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5 players to watch: It’s for Talanoa Hufanga to get back into the interception column

Hufanga hasn’t had an interception since November

NFC Divisional Playoffs - Dallas Cowboys v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

The 49ers have made it to the NFC Championship Game for the second consecutive season and are a win away from their second Super Bowl appearance in four years. In order to make it to Glendale, the 49ers face their toughest task taking on the 14-3 Philadelphia Eagles at the Linc.

Sunday marks the first time since 2020 that the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in either conference have met on Championship Sunday and the first time since 2019, when the 49ers beat the Packers that the top seeds play in the NFC Championship Game.

These are the players to watch on Sunday as the 49ers look to become the first No. 2 seed to beat the No. 1 in their conference since 2018:

QB Brock Purdy

Brock Purdy had his ups-and-downs against the Dallas Cowboys last week, throwing for 214 yards and completing 19 of 29 attempts in the win. While Dallas’ pass defense is fine, the Eagles' defense does everything their division rival does but better.

Dallas finished eighth in the league in passing yards allowed. Philadelphia finished first.

Dallas finished seventh with 16 interceptions. Philadelphia finished fifth with 17, with C.J. Gardner-Johnson’s six interceptions tied for most in the league.

Maybe most importantly, Dallas finished third with 54 sacks. Philadelphia finished first with 70, just two away from tying the 1984 Bears for most sacks in a season.

Philadelphia will likely be the best defense Purdy faces this season, whether the 49ers make the Super Bowl or not. The 49ers' offense can manage the Eagles' tough defense so long as Purdy continues to play clean football and not turn the ball over.

RT Mike McGlinchey

The Patriots, Steelers, and Vikings were the only three teams in the NFL this season to have two players record at least two sacks.

The Philadelphia Eagles had four players record at least 11 sacks.

Haason Reddick leads the bunch with 16 sacks, with Javon Hargrave, Josh Sweat, and Brandon Graham tied with 11, with the four combining for 232 of the team's 364 pressures.

McGlinchey will likely face Reddick and Graham the most on Sunday, with both taking majority of their snaps on the right side of the offense. Reddick led the Eagles with 75 pressures on 472 pass rush attempts, with Graham finishing third with 51 on 301 pass rush attempts but led the foursome with a pressure on 16.7 percent of his rushes.

McGlinchey allowed five pressures against Micah Parsons and the Dallas pass rush but will have a more challenging test in Philadelphia.

DE Nick Bosa

Before the postseason, Bosa had recorded at least half of a sack in each of his first six career playoff games. Not only did that streak end with no sacks against both Seattle and Dallas in his last two games, but Bosa is in danger of having three consecutive games without a sack for the first time since his rookie year.

The Eagles' offensive line allowed 44 sacks this season, with Jalen Hurts sacked on 7.6 percent of his dropbacks, the 10th-highest percentage in the league. The Eagles line is bookended by Jordan Mailata on the left and Lane Johnson on the right.

Bosa has lined up on the right side of the offense 516 times compared to 321 against the left, but Mailata allowed 30 more pressures on only 36 more pass-blocking snaps.

Despite playing on the 195 snap difference between the left and right side of the line, Bosa had five games this season where he lined up more against the left side of the offense. The difference between Mailata and Johnson could be enough for Bosa to take advantage of the matchup.

LB Fred Warner

Between trying to contain Hurts, stopping Miles Sanders, and having coverage responsibility on Dallas Goedert, Warner is going to be in for a busy Sunday.

The Eagles' rush offense finished fifth in the league with 147.5 rushing yards per game. Sanders led the way with 1,269 yards on 259 attempts but Hurts was just behind per attempt with 760 yards on 165 attempts. Ideally, the 49ers' defensive line keeps Sanders away from the second and third level, but Warner will play a huge role in preventing big runs from both Sanders and Hurts.

Goedart finished third on the Eagles with 69 targets but finished with a higher yard-per-reception average than DeVonta Smith, who finished with 67 more targets than Goedart. Warner was excellent in coverage against Dallas, allowing only two receptions on four targets for 15 total yards, including a pass breakup on an attempt for CeeDee Lamb 30 yards downfield.

S Talanoa Hufanga

Hufanga will share some of the same responsibilities as Warner when he plays close to the line but will have to deal with both Smith and A.J. Brown and prevent big plays. Hurts finished with 52 plays this season that went 20 or more yards and 11 that went more than 40, ranking eighth and fifth in the league, respectively.

10 of the 11 plays that went for more than 40 yards went to either Brown or Smith, with the 11th being a 53-yard reception by Quez Watkins against the Vikings on a Hurts deep shot. Fifteen of Hurts’ 22 passing touchdowns went to either Brown or Smith, with 55.6 percent of the team's target share going to the duo.

Hufanga hasn’t had an interception since November against the Chargers. With Hurts having the fourth-lowest interception percentage in the league at 1.3, an interception might not be likely on Sunday.

Both Hufanga and Tashaun Gipson will both have a challenge with Hurts and company, and preventing big plays could become more critical for the safeties than being aggressive in hunting for turnovers.