The Philadelphia Eagles face the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game after thoroughly dismantling the New York Giants to the tune of 38-7. It appeared the Eagles were participating in the TikTok trend of blowing off steam by playing Madden on Rookie mode. Last season, Tampa Bay beat Philadelphia 31-15 in a game that was never close. But the 49ers will be a completely different and much more difficult test.
Although Philadelphia was the top seed in the NFC and only lost three games all season, the 49ers were clearly the cream of the crop in the NFL during the second half of the season.
The teams have different styles, but their philosophies aren’t all that different, and the talent each roster has from top to bottom is unmatched elsewhere. The two best teams made it to the NFC Championship, giving us an outstanding matchup.
What must the Eagles do to secure a trip to Glendale, Arizona, on Feb. 12?
3 Keys to Victory for Eagles To Beat the 49ers
Philadelphia’s offensive versatility means they can look different depending on the week. While there are a number of things that could propel the Eagles to a victory over the 49ers, there are three absolute necessities for Sunday’s game at Lincoln Financial Field.
Make Brock Purdy Uncomfortable
If the Eagles are unable to make Brock Purdy uncomfortable, it will be impossible to consistently get stops against the 49ers’ offense. Even though Philadelphia’s secondary is talented, San Francisco’s weapons — combined with Kyle Shanahan’s attention to detail — will get them open.
Seattle only mustered four pressures against Purdy, and he averaged 11.1 yards per attempt and threw three touchdowns. In 49ers fashion, a chunk of the damage was done after the catch against the Seahawks. But getting quick pressure on Purdy so he can’t simply drop back in rhythm is imperative.
The good news for Philadelphia is that pressuring Purdy shouldn’t be much of a problem. Dallas pressured him 16 times, and while the rookie avoided making the big mistake, the Cowboys were able to effectively bottle up the 49ers’ offense. For most of the contest, San Francisco had to bite and claw for every blade of grass.
According to Sports Info Solutions, the Eagles’ 69 sacks are 13 more than the next-closest team since they began tracking. In fact, it’s the most since the 1989 Vikings (71).
Philadelphia majored in getting home. Pressures are a better predictor of future sacks than sacks are. The Eagles only finished 10th in pressure rate but dwarfed anyone else in sack rate.
Four Philadelphia defenders finished with more than 10 sacks on the year. Haason Reddick, Josh Sweat, Javon Hargrave, Brandon Graham, and Fletcher Cox are a pass rush of doom. And they’ll need every bit of it against the 49ers.
Run the Ball Effectively
The 49ers have not faced a quarterback like Jalen Hurts this season. While they played Justin Fields in Week 1, Luke Getsy couldn’t tell his head from his backside when it came to correctly utilizing Fields’ legs.
The one “running” QB that they faced in 2022 was Marcus Mariota. They lost to the Falcons that week, and Atlanta ran for 168 yards on 40 carries. The Falcons scored a defensive touchdown, but they also had three drives go nine-plus plays for 65 or more yards. Atlanta also finished nine of 14 on third down.
Nobody in the NFL ran the ball as efficiently as the Eagles did this season. In fact, their rushing offense was one of the most prolific since 2015. The 2022 Eagles rank third in overall EPA, fourth in EPA per attempt, and fifth in positive EPA rate among all teams from 2015.
Hurts is a massive part of that success. He finished second in total EPA as a rusher behind only Fields, and Miles Sanders ranked third in the league. Hurts was the most successful runner in the NFL, with a positive EPA rate of 54.9%. Sanders ranked fourth in the league. Hurts adds a gap to defend as a runner, and Philadelphia has five bullies on the offensive line to dominate the trenches.
But nobody defends the run as well as San Francisco does. They ranked first in rushing EPA allowed and fourth in positive EPA rate defending the run. The 49ers faced the sixth-fewest QB and option runs in the NFL, according to SIS. While 50 attempts is a relatively small sample size, they ranked third in EPA per attempt.
It’ll be a battle between strengths. Philadelphia likely won’t be able to throw the ball around the yard on San Francisco’s defense, considering how talented and well-coached they are. The Eagles must consistently pick up positive yards on the ground against the 49ers.
Luckily for Philadelphia, the three things they absolutely must do to beat San Francisco are three things they did very well this season. The Eagles’ 19 giveaways were good enough to tie them for the fifth-best mark in the league. Hurts was particularly good at avoiding interceptions.
Meanwhile, the 49ers led the league in defensive interceptions and had the second-most takeaways in the league. Giving Purdy a short field is what led to the Cowboys’ downfall. Even if Philadelphia’s defense plays well, the Eagles could lose the game if they lose the field-position battle.
It wouldn’t be surprising to see another defensive slugfest in the NFC Championship Game. Both offenses are outstanding, and it could be a track meet, but good defenses seem to find a way in the playoffs.
If the Eagles win the turnover battle against the 49ers in the NFC Championship, they likely win the game.