Ty Austin did his part and gave the Eagles three reasons why the 49ers could come up short in the NFC Championship. Now, it’s Brandon Lee Gowton of Bleeding Green Nation’s turn to tell us why he believes Philadelphia will lose.
1 - The 49ers can exploit the middle of the Eagles’ defense
The key to the Eagles beating the 49ers is having success outside the numbers. Considering San Francisco has allowed the sixth-most yard to wide receivers this season, Jalen Hurts needs to get the ball to A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith.
Unlike last week, this does NOT figure to be a Dallas Goedert game. The 49ers clearly have much, MUCH better linebacker talent than the Giants are working with.
The opposite approach is best for the Eagles’ opposition. The 49ers should not be aggressively going after cornerbacks James Bradberry and Darius Slay. They should instead be working the middle of the field. T.J. Edwards is a nice linebacker, but he has athletic limitations that could be exploited by San Fran’s talent. Kyzir White is more athletic, but also a bit more erratic.
Earlier this season, the Eagles were the NFL’s worst tackling team as graded by Pro Football Focus. They’ve since improved to 14th overall, so they’ve seen improvement in that area. But they’ll really be tested by a 49ers team that leads the league in generating yards after the catch.
Kyle Shanahan should aim to neutralize the Eagles’ pass by having Brock Purdy get the ball out quick to his playmakers. Jonathan Gannon’s defensive approach typically allows the opposition to play small ball with the goal of limiting the big play in mind. If that’s the case, the 49ers should be content to drive the length of the field and punish the defense with hard-running efforts.
2 - Jalen Hurts is less than 100%
When asked about his status earlier this week, the Eagles’ quarterback said the following:
“I’ve felt better. But it doesn’t really matter. Gotta get it done.”
Hurts hasn’t been limited in practice since entering Week 18. He’s 42 days removed from his shoulder injury occurrence.
That said, he still seems to be dealing with some pain/discomfort.
That much didn’t prevent Hurts from getting off to a hot start against the Giants. But one can wonder if he might be more effective early in games before his shoulder fatigues. He did overthrow A.J. Brown in the end zone late in last week’s game.
If the 49ers are able to shut down the Eagles’ running attack, which is easier said than done but entirely possible given their success against the ground game, the Birds will need Hurts to carry the team with his arm. To what extent can he handle a significant workload right now?
Hurts only had to throw the ball 24 times in the Divisional Round. When he had to throw the ball 35 times in Week 18, the results were not great. Of course, the Eagles were not really going all out to win that season finale. They basically took a vanilla preseason approach to make sure they beat the Giants’ backups without giving too much away ahead of the playoffs.
Still, Hurts’ shoulder is something to monitor. Especially as a tough 49ers defense will be looking to land physical hits on him and potentially hamper his effectiveness.
3 - There’s an advantage to being the underdog
With one reason stated for the offense and one reason stated for the defense, here’s the intangible X-factor.
Eagles fans know that there’s a benefit to their team being counted out. The Birds were underdogs en route to winning Super Bowl LII with Nick Foles, a backup, playing out of his mind in the postseason.
The 49ers have their own underdog in Purdy. At first glance, it’s hard to count on him leading San Francisco to victory, considering no rookie quarterback has ever won a conference championship game.
But Purdy has already defied precedent and expectation by getting the 49ers to this point. They haven’t lost when he’s started … so that winning streak might very well continue.