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January 26, 2023

Eagles vs. 49ers: Five matchups to watch, when the 49ers have the ball

Eagles NFL
012523BrockPurdy Cary Edmondson/USA TODAY Sports

Will the Eagles be the team that finally makes Brock Purdy pay for his mistakes?

For the last couple of months it felt like the Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers would eventually meet in the playoffs, and sure enough, here we are in the game to get to the Super Bowl. On Wednesday we published our five matchups to watch when the Eagles have the ball. Here we'll cover our five matchups to watch when the 49ers have the ball.

1) The 49ers' rushing offense vs. the Eagles run defense

One of the early season concerns surrounding the Eagles was their occasionally porous run defense. Those concerns began to fade away sometime around Week 11, when the Eagles signed Linval Joseph and Ndamukong Suh to fortify their defensive line depth. It's interesting that the following view from San Francisco is that the Eagles' run defense is their biggest weakness:

I think most Philadelphians would beg to differ, and that their biggest concern would be Jonathan Gannon calling soft shell defenses and getting picked apart in the short to intermediate areas of the field. But I digress.

If you look at the Eagles' schedule from Week 11 on, they played a lot of run-heavy teams with star runners. Let's take a look at each game, for some context:

Colts: On the Colts' first drive of the game, Jonathan Taylor ran seven times for 49 yards and a TD. After that initial drive, the run D tightened up, as Taylor rushed 15 times the rest of the day and only gained 35 yards.

Packers: A.J. Dillon did some damage on the ground, carrying eight times for 64 yards and a TD, but the Eagles did a good job on Aaron Jones, who ran 12 times for 43 yards.

Titans: Ryan Tannehill had a few scrambles for decent gains, but the Eagles shut down the Titans' rushing offense, holding Derrick Henry to 30 yards on 11 carries.

Giants: Daniel Jones gained 26 yards and a TD on some scrambles and Tyrod Taylor gained 40 yards in garbage time against backups, but the Eagles held Saquon Barkley to 28 yards on nine carries.

Bears: David Montgomery carried 12 times for 53 yards and a TD. Justin Fields carried 15 times for 95 yards, 39 of which came on a ridiculous scramble after he was nearly sacked.

Cowboys: Dak Prescott had 41 yards on scrambles, but Tony Pollard and Ezekiel Elliott combined for 25 carries for just 74 yards and a TD.

Saints: The Saints ran it a lot (35 times) for 129 yards, but they only gained 3.7 YPC. It was more the underneath passing game that did the most damage against the Eagles' defense.

Giants: Weird game. The trio of Gary Brightwell, Davis Webb, and Matt Breida combined for 21 carries for 129 yards and a TD in a game the Giants played their backups. Oddly, this was probably the worst run defense game the Eagles had during this stretch.

Giants: Barkley had one long run of 39 yards in the second half, but the Giants couldn't get anything going on the ground until the Eagles were content to let them run it and burn time off the clock.

They faced something of a gauntlet of the league's best runners during that stretch — Jonathan Taylor, Aaron Jones, Derrick Henry, Saquon Barkley twice, Justin Fields, Tony Pollard, Alvin Kamara, etc. Some of those guys made some plays, but for the most part the Eagles did a nice job against them.

I would certainly agree that the Eagles are not world beaters against the run, but I also wouldn't call it a weakness either.

The 49ers want to be a physical, running team. In 2022, they were the seventh most run-heavy team in the NFL, and like many of the Eagles' other opponents this season, they ran it well:

 49ers rushing offenseStat NFL rank 
 Rushing yards per game139.7 
Rushing first downs per game 7.8 
Rushing yards per attempt 4.7 11 
Rushes of 20+ yards 19 

To be determined how healthy the 49ers' running backs will be on gameday. Christian McCaffrey and Elijah Mitchell didn't practice on Wednesday, while Deebo Samuel (who moonlights as a running back) was limited.

2) The Eagles' tackling vs. the Niners' YAC monsters

There have been some games this season in which the Eagles have had poor tackling performances, notably against the Lions and Cardinals. They've been much better in the back half of the season on that front, but getting guys to the ground should still be a major point of emphasis on Sunday, because Samuel, McCaffrey, Brandon Aiyuk and George Kittle are all extremely dangerous after the catch.

3) Where might the Eagles go feastin'?

Should the Eagles get the Niners into long downs and distances, they'll have a chance to get after Brock Purdy. The 49ers' offensive line looks like this:

 Trent WilliamsAaron Banks Jake Brendel Spencer Burford Mike McGlinchey 

Williams is widely regarded as the best left tackle in the NFL, so Josh Sweat will have his work cut out for him to get pressure. Any wins by Sweat have to be viewed as a bonus, though he is certainly capable.

McGlinchey is a decent right tackle, but he's a better run blocker than he is a pass protector. He has some pretty ugly losses on tape this season, both on power rushes and speed rushes. 

The Eagles could find success tag teaming McGlinchey with Haason Reddick and Brandon Graham.

Otherwise, the Niners have a couple young guards in Banks and Burford (a fourth-round rookie out of UTSA), who both have 18 career starts, all this season, and a JAG in Brendel, who has 22 career starts in five NFL seasons.

#FeastinMeter: 6 turkeys  🍗🍗🍗🍗🍗🍗

4) George Kittle vs. the Eagles' linebackers and safeties

Kittle is a star tight end who really turned it on in December after battling through injuries earlier this season. In the Niners' final four games, Kittle had 265 receiving yards and seven TDs.

The potential return of Avonte Maddox makes things interesting, as it will be the first time in a long time that the Eagles will have their entire starting defense together if he can play. I imagine Kittle will see some of T.J. Edwards and Kyzir White, but it's perhaps more likely that on obvious passing downs he'll draw Chauncey Gardner-Johnson.

5) Can someone make Brock Purdy pay for his mistakes?

Since taking over for Jimmy Garoppolo and Trey Lance as the Niners' starting quarterback, Brock Purdy is 6-0 (if you count the game he inherited a deficit, but won) in the regular season, and 2-0 in the playoffs. During that run, he has thrown 16 TDs vs three INTs, and he has a quarterback rating of 111.4. He has been everything the 49ers could have reasonably hoped for, and more.

He has also been extremely fortunate that a whole bunch of off-target passes that he has thrown have found their way to the ground instead of into the arms of opposing defenders. But beyond the dropped INTs, a couple of things stand out about his game.

The first thing is that he is a small quarterback. He is only 6'0 5/8" with 29" arms and 9 1/4" hands. Those measurements are all well below average. 

His arm length is especially short. What does that matter? Well, look at how low this ball is when it comes out.

The Eagles would be smart to keep their eyes on the quarterback while they rush, and try to get hands on footballs.

The other quirk I've noticed about Purdy is that he will often turn his back and run backwards when pressured, as shown here:

Purdy is a big mistake waiting to happen, and the Eagles' defense needs to be ready to capitalize when he presents them with opportunities.

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