Anxiety is at an all-time high if your favorite team is playing Sunday. On the AFC side, every average Joe is convinced Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs come up short. If you’re a Bengals fan, can you really be confident about winning in Arrowhead again?
In the NFC, narratives are one-sided and out of control. While the majority of analysts have face-planted on their weekly Brock Purdy takes, they’re once again predicting the rookie to turn into a pumpkin. It hasn’t happened yet, but if you keep predicting it, you’re bound to be correct eventually.
Purdy turns into a pumpkin?
The lazy way out is to say the rookie quarterback will struggle in his first playoff road start. You don’t need context. Forget that the other starting quarterback is one year older than Purdy, with two career playoff starts that include two interceptions and a completion percentage of 58 percent.
If the clock struck midnight on Purdy, it would have happened last week against a Dallas Cowboys defense that’s faster, more athletic and physical than what Purdy will face today.
I’m writing this at a coffee shop in Philadelphia, and I overheard someone say, “Purdy hasn’t faced a defense like this before.”
What we haven’t heard about is what happens when the Eagles defense faces a competent offense? When Philadelphia has played a top 16 offense in DVOA this season, they’ve allowed:
Lions: 35 points
Jaguars: 21 points (Jacksonville jumped out to a 14-0 lead before fumbling on Philly’s 34-yard line, and then the rain started coming down in Philadelphia)
Packers: 33 points
Cowboys w/ Dak Prescott: 40 points
Giants: 22 points in the rematch in Week 18
The Commanders scored 32 points the second time around against Philly. Since Week 13, the 49ers have the top offense by DVOA — which adjusts for the opponent — and have a better passing offense than the second placed Detroit Lions by nearly ten percentage points.
There’s a fair argument to be made that the Eagles have the best defensive line going up against an offensive line that struggled for a half game last week. My takeaway was, despite being under pressure on 16 of his 33 dropbacks, Purdy didn’t have one turnover worthy throw while still managing to push the ball beyond 20 yards four times.
Giants quarterback Daniel Jones left enough meat on the bone last week to feed a family of five. New York had receivers frequently running wide-open. That statement may be hard to fathom, considering the score was 38-7.
I counted six plays where the Giants could have had a first down or explosive play, but Jones missed the opportunity presented. Check out two of the screenshots below:
Brian Daboll ran a wheel route designed to go to Saquon Barkley in the first quarter. Jones did not see him.
Jones elected to throw an interception after being late over the middle on the ensuing drive, instead of throwing to Barkley in the flat where he had a clear angle against the defensive end covering him:
Those were both in the first half before the game got out of hand.
Darius Slay is an All-Pro and James Bradberry isn’t far behind. The Eagles have an excellent duo at the cornerback position. But it’s the other three defensive backs that will struggle to defend and tackle the 49ers skill players.
The Eagles have struggled mightily to defend the opponent’s third receiver, ranking 22nd in DVOA. They’re also 24th at defending passes to running backs. To counter that, when either Deebo Samuel or George Kittle have lined up in the slot Purdy has completed 29 of his 39 attempts for a total of 425 yards.
So while the majority of pundits are convinced Purdy’s play dwindles against the Eagles, his eight starts, play-caller, and supporting cast suggest otherwise.
Shotgun to save the day
The Eagles are a well-coached team, and it shows by the way they’ve defend play-action passes. Philadelphia is No. 1 in the NFL in EPA per play allowed on play-action passes. Having two lockdown cornerbacks on the outside allows Jonathan Gannon to use more resources over the middle.
The 49ers will find success out of shotgun, which is an area where the Eagles defense has been susceptible. Kyle Shanahan is referenced as an offensive genius for how he puts his players in positions to succeed.
Purdy is the best “point guard” Shanahan has had under center in San Francisco. For years, we had to listen to another false narrative that Kyle is a run-first play caller.
Mind you, in 2016, Shanahan’s passing rates were much higher and the Falcons were historically efficient on early downs. They moved the ball up and down the field, stretching defenses vertically, while relying on the pass.
It’s been déjà vu with Purdy under center. Since Week 14, the 49ers have thrown the ball out of shotgun 93 percent of the time without using play-action.
On early downs through the first three quarters during that same stretch, the 49ers are No. 1 in EPA per pass using shotgun without play-action. Purdy is No. 2 in EPA per passing attempt, fifth in passing success rate, and second in adjusted yards per pass attempt among 27 quarterbacks.
You’re doing yourself a disservice when blindly applying statistics. Shanahan trusts Purdy to go to the correct spot with the ball and hit receivers in stride to maximize their yards after the catch.
Shanahan’s “Death Lineup out of 21 personnel” forces the Eagles to stay in an odd front. Look at how much space the 49ers will have over the middle of the field when the Eagles are in their base defense:
You force a safety to walk down and cover either Kittle or Deebo, while the lone linebacker over the middle of the field is put in a bind with your route concepts.
Shanahan will high/low the Eagles linebackers into submission. As Purdy has said since he took over as the starter, all he has to do is hit the layups.
Much like the defense, winning on early downs will be the deciding factor for the 49ers offense. And unlike last week, San Francisco should be more effective on the ground. The offense stalled in the red zone, but the Eagles are 31st against the run when team’s get inside their 20.
The odd front Philadelphia deploys plays right into the hands of some of the 49ers most explosive run plays: Counter, Wham, and Jet sweep. Look for Shanahan to throw it early, so he can run it late.
“The 49ers haven’t seen anything like us yet,” the Eagles fans declared behind the bar at HomeGrown Coffee and Creations in South Philadelphia. Masked in between their bravado were statements such as, “well, we’d rather play the Cowboys.”
Before the playoffs started, there was one team in the NFC I felt could beat the 49ers from purely a matchup perspective. The Niners beat them last week. There are more paths to victory Sunday for San Francisco than Philadelphia.
But because of a speed bump last week when the 49ers scored 19 points after going 1-for-3 in the red zone, we’ll focus on one game and ignore the previous seven where the offense scored five touchdowns a game.
Today is a Purdy game. Outside of sports talk radio narratives, there’s zero reason or evidence to believe that’s a bad thing. Honestly, hearing people talk about this game should help your anxiety.
49ers 27, Eagles 21.