Road to the Super Bowl: How the 49ers Can Beat the Eagles in the NFC Championship

Trey Lance. Jimmy Garoppolo. Brock Purdy. It doesn’t really matter. Kyle Shanahan has built a force in San Francisco, and the 49ers are a win away from the Super Bowl despite being on their third starting quarterback of the season.

When you think about roster construction in the NFL, it starts with the quarterback. In San Francisco, the focus has been on elite skill players. Christian McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, and Brandon Aiyuk are all products of the 49ers throwing high-value capital at skill positions.

As for the quarterback, they’ve figured it out as they’ve gone along. That’s not to diminish what Brock Purdy has done since taking over for Jimmy Garoppolo in the Miami game.

In months, Purdy has gone from Mr. Irrelevant to likely QB1 in San Francisco. The rookie has yet to lose a start for the 49ers. He’s also completed 59 straight passes without an interception in two playoff victories. There’s no denying that Purdy has been a significant part of the 49ers’ success.

Still, Kyle Shanahan has reached the Super Bowl once and the NFC Championship twice with Jimmy Garoppolo under center. The same quarterback they were ready to move on from after losing the NFC title game to the Rams last year.

The 49ers are as good a story as any in football right now. They’re also as good as any team in football right now. But they’ll have to beat the 14-win Eagles on Sunday in Philadelphia if they want to prove it on the NFL’s biggest stage in two weeks.

Here’s how they can do it.

Get it to the playmakers and do it quickly!

As I said, the 49ers boast one of the league’s most potent stables of offensive skill players. Purdy has done a great job of getting it to them. Shanahan has done an even better job of scheming it up. Still, time will be of the essence for the 49ers on Sunday.

The Eagles have a historically good pass rush, and they’ll be coming for the rookie this week. Can Kyle Shanahan find a way to get the ball into the hands of his playmakers even quicker than he’s done all season?

The Eagles racked up a league-best 70 sacks this year. In addition, they sacked opposing quarterbacks on 11.4 percent of their dropbacks.

Brock Purdy hasn’t had a whole lot of time before pressures. Fantasy Pros has him at 2.4 seconds from snap to pressure, which ranks 34th among qualified quarterbacks. He’ll have even less on Sunday. So, if I’m Kyle Shanahan, I’m leaning heavily on my run game.

Reaching into the dynamic bag of Kyle Shanahan schemes, we’ve got Deebo Samuel lined up in the backfield on this play last week:

The 49ers are in 21 personnel here. 21 Personnel is two running backs, one tight end, and two receivers. Brandon Aiyuk goes in motion and runs a flat, drawing Dallas’ attention. Meanwhile, Samuel gets the carry for a nice gain.

A couple of plays later, they’ve got McCaffrey in the backfield, Kittle on the line, Aiyuk, Samuel, and Justin Juszczyk on the left.

Juszczyk’s presence out wide draws Trevon Diggs to the sideline in coverage. The play fake gets Kittle single coverage for a chunk play completion over the middle.

The 49ers can use the run and similar mismatched personnel groupings to create space for their playmakers. As explosive and dangerous as McCaffrey and Samuel are, Aiyuk and Kittle have been the home run hitters this season.

Aiyuk ranks 13th among wide receivers this season in big plays of 20-plus yards, with 15 of them. Kittle is second among tight ends with 12 plays of 20-plus yards.

Discipline and route responsibility will be the key for the 49ers.

The Eagles’ offense has been fantastic this season. They ranked fifth in rushing yardage per game (147.6) and ninth in passing yardage per game (241.5) this season.

I wrote in the Eagles Road to the Super Bowl that they would rely on creating opportunities out of their option sets, and for the 49ers, staying disciplined on route assignments will be imperative. They’ve shut down the run well all season, allowing the second-fewest rushing yards per game (77.7), but their pass defense has left plenty to be desired. This season, the 49ers ranked 20th in passing yards allowed per contest (202.9).

I found an excellent play from last week’s Cowboys game in which the did a great job of recognizing the play and staying accountable with their route assignments:

In the freeze frame, we see that the 49ers have five committed to coverage in the intermediate to deep range, and they have it pretty well sealed up.

They’ve also got Dak Prescott running to extend and two on the check down for Prescott.

However, Matt found a play in the Seattle game where they didn’t look so good in pass coverage. In this play, they’ve got Chavarious Ward one-on-one with D.K. Metcalf on the outside. They’re playing one-high defense, so no safety help there. Metcalf burns Ward for the long touchdown.

The good news for San Francisco is that it’s simply a lousy play design, and I don’t think they’ll allow themselves into too many of those situations on Sunday. Well, they better hope they don’t.

Philadelphia will try to get fancy with the running game, and the sets and personnel groupings that set up their option plays. However, when it comes to the passing game, the Eagles run some pretty vanilla routes, so the 49ers should be able to stay disciplined on those.

written by

Patrick grew up in Chicago's Bridgeport and Garfield Ridge neighborhoods before moving to the Western Suburbs of Chicago before eventually relocating to the Las Vegas area with his family in 2023. He started with Bleacher Nation in 2021 and has spent time as a Staff Writer and on the Chicago Blackhawks beat. He is currently a writer and editor at Bleacher Nation covering the Chicago Bears and the NFL at large and the author of the Bleacher Nation Newsletter. Patrick is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA).

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