NFC West Reporter
Following his team’s NFC divisional playoff win over the Dallas Cowboys, San Francisco 49ers linebacker Fred Warner quickly turned his attention to the Philadelphia Eagles and the behemoth they’ve established on the offensive side of the football.
Warner understands that San Francisco’s best defense will face one of its toughest tasks yet in stopping Philadelphia’s high-octane offense, led by an MVP candidate in quarterback Jalen Hurts and perhaps the best offensive line in the game anchored by the All-Pro center. Jason Kelce: When the Eagles (15-3) host the 49ers (15-4) in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday (3 p.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports app).
The 49ers are making their 18th conference championship game appearance, the most of any team in the Super Bowl era, while Philadelphia is making its seventh NFC title game appearance since in 2000, the most of any team in the NFC during that period.
“We’re going to have to watch the tape hard,” Warner said. “From watching them all season, they have an incredible overall team. Offensively, they have a great offensive line, great players, and Jalen Hurts is having an MVP-type season. I respect his approach to the game and his mentality. We’ve got a big challenge on our hands, for sure.”
At the top of the list for the 49ers will be Hurts and Philadelphia’s running attack. The Eagles rolled up 268 yards in a 38-7 victory over the New York Giants last week, led by Kenneth Gainwell’s 112 yards.
For the season, Hurts finished fourth among all quarterbacks with 760 rushing yards and first with 14 rushing touchdowns (including the playoffs). Hurts is just shy of passing Cam Newton (2011) for the all-time single-season rushing touchdowns by a quarterback.
According to Next Gen Stats, Hurts carried the ball a league-high 97 times for quarterbacks on designed routes, so the 49ers will need to play disciplined football, staying in their running gaps and rushing lanes in the steps
Nick Sirianni compares Jalen Hurts to Michael Jordan
After Philadelphia beat the Giants 38-7 in the divisional round, Eagles coach Nick Sirianni compared Eagles QB Jalen Hurts to NBA legend Michael Jordan.
The 49ers allowed just 3.4 yards per carry during the regular season. According to Next Gen Stats, San Francisco also allowed just 60 rushing yards by quarterbacks during the regular season, although the most talented QB rusher the 49ers faced this season was the Bears’ Justin Fields, who ran for 28 yards in Chicago’s season opener. win in San Francisco on a rain-soaked court at Soldier Field.
The 49ers are familiar with the Eagles, as San Francisco defeated Philadelphia 17-11 in Week 2 last year. Now in his second season, more polished and with more knowledge of head coach Nick Sirianni’s offense, Warner understands that Hurts poses a more dangerous threat to San Francisco’s defense.
“Just his command of the offense and knowing where to go with the ball, being more decisive,” Warner said. “Obviously, he’s a dynamic playmaker, always has been. But he uses his legs to create plays and just throws the ball down the field to guys who can go up and make plays. That’s elevated him to being an All-Pro quarterback . . .
As Warner said, along with Hurts’ strength as a runner, what makes Philadelphia formidable is his ability to make plays in the passing game. Hurts completed 66.5 percent of his passes for 3,701 yards, with 22 touchdowns and just eight interceptions during the regular season, good for a 101.5 passer rating.
Fred Warner on 49ers defense: ‘We’re the best in the world’
Fred Warner spoke with FOX Sports’ Erin Andrews after the 49ers’ win over the Cowboys. He touched on the defense by limiting the Dallas offense to 12 points and said he’s excited to play the Eagles for a Super Bowl spot.
Wide receiver AJ Brown, secured in a draft-day trade from the Tennessee Titans last year, is Philadelphia’s top receiving threat, leading the Eagles in receiving yards (1,496) and receiving touchdowns (11), while finished second on the team in receptions (88) during the regular season.
Speedy DeVonta Smith led the Eagles in receptions with 95 for 1,196 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. Tight end Dallas Goedert totaled 55 receptions for 702 yards and three scores, while Miles Sanders paced the Eagles in rushing with 1,269 yards and 11 scores.
But what makes all of this happen is Philadelphia’s strong offensive front. Kelce, left guard Landon Dickerson and right tackle Lane Johnson were voted to the Pro Bowl this season. The Eagles’ offensive line helped pave the way for 2,509 rushing yards during the regular season, No. 5 in the NFL.
“They’re very well coached on the O-line,” said Nick Bosa, San Francisco’s 18.5 point guard. “Smart and smart. And then obviously the running quarterback component is an extra piece.”
According to ESPN Analytics, the Eagles had the No. 2 run block win percentage along the offensive line, and the No. 12 pass block win percentage group. However, Hurts was sacked 38 times this year — just seven more quarterbacks than the Oklahoma product.
One thing in San Francisco’s favor is that the defense has good tacklers in space that limit explosive plays. The 49ers are No. 1 in the NFL in yards after contact allowed, giving up just 58 yards after contact per game during the regular season.
“I expect it to be a battle to the end,” Warner said when asked if he expected a backyard showdown with the Eagles. “The Cowboys and the Eagles are physical, talented teams that are very fast and very talented. Just like it was a battle last week, I expect, if nothing else this week, with them in their home stadium and the home crowd behind them. They’ll be primed and ready to go.”
Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @eric_d_williams.
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