NFC East Reporter
It will be the best team in the NFC against the hottest team in the NFC. A quarterback who was an MVP candidate all season against a quarterback who has never lost an NFL game. And one coach of the year candidate against another.
There may not have been a better, or more inevitable, matchup than the Philadelphia Eagles (15-3) against the San Francisco 49ers (15-4), the top two seeds in the conference. They will face off in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday afternoon at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, with the winner heading to Arizona for Super Bowl LVII on Feb. 12.
The two teams boast the NFL’s top two defenses, top five offenses, top 10 rushing attacks and 114 sacks between them.
Here’s a closer look at the matchups for what could be a classic NFC Championship Game:
At first glance it is a mismatch. Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts has been an MVP candidate all season — “Michael Jordan,” as coach Nick Sirianni called him Saturday night. And Brock Purdy is a rookie third-string quarterback forced into the lineup by injuries.
Of course, Purdy, 23, has been on a roll for years. He is now 7-0 as a starter. He has thrown 16 touchdown passes with just three interceptions since taking over as the 49ers’ No. 1 quarterback on Dec. 4. He doesn’t run and throw for a lot of yards, but he’s incredibly efficient and keeps the offense going. moving
Brock Purdy and George Kittle to advance to the NFC Championship
FOX Sports’ Erin Andrews spoke with George Kittle and Brock Purdy following the 49ers’ win over the Cowboys in the NFL Divisional Round.
As for Hurts, he’s everything to the Eagles. He has been the best dual-threat quarterback in the league all year, throwing 24 touchdown passes and rushing for 14.
In reality, the 49ers may be the only team in the NFC that can match the Eagles weapon for weapon. Both have a great 1-2 punch at receiver: the Eagles with AJ Brown and DeVonta Smith, and the 49ers with Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk. Both have dangerous tight ends: Philly’s Dallas Goedert and San Francisco’s George Kittle. And both have strong offenses led by dangerous running backs: Christian McCaffrey for the 49ers and Miles Sanders for the Eagles.
Talent for talent, it’s hard not to even say it. But the Eagles made the most of what they had, especially at receiver, where Smith had 95 catches for 1,196 yards and seven touchdowns and Brown was 88-1,496-11. Of course, Samuel missed four games with a sprained knee and ankle. He looks healthy now.
It’s also worth noting that the 49ers’ weapons do most of their damage on plays over the middle, which is where the Eagles have had the most trouble defending this year.
Both teams live on land. The Eagles averaged 147.6 yards per game during the regular season and the 49ers averaged 138.9. Both are also quite deep when it comes to running. Sanders led the Eagles (1,269 yards, 11 touchdowns), but they also sprinkled in some Boston Scott (217 yards) and Kenneth Gainwell (240).
Meanwhile, McCaffrey (746 yards, 6 touchdowns) has been the dominant presence in the 49ers’ backfield since acquiring him from Carolina in late October, but Elijah Mitchell (279 yards) has his moments, and they use Samuel (232 ) as a player. come running back, too.
What puts the Eagles over the edge, though, is the diversity they have with Hurts as a speed weapon. He rushed for 760 yards and 13 touchdowns this season, keeping defenses off balance, wondering if he was going to run or pass. Purdy, who had 13 rushing yards in the regular season, is not a threat to run.
Jalen Hurts has three TDs in a blowout win over the Giants
Jalen Hurts showed his versatility, with three TDs and 188 total yards in the Eagles’ 38-7 win over the Giants in the divisional round.
The Pass Rush
The best pass rusher on the field next Sunday will be 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa, who has 18.5 sacks and could end up as the NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
But no one else on the 49ers is close to him, and he has nearly half of his 44 sacks. The Eagles, meanwhile, have 70 sacks. His haste is deep and unrelenting. Four players have double-digit sacks: linebacker Haason Reddick (16) and linemen Javon Hargrave, Josh Sweat and Brandon Graham, who each had 11.
Both teams have strong offensive lines, but the Eagles have the advantage of being able to plan away from Bosa. Purdy hasn’t faced the kind of pressure he’ll likely see in this game.
This has been the weakness of the 49ers defense. San Francisco has been searching for a cornerback to play opposite Charvarius Ward since Emmanuel Moseley’s knee injury in October. Meanwhile, the Niners have struggled with top receivers. Dallas’ CeeDee Lamb had 10 catches for 117 yards Sunday. Seattle’s DK Metcalf had 10 catches for 136 yards and two touchdowns a week earlier.
Meanwhile, the Eagles have one of the best secondaries in the NFL. There’s no better 1-2 punch than Darius Slay and James Bradberry, and safety CJ Gardner-Johnson tied for the NFL lead with six interceptions despite missing five games.
Nick Sirianni and Kyle Shanahan are two of the top candidates for Coach of the Year honors for their stellar jobs this season, and it would be hard to argue against either of them. Sirianni has the most talented team, an all-star team, and has been able to push all the right motivational buttons all season while bringing out the best in his players with his game plans.
But what Shanahan has done might be more remarkable. He lost his starting quarterback, Trey Lance, to an ankle injury in the second week of the season. Then he had to go back to Jimmy Garoppolo, and just as he was getting hot — reeling off four straight wins to get the 49ers back on track after going 3-4 — he broke his foot.
That forced Shanahan to go with Purdy, a new seventh-round pick. However, the victory never stopped. The 49ers won 10 straight to end the regular season and two more in the playoffs. It takes a lot of coaching to do something like that.
Ralph Vacchiano is the NFC East reporter for FOX Sports, covering the Washington Commanders, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants. He spent the previous six years covering the Giants and Jets for SNY TV in New York, and before that, 16 years covering the Giants and the NFL for the New York Daily News. Follow him on Twitter at @RalphVacchiano.
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