49ers-Eagles NFC championship matchup has old-school feel
Nasty defenses. Strong rushing offenses. Physical in the trenches.
This 49ers-Eagles matchup in the NFC championship game Sunday has all the elements of old-school football.
But don’t overlook all the playmakers at the skill positions on both teams.
Philadelphia has running back Miles Sanders, wide receivers A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith and tight end Dallas Goedert to go with quarterback Jalen Hurts, a finalist for both the AP NFL MVP and Offensive Player of the Year.
San Francisco has running back Christian McCaffrey, wide receivers Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk and tight end George Kittle to take pressure off rookie QB Brock Purdy, the last player selected in the draft.
The defenses are ranked 1-2 in the NFL. The coaching staffs feature some of the game’s most brilliant minds.
Home-field advantage is the clear edge. Philadelphia’s rabid fans are programmed to make life miserable for opponents.
Both teams are quite familiar playing for a trip to the Super Bowl.
The Eagles (15-3) are in the NFC title game for the seventh time in 22 seasons and are seeking their third Super Bowl appearance in that span. They won it all after the 2017 season.
The Niners (15-4) are making a record 18th appearance in this game, second in a row and third in four years. They’re 7-10 overall.
WHEN THE 49ERS HAVE THE BALL:
Purdy is 7-0 since replacing the injured Jimmy Garoppolo, who took over after Trey Lance got hurt in Week 2.
He has thrown 16 touchdown passes, four interceptions and posted a 107.3 passer rating in the regular season, earning a spot as a finalist for the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year award.
Purdy has plenty of help. McCaffrey had 746 yards rushing, 464 yards receiving and 10 TDs combined after the 49ers acquired him in a trade with Carolina.
Samuel had 864 yards combined receiving and rushing in 13 games, Aiyuk had 1,015 yards receiving and Kittle caught 11 TDs.
Coach Kyle Shanahan is known for his creative offensive system and game plans.
The Eagles led the NFL with 70 sacks and can generate pressure without needing to blitz. Haason Reddick had 16 sacks. Javon Hargrave, Brandon Graham and Josh Sweat each had 11. Cornerbacks Darius Slay and James Bradberry are among the best duos in the game and the Eagles had the No. 1 pass defense in the NFL. But they’re 16th against the run.
Shanahan knows his best option will be to attack Philadelphia on the ground.
WHEN THE EAGLES HAVE THE BALL:
Philadelphia’s rise this season is due to Hurts developing into one of the best all-around players in the game. The addition of wide receiver Brown has been a major boost to the passing game. The Eagles can beat teams in the air with Hurts throwing to Brown, Smith and Goedert or on the ground with Sanders, Kenny Gainwell and Boston Scott. Brown and Smith both had more than 1,000 yards receiving, Sanders ran for 1,268 yards and Hurts also ran for 760 yards and 13 scores.
It all starts for Philadelphia behind a dominant offensive line featuring All-Pros Jason Kelce and Lane Johnson.
Coach Nick Sirianni and offensive coordinator Shane Steichen have implemented a system that allowed Hurts to thrive and the Eagles have looked unstoppable at times. But the 49ers have the No. 1 defense featuring three All-Pros: edge rusher Nick Bosa, linebacker Fred Warner and safety Talanoa Hufanga. Defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans, a hot coaching candidate, will present Philly its toughest test.
Niners kicker Robbie Gould is perfect in the playoffs. Not just this season, but over his entire career. He’s made all 38 extra points and 29 field goals.
Eagles kicker Jake Elliott, who was part of the Super Bowl championship team five years ago, is 16 of 18 on extra points and 12 of 12 on field goals.
Niners punter Mitch Wishnowsky had a 39.7 net average while Eagles veteran Brett Kern has a 36.6 net in four games since joining the team.
Ray-Ray McLoud is a solid returner for the Niners. Scott and Britain Covey handle return duties for the Eagles.
Shanahan is 6-2 in the playoffs and aiming for his second trip to the Super Bowl in four seasons. He was offensive coordinator for Atlanta when the Falcons blew a 28-3 lead against Tom Brady and the Patriots in Super Bowl 51.
Sirianni is 23-11 in two seasons as a head coach, including 1-1 in the playoffs. He never coached in a conference title game as an assistant.
Fans. Fly Eagles Fly. Opponents hate going to the Linc to face the rowdy, obnoxious Philly faithful. It’s a rabid crowd that would turn on their own team if they fall behind early.
Follow Rob Maaddi on Twitter at https://twitter.com/robmaaddi
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