Only the second playoff match between two of the NFL’s most traditional franchises. In the first, in 1996, he gave 49ers a heroic game by Steve Young. The 49ers haven’t had a great quarterback since him. Fans pray that the Cinderella of the season, Brock Purdy, will be the guy to bring Vince Lombardi back to San Francisco for the first time since Young.
The problem is that on the other side there is a quarterback with his characteristics, however ironic that is. Jalen Hurts is a lady double threat and fought for MVP this season. He’s backed by one of the best defenses and rosters in the league and plays at home against a ferocious 49ers defensive unit. Ingredients are a thousand for this NFC final.
#2 San Francisco 49ers (15-4) @ #1 Philadelphia Eagles (15-3)
📍 Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, PA
🕰️ Sunday, January 29th, 5pm. 📺 ESPN2 and Star+
💰 Philadelphia favorite by 3 points on KTO
Without Purdy shining, it’s gonna get tough
One of the most sensational NFL stories this season is the rise of Brock Purdy, the last pick in the 2022 Draft. In addition to being a rookie and seventh-round pick, Purdy was the third quarterback San Francisco used this year and, in fairness, perhaps be the one who best rotated Kyle Shanahan’s offense.
Purdy isn’t tall, fast and doesn’t have the strong arm of Trey Lance. Yes, it is quite efficient. It would be sort of like an evolved Jimmy Garoppolo for the 49ers offense. It remains to be seen: when things go downhill, in a Conference final against the best campaign in the league and away from home, is being a better Garoppolo enough?
Maybe not. Brock Purdy will most likely need to fit the phrase “great players make great plays”. He will face a unit with 70 regular-season sacks and best pass blocking wins away from home. Also, Christian McCaffrey missed training this week with a calf injury and him not being 100% could be a huge factor.
The 49ers can’t leave Purdy on long thirds. No quarterback can stay in them, but it’s obvious that some – Burrow, Mahomes – do much better in them. In an obvious third pass, the Eagles will go even more voraciously on top of the rookie. In addition, the short pass in the middle of the field, exploiting the potential fragility that is the body of linebackers of the Eagles, ends up being sidelined. On short third down, the duel greatly favors the 49ers; The unit is great in situations like this and Philadelphia not so much.
Also read the preview of the AFC final: 🔒Bengals play to prove that the 2021 victory was no exception and that they can stand up to the Chiefs
With McCaffrey injured and up against one of the best defenses in the league, Purdy’s path to victory goes through protection and he will have to make some big plays. I know this sounds obvious, but it’s interesting to note that he hasn’t been required as much in several games this year. Against Seattle, for example, half of his passing yards were on catches. Philadelphia is the big “boss” of video games when it comes to the NFC. In the enemy’s lair and with pressure in every way, let’s see if the fairy tale will continue.
The backfield is essential for Philadelphia
Dallas/Dak Prescott failed to expose the kryptonite potential of the best defense in the NFL: the deep pass. Geno Smith did it with DK Metcalf and even Jarett Stidham did it with Davante Adams in the last month of the season. The problem for San Francisco is that Hurts was an MVP candidate this year and has AJ Brown, since his time in Tennessee, one of the best receivers in the league in passing for 20+ yards.
On passes like that, Hurts has 12 touchdowns on the season. Nobody has anymore. The 49ers’ defense, in turn, is one of the 5 worst in the league in touchdowns and rating given up on balls for more than 20 yards. I mean, that’s a tremendous factor. The unit even managed a few interceptions on plays like that, so needless to say, trying to steal the ball from the Eagles in some way will be essential. Talanoa Hufanga with a forced fumble on a read option, Deommodore Lenoir on a deep pass interception, something has to happen.
In the land game, the trend is for another great game by San Francisco’s defense. There’s an added element, with Hurts running with the ball. But the fact that the Demeco Ryans defense scores a lot in the zone detracts from the effectiveness of the QBs’ ground game, as does the fact that basically every player in the unit is Formula 1 cars accelerating towards the tackle. San Francisco gave up 3.44 yards per carry against rushing QBs, fifth in the NFL – taking only two TDs from them.
Neutralizing Philadelphia’s ground game, which is equated with a boxer’s jabs before the hard hook that is the through pass, is essential. He is the spark of a unit that was second best in the league in points per game at 27.24 – and that’s remembering that Jalen Hurts lost two games.
Duels that can decide:
George Kittle vs LBs de Philadelphia: It seems like a repeat of what I said above, but it’s worth remembering that Kittle is an excellent tight end as much as Kelce and if there is a potential weakness in this Eagles team, maybe it’s the inside linebackers. Kittle’s production with Purdy increased greatly, especially in touchdowns. The Eagles are the 10th team with the worst pass completions for tight ends. Looking at this duel, it could be a huge relief for Purdy.
AJ Brown vs 49ers Secondary: No quarterback had more TD passes on balls that traveled at least 20 yards than Jalen Hurts: 12. A lot of them for AJ Brown, who already showed that talent in Tennessee. San Francisco’s secondary was one of the bottom 5 in ratings given up and in touchdowns given up on balls like this. This is a duel beyond important Sunday.
🏈 Remember the third quarter of Golden State? Here the equivalent is the Eagles’ second quarter. The team has 12.18 points per game in the second period, best in the NFL. San Francisco has a good mark before halftime too, but the flow of the game can change a lot here.
🏈 Bosa Factor: Nick Bosa is a tremendous player against the run and not just the pressing QB. His discipline against Philadelphia’s read-options are beyond important here. Bosa, however, is essential in pushing Hurts; He’s coming off a pretty quiet game last week and, truth be told, the potential defender of the year is kind of missing in the playoffs. He had only one pressure against Seattle and recorded no sacks in these playoffs. Against Dallas, there were six pressures – number that led the team.
🏈 A.J. Brown/Devonta Smith vs zona: There is an advanced NFL Next Gen Stats stat that measures how much “more” a player has in receiving yards over the average player in the league. The Eagles are one of two teams that have had three players pass over 100 yards over average against zone marking, San Francisco’s bread and butter. Brown, Smith and Dallas Goedert. I look at them. Hurts, incidentally, led the NFL in ratings versus zone marking.
🏈 Purdy-Action: Kyle Shanahan greatly reduced the use of play-action at the beginning of this season and, with Jimmy Garoppolo, was using the resource at “only” 20.6% – the lowest mark of the Shanahan Era in San Francisco. With rookie Brock Purdy and the ground game being fatal for opponents, the mark rose again. 27.6% with Brock Purdy. The bad news is that Philadelphia has the third-best defense in the league in ratings given up in play-action, just 38.7 and less than 7 yards per pass on the feature.
🏈 Will Purdy let go of her arm? Something that helped the freshman a lot was that he knew how to choose and be functional when attacking the back of the field. In addition to having fewer turnovers than the former Garopoliana, this was a factor that increased San Francisco’s points per game. According to NFL Next Gen Statsm, Purdy has 16 completions between 10 and 19 yards in midfield since Week 13 — nobody has more. Having Kittle helps. Having a weakness among Philadelphia linebackers, ditto. I look at it.
🏈 The infamous battle of turnovers: San Francisco has lost every game in which it committed two or more turnovers this season. But it was only four matches. In close games like this Sunday’s, it’s immeasurable how essential protecting the ball will be. With Hurts on the field through Week 15, the Eagles had the best turnovers conceded in the league, with 13. Purdy, San Francisco has only 4 turnovers conceded since Week 14 – second best in the league. One move can literally change the game.
🏈 Hurts vs Blitz: San Francisco sends blitzes in very specific situations, having 22% this year – 24th mark in the league. That number against Jalen Hurts could be higher this Sunday as Hurts’ numbers against the blitz dip slightly in production. In rating, for example, he goes from third best without blitz to 13th. In interceptions, he goes from 4th to 11th. Hurts was the fifth most blitzed QB this season.
🚑 Eagles: Lane Johnson is a key part of the Eagles offensive line and one of the best offensive tackles in the league. He trained (groin injury) fully on Friday. Avonte Maddox, a good piece as a nickelback, trained on Friday and should return to the roster. Other than that, the Eagles are healthier than ever.
🚑 49ers: Now the bad news for the 49ers fan. Christian McCaffrey made it absolutely clear in a press conference that he is going to the game. With a calf injury, he did not train on Wednesday or Thursday, but fully on Friday. The other running back, Elijah Mitchell, has a groin injury and questionable status for Sunday — he didn’t practice any day of the week. WR Deebo Samuel was limited in practice during the week with an ankle injury but is expected to play.
To know more:
🔒5 things Dallas can do to help Prescott
🔒Bengals play to prove that the 2021 victory was no exception and that they can stand up to the Chiefs
🔒 Tactical Analysis: You’ll see this play in the Conference Finals
🔒 In Buffalo, no one is more to blame than McDermott and his assistants
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