and force Jacksonville to tackle.
Why the 49ers match up well with the Jaguars offense
If you haven’t watched a Jaguar game this season, Trevor Lawrence is the kind of QB you can only appreciate it if you watch four quarters. I’ve likened him to Purdy on several occasions in that he’s still a young player who isn’t immune to making mistakes — in Lawrence’s case, they happen at the most inopportune times.
Lawrence is an excellent deep ball thrower. He can pinpoint throws outside of the numbers, so the Niners secondary must be ready to defend every level of the field. But this isn’t the type of receiver group that should give the 49ers issues, despite their issues.
Here’s JP on the Jags wide receiver core and Zay Jones, who is a “long shot” to play Sunday:
“So it’s trending more like Zay Jones won’t play. That ankle injury, it feels like something more longer term than the coaches and media will let on.
Missing Zay Jones has been huge for this offense. Not only giving them another outside presence. But in the red zone, he’s the only receiver they have that’s over 6’2. He’s a bigger body and they need that.
This receiver group will present a different kind of matchup than the Bengals did. The main part of the Jaguars offense is that they’re not going to try and hit the explosive plays. They are a brutally efficient offense.
They’ll take the six yard gains. The speed outs to Calvin Ridley are going to be peppered this game with the amount of off-man or Cover 3 the 49ers play. They’re going to see a lot of those Calvin Ridley/Christian Kirk speed outs. That’s what Trevor Lawrence did against the Bills, with the mindset that we’ll take this until you come up.
And then, Trevor has been one of the better deep ball throwers in the league by any metric. But they haven’t really had the time. And that’s the biggest problem with this Jaguars offense. The offensive line has been really volatile. They haven’t had the consistency. For every big play, there’s a two-yard run, a one yard gain, or they go backward.
But I think this Jaguars receiver core will give them different problems than the Bengals. The tackling is going to be major. They’re going to throw the jab the entire game.”
Please let me know if you disagree with the following assessment. But when I think about the 49ers defense, throwing jabs isn’t how you beat them. Dinking and dunking while relying on sustaining a double-digit play drive isn’t the recipe for success.
The odds that Nick Bosa, Javon Hargrave, Fred Warner, or Arik Armstead make a play and get you behind the chains are greater than the opponent stringing together a bunch of underneath throws.
This is a unit that has forced the eighth-most 3-and-outs in the NFL per drive, and inside of the top-10 in points and touchdowns allowed per drive.
Here’s JP on Calvin Ridley:
Calvin Ridley has been fine for someone who has been working his way back from playing football. He’s also being asked to do completely different things. He was a Z receiver in Atlanta. This year, he is an X. He is a number one. He’s being asked to win on the boundary. And it’s not like he can’t do that. It’s just new.”
When I think of the type of wideout who gets the best of the 49ers, it’s more of a Tee Higgins type than Calvin Ridley. The bigger wideout who can win the isolation route as opposed to a timing out route.
The D-Line has to dominate
The Jaguars get starting left guard Walker Little back after the bye. Right guard Brandon Scherff is healthy. But even though he’s a first-round pick, the 49ers have to get the best of rookie right tackle Anton Harrison.
Steve Wilks does not blitz often. This might be the week to blitz. Lawrence is good for a knuckleheaded play a game. But pressure affects him more than most. Only Russell Wilson has a lower EPA per dropback against the blitz.
Here’s JP on Lawrence in the face of pressure and how the Jaguars’ offense will look:
“I think that’s been a big development this year, when Trevor is like, ‘fine, I’ll go into do it myself mode.’ On third downs, if nobody is open, he’ll run for it. That’s something that’s going to be huge against this 49ers pass rush.
The Jaguars offensive line have just been inconsistent. They’ve been rounding into form recently, but they know they’re going to be facing one of their biggest tests this year. Doug Pederson said this is the biggest test the line has faced this year.
I expect Trevor Lawrence to mix in a lot of runs. A lot of scrambles. And I just wonder how often they take those shots downfield. Because that’s not the Jaguars game. They don’t really have that verticality.
For has critical as we’ve been about the 49ers secondary, the passing defense is sixth in EPA per dropback and ninth in dropback success rate. This needs to be the week when the pass rush does the heavy lifting, which will allow the back-end to be more aggressive.
JP believes the Jags have been at their worst when you can change the pre-snap picture post-snap. They struggle when you can get the line off-kilter and fluster Lawrence. That’s not exactly a specialty of Steve Wilks. He tried to do that against the Vikings on a couple of occasions, but Kevin O’Connell burned the Niners defense.
This is an area where the defensive line, especially with a healthy, motivated Chase Young, needs to win. They can disguise and play as many games as they want, but this needs to be a week when Lawrence ends up on the ground.
JP believes the home team comes away victorious:
“I’m starting to believe. The defense is legit. I think they can cause the Niners a little bit of difficulty. Especially if they can get the Niners into 2nd or 3rd and long. That’s when the Jaguars can get into those creative pressures.
I think the Jaguars defense is good enough to keep the offense in this game and figure it out. I have faith in Trevor Lawrence, especially after a bye week. I think they’re going to figure what was wrong with this offense and have a close win, but a win.”
I think the 49ers get it done on the road. I think we’ll see points on both sides from each team. It’s just one of those, “will the 49ers turn it over?” It’s honestly as simple as that.
I think their offense does get right with Deebo back. He’ll make a difference. And on the other side, these types of receivers the Jags have aren’t the kind that strike fear in you.
Nobody has really stopped the 49ers offense yet. I’m not sure the Jaguars are built to do the same. Then the offensive line being banged up will make just enough of a difference.
I think it’ll be 23-20 or maybe 27-24, a little bit higher scoring. It’ll be a one possession game. But this time, the script will flip for the 49ers, and it’ll be the defense that needs to get a stop. I’m betting on them to get that stop and Trevor to be a bonehead just one more time than Brock in this spot.