Rematches are fine, but there’s something special about the two best teams in the NFC facing off for the first time this season with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line. The first quarter could be decisive. Both teams excel with the lead, and the 49ers do not want to get into situations where they overly rely on their dropback passing game. The Eagles are built to rush the passer and prevent vertical throws, but their struggles against the run this season are well-documented. They improved late in the season, but not enough to slow down the 49ers’ ground game like Dallas did in the Divisional Round.
Kyle Shanahan knows his group up front is better at run-blocking, and that less is more with Brock Purdy. Will Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon mix up his defense enough to force the 49ers into long-yardage situations, like Dan Quinn did last week? Christian McCaffrey’s calf injury is something to watch, because there is a drop-off from McCaffrey to Elijah Mitchell, especially on passing downs.
While the 49ers may be the more balanced team, the Eagles are deeper up front on both sides of the ball and more talented at the most important positions: quarterback, edge rusher, cornerback and wide receiver. A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith are bigger mismatches in coverage than even the YAC Bros. The Eagles run out of passing formations and pass out of running formations better than any team in football. Jalen Hurts’ legs unlock it all, but it’s been his play inside the pocket that has improved the most this season. He and his wideouts can win downfield even when they aren’t schemed wide open. Hurts throws a beautiful deep ball.
The Eagles were my pick to win the Super Bowl before the season, and there’s no reason to quit them now. In a game with small margins, I trust second-year coach Nick Sirianni to make better game-management decisions when it comes to timeouts and crucial fourth downs. Expect an epic postgame celebration, even if Sirianni has to wait longer than the second quarter to start mean-mugging the camera.
Image & Story Credit: nfl.com