49ers vs. Eagles; Five keys to victory for San Francisco

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.

Advantage 49ers.

This article has 14 Comments

  1. Wish I could be equally optimistic, Jack. My concerns about the secondary, o-line, and Purdy’s inexperience suggest a very close contest that could go either way. Just hope that if they do end up on the losing side, the Niners put up a credible performance reflective of their great season and Shanahan/Lynch haters on this blog are given nothing to crow about in the aftermath.

  2. #1 Purdy will play as well as his O line lets him. If they can create gaps or cut back lanes for our RBs he will be fine if not he will struggle mightly. Answer probably not
    #2 Yes but maybe not enough. I think they will run well but I believe they need to run the ball 40 times to beat Phil. That would be a difficult task for a great O line and this O line is not great.
    #3 Pile up? No but I think they could break a couple YAC plays.
    #4 Yes, I think the 9ers will put the game in Hurts hands. They will keep their rush lanes closing the pocket down while cutting off his run lanes. They will get few if any sacks but will get consistent pressure on Hurts.
    #5 Yes they will play a soft zone keeping their WRs in front of them. They will give up throws in front . They can win if the pay great D on 3rd downs
    BQ. It all depends on their running game. If they run the ball well and force Hurts to play from the pocket then yes.
    Final score Eagles win and cover. As I said earlier I think this Eagle team is possibly a generational team. Funny thing I feel better about our chances this week than last and I was wrong last week. So I hope I am as good at predicting this week as I was last.

  3. It’s going to be a physical game, a defensive, low scoring game. Who ever has less turnovers and penalties, allows less big plays will be the winner of this game of human chess. Checkmate. Niners win!

  4. Run the ball, defend the run, intermediate pass routes with big YAC . CMC run and catch (or catch and run)
    Sound familiar ? Deebo, Aiyuk, Kittle, Jennings over the middle. Niners 27 – 17 over the Eagles.

  5. Niners 24 – 17! Playing the Cowboys last week was a blessing in disguise. Could not have asked for a better preparation for the Eagles than that. Especially for Purdy, that was a huge experience for him playing against that Dline and I expect KS to make proper adjustments for him and the offense. And I dont know why people think our D will be overwhelmed by Hurt. We play Murray twice and before Wilson. Our D will slow down that Eagles Offense and none od us here will be shocked.

    1. Agreed. The Niner’s definitely can with this game. Also I find it intriguing that Hurts and Purdy have played against each other before in college.

  6. Jack,

    Good set of questions. In addition to those, I would add questions about the various coaches. For the Niners, it is critical that Shanahan and Ryans have schemes that will work, and the both coaches make adjustments at half time (most likely the Niners will not be great in the first half, as has been true this season).

    I expect the coaches will deliver and Niners will win, by 7 to 10 points.

  7. Don’t know if Kocurek has a 5-man line in his repertoire, but seems like a perfect surprise now; especially, if they have someone play outside of Bosa so he doesn’t have to read or contain on the RPO’s and options.

      1. I like that, too, but if they’re having trouble hurrying and/or containing Hurts, try something else.
        I don’t like those looping blitzes of Warner against mobile QB’s. They take too long to develop and we’ve been burned up the middle when he does it. Hopefully, I’m overthinking it, and we can win just going mano-a-mano
        with no surprises.

        1. I think they’ll likely have Greenlaw do just that. The plus side is he has the speed to play closer towards the middle and still catch up to Hurts should he scramble outside. Either way I think he will be the spy.

  8. I expect Eagles offense to come out with guns blazing. If the Niners’ D can weather the storm and the Niners are, in the worst case, not trailing by more than a TD at the end of the half, then there’s a good chance of pulling off a win.

    Like last week, even if the Niners D line and the Eagles O line fight to a draw, Niners’ LB advantage will make a difference in countering the RPO game.

    Hurts is very good with defined reads (e.g., RPOs) but has issues under pressure. He had the highest #NFL passer rating in the pocket this season (110.4). When pressured, however, he was the 4th-least efficient QB in the NFL. A lot of credit goes to the O line’s pass blocking. Eagles are one top 3 teams in putting the tackles on an island. Niners would like that to continue but I can see Goedert staying back on third downs to chip Bosa.

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