Road to the Super Bowl: How the Eagles Can Beat the 49ers in the NFC Championship
The Eagles didn’t skip a beat last weekend when they took on their division rival Giants in the divisional round. Let’s not downplay how hard it is to beat a team three times in a season. We saw how Baltimore gave Cincinnati fits in the Wild Card round, and then the Bengals dispatched the Bills last week with relative ease.
Philly had no such problem with the Giants. Instead, they throttled them in a game that was over so fast I was writing my recap in the third quarter. That’s impressive. Jalen Hurts completed his first seven passes for 89 yards and two touchdowns. The Eagles were up 28-0 at halftime and went on to win 38-7.
Still, the 49ers will pose a much stiffer challenge than the Giants did this Sunday. The Eagles, who were plus 3,000 to reach the Super Bowl during the preseason, are now just one win away.
Hurts played a significant role in Philadelphia defying the odds.
“I’ve always thought that one of his biggest strengths is his intangibles, his presence, his calm demeanor, but at the same time competitive demeanor,” said center Jason Kelce. “At all times, he thinks that he’s the best player on the field. But the emotion is at the right level to keep the guys at the right place. His presence is very well suited for a quarterback in the NFL.”
Once again, Jalen Hurts will again have to rise to the challenge this week.
The Eagles success with their option plays will play a significant role on Sunday.
The Eagles’ offensive line has been a staple of their success this season. Hurts and the Eagles have operated to the tune of 147.6 rushing yards per game (5th) and 241.5 passing yards per game (9th). Conversely, the 49ers have been one of the stingiest defenses in the running game this season. San Francisco allowed 77.7 rushing yards per game, second-best in the league.
However, San Francisco was vulnerable in the passing game. San Francisco allowed 222.9 yards per game through the air, which ranked 22nd in the NFL. So, can Jalen Hurts and the Eagles beat the 49ers through the air? If they do, it’ll likely start with the Eagles’ deadly Eagles’ option game.
The Eagles’ offensive weapons allow them to wreak havoc, even on a defensive unit with playmakers. For example, check out this play against the Cowboys in Week 6:
Hurts has three options: 1. the handoff to the running back, 2. QB keep, or 3. pass. Notice Trevon Diggs (7) tailing A.J. Brown’s pre-snap motion. Brown is Diggs’ assignment. Micah Parsons is the read for Hurts. Parsons does a good job of not biting too hard on the play fake and stays with Hurts when he pulls it.
But A.J. Brown is wide open in the flat because Diggs got bumped by DeVonta Smith, who was running a rub route. A rub route is designed to have the defenders pick each other and create space. You see it often on crossing routes where two wide receivers are split out wide.
Here the Eagles use the fact that Diggs is responsible for Brown and has to come across the field and through the rub by DeVonta Smith, which he could not do. That left Brown wide open in the flat for the easy catch and run.
That’s a beautiful design and a perfect example of the dynamics play ability that the Eagles can create from their option package. San Francisco plays a similar defense to the 49ers, and one would argue that it is better suited to defend this. Still, they didn’t have much success.
So, opening the passing game via the option will be the path to success for the Eagles on Sunday.
Can the Eagles pass rush get to Brock Purdy?
The 49ers have no shortage of weapons around rookie quarterback Brock Purdy. Christian McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, and George Kittle have been why quarterbacks have seemingly been a plug-and-play component of their offense.
However, the 49ers haven’t had to deal with a pass rush like the one they’ll face on Sunday. The Eagles racked up a league-best 70 sacks this year. In addition, Philadelphia sacked opposing quarterbacks on 11.4 percent of their dropbacks.
Let’s look at an example of how quickly the pass rush gets home:
Here we have Josh Sweat getting to Taylor Heinicke and stripping the ball within 2.5 seconds, per NFL Next Gen Stats. At the time, Sweat had a 0.74 pass rush get-off average, the second-quickest in the NFL minimum 100 pass rushes.
Here’s another great example, courtesy of Brian Baldinger:
It’s a matter of survival for opposing quarterbacks against the Eagles’ pass rush. Brock Purdy has completed 59 straight passes in two playoff games. But the Eagles do a fantastic job of not only bringing pressure on the quarterback, but they also slow them down with lock-down coverage in the secondary.
Corners Darius Slay and Bradberry have won their one-on-one matchups, and defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon has found ways to force opposing quarterbacks to hold on to the ball. So, if the Eagles’ secondary can force Purdy to hold onto the ball for prolonged periods on Sunday, that devastating pass rush will get home.
If that’s the case, it’ll be a game-wrecker for Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers this weekend.