The San Francisco 49ers will look to punch ticket to the eighth Super Bowl in franchise history when they face off with the Philadelphia Eagles. The teams will face off in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday afternoon at Lincoln Financial Field in the City of Brotherly Love.
San Francisco entered the playoffs as the second seed in the NFC giving them a pair of home games. The 49ers defeated NFC West rival Seattle 41-23 in the Wild Card round. They followed that up with a 19-12 win over Dallas in a physical NFC Divisional round game on Sunday.
Philadelphia finished the regular season with a 14-3 record, giving them homefield advantage through the playoffs and a bye in the first round. In the Divisional round last week, the Eagles blew out their NFC East rival New York Giants 38-7.
The 49ers and Eagles have met just once prior in the postseason. In a 1996 NFC Wild Card game, the 49ers used a touchdown pass and touchdown run to defeat Philadelphia 14-0. The game was played in wet and windy conditions at Candlestick Park, then known as 3Com Park.
Here are five questions the 49ers must answer correctly to win:
1.) Is Brock Purdy ready to make history?
Purdy has proven he is up to the pressure of playoff football. In his first two starts he has gone onto the field for the first possession of the second half down by one and tied. He hasn’t flinched, completing 16 of 21 passes for 270 yards and two touchdowns to lead the 49ers to victory.
On Sunday in Philadelphia, he will face the ultimate test. To become the first rookie quarterback to lead his team to the Super Bowl, Purdy will need to overcome a hostile crowd, cold weather, and an Eagles defense which recorded 70 sacks in the regular season, third most in NFL history.
It just so happens the two teams with more sacks than Philadelphia, 1984 Chicago Bears and 1989 Minnesota Vikings, lost to the 49ers in the playoffs.
2.) Will the 49ers find success on the ground?
San Francisco enters the NFC Championship game having averaged 154 yard per game on the ground over the last 12 weeks. On Sunday they will face an Eagles defense which finished 24th in yards per rush attempt during the regular season, allowing an average of 4.6 yards.
In Christian McCaffrey, Elijah Mitchell, Deebo Samuel and an offensive line which specializes in running the ball, the 49ers have the depth to attack Philadelphia in waves. The Eagles have faced an average of just under 27 per game this season. If San Francisco can get just three more, they should win. Under Kyle Shanahan the 49ers are 29-2 when they attempt at least 30 rushes.
If this was a boxing match, think of run plays as body blows. Constant shots to your opponents’ ribs eventually opens an opportunity to bring the uppercut.
3.) Will the 49ers receivers pile up yards after catch.?
Philadelphia defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon has drawn the ire of Eagles fans this season with his penchant for using a soft defense which has allowed opponents to find success in the short to intermediate area.
The short to intermediate area just happens to be where the 49ers do their best work. Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, Jauan Jennings, George Kittle, and Christian McCaffrey helped San Francisco average the third most yards after the catch this season.
Despite having issues with tackling, especially during the first half of the season, Philadelphia allowed just 4.9 net yards per pass attempt.
4.) Can the 49ers defense force Jalen Hurts to beat them?
Jalen Hurts presents the 49ers defense with their toughest test of the season. The Eagles quarterback puts stress on opposing defenses with his ability to use he legs. The threat of Hurts often leads to defensive breakdowns as a result.
Although it might sound counterintuitive, the 49ers best bet on defense is to focus on shutting down the rest of the Eagles running game and force Hurts to beat them on his own.
This plan worked when these two teams last met up win week two of last season. In that game, San Francisco held Miles Sanders and Kenneth Gainwell to just 69 yards on 19 carries.
With the game put on his shoulders, Hurts managed to complete just 12 of 23 pass attempts. And although he was the leading rusher, San Francisco held the Eagles to 11 points.
Hurts has been the leading rusher for Philadelphia on four occasions this season, all resulting in one score games.
If San Francisco can put the game on the right shoulder of Hurts it is advantage 49ers. Hurts has been very good from the pocket but has struggled with pressure around him completing just 37 percent of his passes for 4.2 yards per attempted when forced to throw on the move.
5.) Can the 49ers secondary keep everything in front of them?
Philadelphia has a pair of downfield threats at wide receiver in A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith. The Eagles top two receivers combined to average just under 11 receptions and 160 yards per game during the regular season.
The duo, along with Quez Watkins, provide solid deep threats, something that has given the 49ers defense problems in recent weeks. San Francisco has allowed at least a reception over 45 yards in each of its last five games.
San Francisco has found success by forcing teams to work their way down the field. In doing so, the 49ers have been able to come up with turnovers which have been key to turning the tide of games.
Bonus Question: Who wins the turnover battle?
Turnover differential is the best indicator for wins or losses for the 49ers. Since the beginning of 2021 they are 24-3 when they don’t turn the ball over more than their opponent compared to 1-9 when they do.
Philadelphia and San Francisco have each done a good job of protecting the ball. The Eagles have turned the ball over just 19 times to just 17 for the 49ers.
49ers 20 Eagles 16
San Francisco and Philadelphia have been the two best teams in the NFC over the second half of the season. Both teams have a very physical style of play, and this is sure to be a battle.
San Francisco’s win over Dallas served as a tune-up for the speed they are going to see from Philadelphia on Sunday. Meanwhile, the Eagles have not played a tough game in over four weeks and their quarterback has not been tested since the middle of December.