The 2023 NFL playoffs resume with the Philadelphia Eagles hosting the San Francisco 49ers at Lincoln Financial Field in the NFC Championship Game.
In order to preview this postseason matchup, I reached out to our enemies over at Niners Nation. The terrific Tyler Austin took the time to answer my questions about this upcoming battle. Let’s take a look at the answers. [For my answers to Tyler’s questions about the Eagles, stay tuned to NN.]
Our friends at DraftKings Sportsbook have all of the odds for this week’s games.
1 - Why has Brock Purdy been so successful? And to what extent is there confidence that it will continue?
In a macro-sense, Brock Purdy has succeeded because Kyle Shanahan’s system and the fully loaded offensive weaponry surrounding him have combined to make this the most quarterback friendly situation in the entire league. To be clear, under Shanahan, this offense has done more for the quarterback than just about any other. Need proof? Look no further than Nick Mullens, the undrafted South Mississippi product and one time Eagles training camp cut down victim, who currently sits third on the list of most passing yards over a player’s first 16 starts. That’s right between Justin Herbert and Andrew Luck, by the way.
Obviously, the biggest difference between Mullens and Purdy has been in the win column. So, what has separated Mr. Irrelevant from Mullens or even his immediate predecessor Jimmy G? To make it as simple as possible, Purdy has managed to hit the many open looks afforded to him by this offense, while simultaneously minimizing turnover worthy plays. Interceptions always plagued Jimmy and Kyle’s skittishness about such a possibility often seemed to lead to conservative game plans and close outcomes. Now, or at least during Brock’s winning streak, the unit has looked free to operate at warp speed with superstars at RB, WR, and TE.
Purdy’s biggest asset, by far, has been his ability to scramble and escape pressure. In theory, the desire for this added dimension at the quarterback position triggered the Trey Lance trade back in 2021. Garoppolo’s deficiency in this area goes beyond plain as day. Even as well as he’d been playing this season, the idea of extending a play or working out of structure would have always been a pipe dream. That’s no longer the case. Purdy’s surprising speed and athleticism has accounted for multiple scores and big plays that would’ve undoubtedly ended in a sack. He also has a knack for keeping his eyes downfield in these situations, never wanting to settle for a few yards on the ground when a 20 or more could be available through the air.
Put all that together with what’s been described as the poise of a multi-year vet, and you get Brock Prudy in an NFC Championship game.
2 - What is the best matchup in the 49ers’ favor in this game?
This isn’t terribly specific, but I would say that the 49ers rushing attack against the Eagles run defense looks like the best matchup for San Francisco and the viable path to victory. There’s a belief deep in my heart that if Kyle Shanahan could run the ball 40+ times a game for a whole season, he might actually transcend to some higher plane on the sideline and disappear in a flash of blinding light.
The ground game has always represented the bedrock of the Shanahan system and this year has been no difference. How much does the coach value the ability to run? So much so that the team traded away four picks to acquire Christian McCaffrey to fix what had been a malfunctioning attack earlier in the season. From that point on, it’s been as potent as ever, and it’s only further improved once Elijah Mitchell returned from the IR. When you consider the Eagles three losses featured 115 rushing yards or more, I think it’s the glaring weak spot that Shanahan will attempt to exploit.
3 - What is the most concerning matchup for the 49ers in this game?
This must have almost certainly been the answer for any team facing the Eagles this year, yet it must be stated: the 49ers offensive line vs the Eagles defensive line. Philadelphia’s league-leading 70 sacks gives me cause for alarm, especially when you look at the amount of pressure Dallas generated last week against a mostly untested line.
If I had to point to a less extreme mismatch, there’s Jalen Hurts and his whole deal vs. the Niners D. First, he’s a mobile quarterback, the type of player which has given this unit fits in the past. The extremely aggressive pass rush in San Francisco tends to overrun plays and leave wide open scrambling lanes for QBs with speed. On the other hand, the Niners have had trouble defending the deep pass, and suffered several coverage busts that cost them touchdowns in tight games. Hurts could pick on Deommodore Lenoir or Talanoa Hufanga, players most responsible for such mental errors, and change the game with a single throw to A.J. Brown or Devonta Smith.
4 - Who’s an under-the-radar 49ers player on offense and defense that could be a surprise factor in determining the outcome?
Jauan Jennings comes to mind immediately as an under-the-radar player who could end up having a huge impact. First of all, the WR provides a physicality as a run blocker that gets under people’s skin. He’s the definition of a to-the-end-of-the-whistle competitor. His presence usually means there’s a better than decent chance the Niners will be running the ball, but don’t be fooled. The offense has consistently turned to him as a 3rd down receiving option, and he’s delivered so frequently that he earned the moniker, “3rd and JJ.” Back in Week 18 of 2021, when the Niners’ season hung in the balance against the Rams, Jennings caught two touchdowns, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get similar looks in the conference championship game.
5 - Who wins this game and why? With DraftKings Sportsbook listing the Eagles as 2.5-point favorites, what’s your score prediction?
The Niners because this game looks so evenly matched from the outside that I will give the tie to my team and hope for the best. Specifically, I’m betting on DeMeco Ryans, the God-tier DC, to draw up just enough to slow this offense down and Shanahan to find a way to run the ball like a madman to keep this offense off the field. If they can combine to do that, I still think it’ll be a close game, but the Niners might just win.
49ers 27, Eagles 24.
Rob “Stats” Guerrera joined RJ Ochoa and me on The NFC East Mixtape this week to preview this game.
Stats also joined John Stolnis for this week’s Eye On The Enemy episode for BGN Radio: