Skip to main contentSkip to main content
You have permission to edit this article.
Edit

David Murphy: A few thoughts on the 49ers and why the Eagles enter the NFC championship game as slim favorites

  • Updated
  • 0
Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts and wide receiver A.J. Brown walk off the field after the playoff victory on Saturday.

Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts (right) and wide receiver A.J. Brown walk off the field after the playoff victory on Saturday. (Yong Kim/The Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS)

In the first round, the Eagles played like they have something to prove.

In the next round, they’ll actually get to prove it.

Pay no attention to Brock Purdy’s draft status or the relative ease with which the Eagles advanced to the NFC championship game. Against the 49ers, they will face a team that poses a significant test ... maybe the first one they’ve faced all season.

This is about matchups more than anything. What you saw from the 49ers in their 19-12 win over the Cowboys on Sunday night was a team that has the personnel in the right places and the scheme to match. On the defensive side, they are suffocating the run and unbelievably quick to the ball. On the offensive side, they possess one of the few offensive lines and rushing attacks that stacks up to the one the Eagles themselves possess. They have a coach who is determined not to let his quarterback beat himself. And they have big-play threats at three critical positions.

That shouldn’t sound overblown. If it does, it’s only because the Eagles’ schedule during the Nick Sirianni era has numbed us to what the run-up to a real football game is supposed to sound like. Just look at the betting line. The Eagles opened up as a 1.5-point favorite, their lowest odds with Jalen Hurts under center since last year’s playoff loss to the Buccaneers. Nobody is saying that the 49ers are a juggernaut, or that you should cancel those Phoenix flight alerts. But they are a real team, and that’s something that the Eagles have not faced in quite some time.

In a lot of ways, this is a compliment to the Eagles. The intriguing thing about this matchup is how similarly constructed the two teams are. Both offenses are built on a foundation of rock-solid offensive lines and coaches who are the best in their class at scheming the running game. Each team possesses one of the better blocking and more physical tight ends in the league. And each enjoys a portfolio of talent in the backfield that allows for tremendous creative and strategic freedom.

Where the 49ers and Eagles differ is under center and on the defensive side of the ball. In all likelihood, the game will be decided by whose strengths are stronger. Consider some of these matchups:

1) Eagles run game against the 49ers run defense

Few teams have run the ball better than the Eagles this season, and nobody has been better at defending the run than the 49ers. As good as Hurts has been as a passer, as much as he deserves the MVP award, the foundation of the Eagles’ success is their ground attack. Fact is, the Eagles rushed for 268 yards against the Giants on Saturday. It was the sixth time in 18 games this season that they racked up 200-plus yards on the ground.

Life is a lot easier when you are a hot knife playing against butter. It’s no coincidence that all three of the Eagles losses have come in the five games in which they failed to gain 100 yards rushing. Granted, there is some chicken-egg self-selection baked in there, since teams tend to run the ball more with a lead. Fact remains, if you can’t stop the Eagles’ running game, you have no chance.

The 49ers are one of the few teams in the league whose run defense is their hallmark. They’ve allowed just 77 rushing first downs this season, 13 fewer than the next-closest team. They allowed just 3.4 yards per carry during the regular season. You saw it on Sunday against the Cowboys: Dak Prescott was the guy who had to win it. And the 49ers feasted.

2) Hurts and A.J. Brown against the 49ers’ zone

The 49ers have allowed some crooked numbers to No. 1 receivers this year. They do not have the man-to-man shutdown corners that the Eagles possess. Their strength is in their speed to the ball and their bruising physicality. A.J. Brown could end up being a big factor in this game, just as CeeDee Lamb was on Sunday. The key for Hurts is to avoid the interceptions that plagued Prescott, who threw two and almost a third.

3) Eagles run defense against Kyle Shanahan, Deebo Samuel, and Christian McCaffrey

Jonathan Gannon has this front seven playing its best football at the right time of year. Saquon Barkley had nowhere to run on Saturday. But Shanahan is one of the game’s best play-callers and he has built himself a stable of offensive weapons that maximize his creativity. The 49ers aren’t going to suddenly decide to play to the Eagles’ strengths and challenge Darius Slay and James Bradberry.

The Eagles can absolutely win this game without a marquee performance from Hurts. But he is the biggest potential trump card on the field and this is his moment to excel. We’ve seen how much he has grown this season. But the league’s best defense with a Super Bowl berth on the line? That’s the ultimate test.

0 Comments
* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

Most Popular

NEW YORK — The old adage that timing is everything is not always applicable. Especially when it comes to potential NFL broadcasters. Like Sean McVay. The Los Angeles Rams coach was once again pondering his future. Speculation ran deep, as it did after his team won the Super Bowl, that he had a serious interest in the broadcast booth or a studio gig. McVay ended the speculation Friday, saying ...

Patrick Mahomes will be the old man among the starting quarterbacks in the NFL conference title games. The 27-year-old All-Pro for Kansas City is the oldest member of one of the youngest groups of starting quarterbacks to make it to this round. The other three scheduled starting QBs on Sunday are 26-year-old Joe Burrow for Cincinnati, 24-year-old Jalen Hurts for Philadelphia and 23-year-old rookie Brock Purdy for San Francisco.

We can't give credit to the hash browns, because Trevor Lawrence didn't place his order until he was done with one of the greatest comebacks in NFL playoff history. Still, a late-night trip to Waffle House after an improbable victory is a striking metaphor of just how far the Jacksonville Jaguars have come from the Urban Chop House. 

Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin made his first public appearance Sunday since going into cardiac arrest three weeks ago during a game. He waved to fans from a suite at the Bills' Highmark Stadium during the first half of their AFC divisional playoff loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. The stadium erupted when an image of the recovering Hamlin filled the massive end zone screens and fans turned toward the glass-enclosed suite and cheered. The 24-year-old safety had not been seen in public since he needed to be resuscitated on the field in Cincinnati on Jan. 2, but he has been making regular visits to the stadium to see teammates.

Ran Carthon says he has been so busy earning a job as an NFL general manager that he hasn't had time to contemplate the history and meaning of becoming the Tennessee Titans' first Black GM. Carthon says an aunt texted to warn him that the question about making history would come and that was when he realized it. Carthon says his goal is to be successful and leave the door open for other Black men. 

Two years in a row the Dallas Cowboys have flubbed their last-ditch drives against the San Francisco 49ers in the playoffs. Last year, Dak Prescott ran too far on a quarterback draw and handed the ball to his center instead of the umpire. Time expired before he could get off one more play for a Hail Mary. This time, it was those around him who made the mistakes. 

Recommended for you