This Sunday's NFC Championship Game will be the second-ever time the San Francisco 49ers and Philadelphia Eagles face each other in the playoffs. The last time the two teams matched up was in the 1996 Wild Card Game where the 49ers defeated the Eagles 14-0 at Candlestick Park.
Now, the 2022 NFC Championship matchup is hosted in Philly's house for a chance at Super Bowl LVII. San Francisco will face a Philadelphia team that is coming off of a 38-7 victory over the New York Giants in the Divisional Round – the same team they faced in their regular season finale where the Eagles also came out on top 22-16. This Sunday, one team's season will be ending and the other will advance to the biggest stage in the NFL.
"This part of the year, and this game specifically, it's all mental," linebacker Fred Warner said. "Who can do right longer? Who can continue to push through for the end goal? Do you want it that bad? Are you starving for it?... That's where we're at."
Since training camp started at the beginning of the season, the 49ers have been praised from both coaches and analysts for their physical style of play. This year, the team has been known to play hard no matter the result of the game, so much so that 49ers opponents have finished the regular season 0-15 in their game the very next week.
San Francisco will meet their physical match in the title game, as the 49ers and Eagles offenses and defenses all sit in the top-five of league rankings.
|49ers Offense||5th Overall|
|Eagles Offense||3rd Overall|
|49ers Defense||1st Overall|
|Eagles Defense||2nd Overall|
Both teams entering Sunday's matchup possess Pro Bowl-level talent at each level of their game. If one thing were to separate the competition, it would be quarterback experience.
San Francisco will be led by rookie quarterback Brock Purdy and the Eagles will be led by third-year quarterback Jalen Hurts. Although the two QB's have different levels of experience in the league, they actually have a history of playing each other in college. In the 2019 season, Hurts and the Oklahoma Sooners defeated Purdy and the Iowa State Cyclones by just one point (42-41).
Here's a look at how the two quarterbacks have been performing in NFL as of late (last seven starts):
|Stats||Jalen Hurts||Brock Purdy|
|Passing Yards per Game||234.0||234.9|
|Passing Touchdowns vs. Interceptions||10-3||14-2|
|Combined Passing and Rushing Touchdowns||17||16|
A majority of the battle will be in the trenches for the championship game. Hurts will be protected by a strong offensive line anchored by All-Pro center Jason Kelce. Left guard Landon Dickerson, right tackle Lane Johnson and Kelce all were voted to the Pro Bowl this season. With the level of consistency up front, and the fact that Johnson hasn't given up a single sack this year, the 49ers D-line will have to capitalize on any opportunities they make. One weak spot the team could exploit is left tackle Jordan Mailata who's given up 6.0 sacks this season. Overall, the Eagles offensive line has helped pave the way for 2,509 rushing yards during the regular season, No. 5 in the NFL.
Looking down Philadelphia's roster, the Eagles have a list of offensive weapons who've aided in the team's success this year. The leading man in Philadelphia's run game is Pro Bowler Miles Sanders. He's hit career highs in touches (296), rushing yards (1,359), rushing touchdowns (11) and scrimmage yards (1,437) this season. The back has contributed to a high-powered Eagles run game that's scored 35 rushing touchdowns this year, the second-most by any team in a season in the last 30 years.
Philadelphia's offensive talent doesn't stop at their run game. Eagles wide receivers rank top-four in the league in both receiving yards and touchdowns and Philadelphia is the only team to have three players average over 50 receiving yards per game this year (WR A.J. Brown, 88.0; WR DeVonta Smith, 70.4; TE Dallas Goedert, 58.5).
Not only can the Eagles offense attack in their run and passing game, but they can also rely on their quarterback to stack the rushing yards. Hurts has notched 794 yards on the ground and scored 14 rushing touchdowns this season, the most by any quarterback in the league.
"We know the challenge that we have this week when guys have to go up and be able to make a play," defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans said. "They get opportunities when the ball is up, it's an opportunity for us to go up and make the play.
"When it comes to (Hurts) scrambling around, that's all 11. It starts with our D-line being where they're supposed to be and guys who are responsible to go get the quarterback. We just have to do our job. No, we can't make a bigger deal out of it than it is. Everybody has to do their job, be where they're supposed to be, and we play defense with all 11 as a group swarming. That's what's going to help us defend the quarterback running."
When taking a look at Philadelphia's defense, what jumps off the page is their defensive line. The Eagles have tallied 75.0 sacks this year, the third-most by any team in a season in the Super Bowl era. Thirty-four sacks of the total count have come from the Eagles last six games of the regular season. In the Eagles only playoff game so far, four of Philadelphia's defensive players recorded at least one sack (LB Haason Reddick, 1.5; DE Josh Sweat, 1.5; DE Brandon Graham, 1.0 and DT Fletcher Cox, 1.0).
The Eagles also rank first in the NFL in passing defense, only allowing an average of 179.8 yards per game. Last week against New York in the Divisional Round, Philadelphia's secondary limited Giants quarterback Daniel Jones to 135 passing yards, 5.0 yards per attempt average and an interception by cornerback James Bradberry.
Philadelphia's defense struggled most against the run game this season, allowing 2,186 rushing yards and an average of 4.6 yards per carry to opposing offenses (ranked T-20th in NFL). Last week, Giants running back Saquon Barkley rushed for 61 yards and an average of 6.8 yards per carry against the Eagles, and San Francisco's strength in the run game has a chance to dominate in this area.
"They've got a lot of really good players up front. The linebackers fly to the ball well, their secondary is talented and they pose a lot of challenges in a lot of different areas," running back Christian McCaffrey said. "For us, it's just about executing the play call. Kyle (Shanahan) knows all that stuff, he knows exactly where he wants to go with the ball and it's just up to us to be able to go out there, do it full speed and play beyond the X's and O's... There are challenges all over the field and it's going to be up to us to exploit them."