Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers Matchup Is a Dream Battle Between Dominant Rosters

The San Francisco 49ers have been better than the Philadelphia Eagles recently, but how do these two juggernauts match up against each other?

The Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers NFC Championship Game is a battle of the titans. Not the titans of Nashville but the ones of legend. This is Goliath vs. Goliath. Both rosters are stacked to the gills, and each organization boasts unbelievable coaching staffs. All four coordinators could be head coaches in 2023, but only one of these rosters can be the NFC representative for Super Bowl 57.

The Cincinnati Bengals hold some clear advantages over the Kansas City Chiefs, but the lines are far more blurred in the NFC matchup. The NFL is a matchup league. If one unit holds a massive advantage over another, or if one team holds a schematic advantage over the other, it could tilt the entire game in one team’s direction.

49ers vs. Eagles Film Study

We know the basics. The 49ers have the best defense in the NFL. The Eagles have the top rushing offense in the NFL. Jalen Hurts is an MVP candidate, and Nick Bosa might win Defensive Player of the Year. Philadelphia has elite players everywhere on offense and defense, as does San Francisco.

Kyle Shanahan and Shane Steichen are schematic wizards on offense, while DeMeco Ryans and Jonathan Gannon both command talented and multiple defenses. And what makes handicapping this game so difficult is that neither team faced an opponent similarly structured to the other.

In such an evenly-matched game, where do the potential advantages lie?

Unit Vs. Unit Advantages

Eagles OL vs. 49ers Front Seven

The Eagles have the best offensive line in the NFL. It’s the reason why they had one of the best rushing attacks of the past decade. They are what happens when talent and scheme meet in perfect harmony. Philadelphia has bullies on the left and right, with a wizard in the center of the offense.

Meanwhile, San Francisco has one of the most talented front sevens in the league. Bosa and Fred Warner are both arguably the top players at their respective positions, and there is no lack of depth. Dre Greenlaw has been unbelievably good beside Warner, and there are a half-dozen other contributors on the defensive line to applaud.

Advantage: Eagles (slightly)

Jordan Mailata and Lane Johnson (the best right tackle in the league) should be able to survive on the edges. Although Javon Kinlaw and Arik Armstead are good players, neither are the “trash can full of dirt” type, and the Eagles’ interior has the advantage in the run game.

If the 49ers can defend the run, San Francisco’s defense is disciplined and talented enough to win the battle. Forcing Philadlephia into obvious passing situations is the way to victory, but it’s very hard to get them in that situation.

Eagles Weapons vs. 49ers Secondary

A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith, Quez Watkins, Dallas Goedert, Miles Sanders, Kenneth Gainwell, and Boston Scott are nothing to scoff at. Brown is arguably one of the five best receivers in the NFL, and Smith is coming off a 1,300-yard season. Goedert is among the second tier of NFL tight ends, and Watkins’ speed is a problem.

MORE: 3 Philadelphia Eagles Keys to Victory vs. the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game

Charvarius Ward has been a revelation for the Niners since coming over from Kansas City, and Jimmie Ward is a versatile player. Talanoa Hufanga is a heat-seeking missile, but his laser-guided system can sometimes be outsmarted by opposing technology. Then there’s Warner, who is as terrifying a presence as we’ve seen defending the middle of the field, to include running the pole stride-for-stride against CeeDee Lamb just one week ago.

Advantage: Philadelphia

This isn’t a fair fight, and we’ll see this again soon. It’s simply impossible to match up man for man against an uber-talented offensive roster. The Eagles have too many options to choose from.

49ers OL vs. Eagles Front Seven

The 49ers’ offensive line was better in 2022 than many expected. While Trent Williams is the best left tackle in the NFL, a few new names on the front line lowered the unit’s expectations.

It didn’t matter that Spencer Burford was a fourth-round rookie or that Jake Brendel had played fewer than 300 offensive snaps since entering the league in 2016.

Meanwhile, Philadelphia sacked opposing quarterbacks 70 times in the regular season, the most since We Didn’t Start the Fire was No. 1 on the Billboard Top 100.

Four Eagles defenders had at least 11 sacks. Fletcher Cox added seven himself. He and Javon Hargrave make for a dominant interior duo, and the three-headed monster of Haason Reddick, Josh Sweat, and Derek Barnett could spell doom for Mike McGlinchey, who, while overall a solid player, has been criticized heavily at times.

Advantage: Eagles

So far, things may seem heavily in favor of Philadelphia winning this game. However, their advantage over the 49ers’ offensive line is a bit one-sided.

The Eagles aren’t a horrible run-defending team, but that is their weak point defensively. Gap integrity can sometimes be an issue, particularly against zone runs. They’re an aggressive defense that can occasionally get out over their skis. They’ll get burned on the ground if they do that against Christian McCaffrey and Elijah Mitchell.

49ers Weapons vs. Eagles Secondary

Let’s harken back to a conversation we had a few hundred words ago. James Bradberry, Darius Slay, and C.J. Gardner-Johnson are all playmakers on the back end. But none of that matters in the face of Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, George Kittle, and McCaffrey.

Advantage: 49ers

Even while disregarding the potential schematic advantages the 49ers may hold, their talent is unquestionably greater than the Eagles here. Potentially no team has assembled such a unit before in the league. They’ve built a roster full of YAC bullies from receivers, to tight end, to running back.

Eagles Defending Middle of Field

We all know that the 49ers devour the middle of the field on offense. According to Sports Info Solutions, they rank fifth in yards per attempt and ANY/A when throwing left middle to right middle. When we filter down further to just the middle, they rank fifth and third, respectively.

Shanahan finds ways to get the ball into the hands of his playmakers moving east and west, somehow always in space. San Francisco’s attention to detail offensively is unmatched. Shanahan is a wizard with formations and motions, using them to create vacated zones.

MORE: 49ers vs. Eagles Injury Report

Philadelphia is an interesting matchup for San Francisco. According to SIS, of the 453 dropbacks the Eagles faced using Cover 1-6, three of the six coverages were nearly identical at the top.

Cover 1 – 123 times
Cover 3 – 120
Cover 4 – 124

At times, things can get tricky for Philadelphia on the back end. They check in and out of coverages against motion and will show man coverage while dropping into zone, which is great for disguise but can put defenders in awkward positions.

In Cover 3, sometimes they’ll throw a linebacker outside on a running back with the cornerback responsible for the deep 1/3 in the slot pre-snap. In the above video, the safety followed the motion, but the Eagles dropped back into Quarters. Because of the 3×1 set on offense, and the outside receiver releasing vertically, the backside safety could look to defend the post or deep crossing pattern. Here, it resulted in an INT for Philadelphia.

The Eagles will also run a lot of man coverage and Cover 3. When they run Cover 3, they must squeeze their CBs tight, as the Bills did against Miami. Defend the middle of the field and beg Brock Purdy to win outside the numbers downfield.

Philadelphia ranked 11th in EPA per attempt over the middle of the field, just behind the Cowboys. Dallas’ defense defended San Francisco’s passing attack well. It took a few Herculean efforts from Kittle to make plays in that area of the field.

It’s scary to think we could see much Cover 1 against the 49ers, but the Eagles like doing it. Dallas ran it nine times against San Francisco, who completed six of the nine attempts for 83 yards. The Cowboys tackled well. What makes Cover 1 so dangerous is that if one Eagles defender misses a tackle on a pass catcher, it could end up being a house call.

49ers Must Defend the Sidelines

NFL teams don’t take much time out of their days to attack the sidelines 20+ yards downfield. It’s a low-percentage throw with decent turnover potential. But no quarterback threw more touchdowns on such throws than Hurts (7). The 49ers ranked 29th in defensive EPA per play against such throws and 28th in yards per attempt against them.

The strength of San Francisco’s defense is up the middle. While Philadelphia has feasted over the middle with slants, they’re no stranger to making big plays along the sidelines, and it doesn’t matter which of the three Eagles receivers is targeted.

The above pass was technically incomplete. On the very next play, Kristian Fulton was introduced to the dirt on a double-move, and Brown walked in for a touchdown. But Hurts and the Eagles favor downfield attempts to the right.

That means Charvarius Ward will likely be the one defending these attempts because he spends about 75% of his time on the left side of the defense. If San Francisco can keep the explosive passes to a minimum, they stand a good chance at slowing down Philadelphia’s offense.

But that’s not the only thing they have to worry about.

Eagles’ Dominant Pass Rush

The Cowboys pressured opposing QBs more often than Philadelphia in 2022, but the Eagles got home at a ridiculous rate. That’s exactly what they’ll need against the 49ers passing attack on Sunday. If they can’t get home, Purdy is athletic enough to make plays outside of structure, and the 49ers’ weapons can make a gold bar out of lemons.

Purdy was pressured 15 times and sacked twice against the Cowboys. In those 15 attempts, he went 4 of 11 for 32 yards. His ANY/A was just 1.3 when pressured, and his EPA was -7.3 in those 11 attempts.

MORE: Brock Purdy Will Have To Find Balance To Beat the Eagles in the Playoffs

When Purdy wasn’t pressured, he went 15 of 18 for 182 yards. His ANY/A was 10.1, and he posted an EPA of 10.24. Further proof that coverage is king, because far more often, on average, your team will not pressure the opposing QB.

It’s imperative that the Eagles consistently move Purdy off his spot and out of rhythm. If he can stand and deliver, the 49ers’ weapons will find a way to win. And unless Philadelphia can bait him into some mistakes without pressuring him, they’ll be picked apart.

49ers Defending Option Game

If there is one singular key to the game, it’s this. San Francisco absolutely must defend the option well. They faced only 23 non-scramble QB runs all season, eighth fewest in the NFL. The 49ers ranked second in EPA per attempt on designed QB runs, but they really only faced one real running threat at QB.

Marcus Mariota beat the 49ers in Week 6. He beat them multiple times on read-option looks, mostly because San Francisco’s defenders weren’t on the same page about their responsibilities pre-snap.

The best option is probably to force the give. When Mariota kept the ball, it was because a defender crashed, and the linebackers were late on the scrape exchange, giving him free grass to frolic through outside of the tackles.

Hurts finished first in rushing EPA on designed runs. Among all runners with at least 50 carries, the Eagles had three runners inside the top 20 in EPA per attempt. But Hurts dwarfed his two teammates. The best thing San Francisco can do is not allow Hurts to beat them himself.

But if the 49ers can somehow limit the Eagles’ effectiveness on the ground, they should win the game.

Eagles vs. 49ers Comes Down To Defending Strengths

They may not win the Super Bowl, but Howie Roseman and John Lynch did their part in creating the two best rosters in the NFL. The NFC Championship Game will be strength vs. strength.

Philadelphia has the QB advantage, but we’ve already seen San Francisco in this position with a quarterback offering less as a playmaker. The Eagles rebuilt from the ground up two seasons ago, much like in their 2017 run. But this team is far better than that one. In the end, Philadelphia has the more complete roster, and their strengths match up better against the 49ers’ strengths.

It should be a close and entertaining game. But in the end, it’ll take a rookie QB doing something a rookie QB has never done against a team with no real weaknesses for San Francisco to come out of this game victorious.

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