Here’s why the Eagles could beat the 49ers in the NFC championship game (and why they could struggle)

Here’s why the Eagles could beat the 49ers in the NFC championship game (and why they could struggle)

Updated: 8 days, 14 hours, 11 minutes, 41 seconds ago

For two straight Sundays, Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni has not had to get up at the crack of dawn, unusual for a team in the playoffs. The first Sunday off came because of the bye week, a perk of finishing with a 14-3 record and claiming the top seed in the NFC. The second sleep-in Sunday came after defeating the Giants 38-7 in the divisional round Saturday night at Lincoln Financial Field.

Sirianni said after the victory over the Giants that he woudl give the coaching staff extra rest before another week of game-planning. When the group eventually returned to the NovaCare Complex, they would have to eschew the thoughts of Super Bowl LVII dangling in front of them.

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“The only next goal is whoever we play next and wanting to win that game and then go from there,” Sirianni said. “Our focus won’t change. We’re climbing this mountain. We’re close to the top, but you don’t look at the top yet. You have to look at the steps that you have to make this week. That’s been the message the entire year. Our guys say the same thing.”

On Sunday, the Eagles learned their opponent for the NFC Championship Game: The San Francisco 49ers defeated the Dallas Cowboys, 19-12, and now the two top seeds in the conference will battle for the trip to Arizona.

The Eagles should feel good about certain aspects of their game, but the Niners — even though they struggled offensively against the Cowboys — have won 12 games in a row, making them the most challenging test the Eagles have faced this season.

Here are the reasons why the Eagles could beat the 49ers:

Brock Purdy is looking human

After 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo suffered a broken foot in the team’s Week 13 game against the Miami Dolphins, rookie quarterback Brock Purdy has stepped in and won all seven games he has started. But Purdy — the last player chosen in last spring’s draft — has not lit the world on fire in the postseason. He completed 19 of his 29 passes for 214 yards against the Cowboys, playing the role of a game manager. In comparison, Eagles backup quarterback Gardner Minshew threw for 355 yards and two touchdowns when he faced Dallas.

According to CBS Sports HQ researcher Doug Clawson, Purdy is the fifth rookie to start a conference championship game. The four previous quarterbacks (Mark Sanchez, Joe Flacco, Ben Roethlisberger, and Shaun King) all lost, throwing four touchdowns and nine interceptions. Purdy will be facing the most relentless pass rush in the NFL and a savvy secondary, with cornerbacks James Bradberry and Darius Slay and safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson.

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Eagles can have success throwing the ball

Against the Giants, Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts didn’t show any ill effects from a sprained shoulder that forced him to miss two games late in the regular season: He had touch on his deep-ball attempts, including a 40-yard pass to wide receiver DeVonta Smith on the opening drive. The 49ers finished as the top defense in the regular season (300.6 yards per game) but were 20th against the pass (222.9 yards per game). Some of that passing yardage can be attributed to opponents playing catch-up, but the Eagles — with wide receivers A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith, and tight end Dallas Goedert — should be able to move the ball through the air.

49ers cornerbacks Charvarius Ward and Deommodore Lenoir are decent in coverage, but Smith and Brown will have their chances, especially if the Eagles are able to establish the run and use play-action. Hurts should also have time to throw against the 49ers defense, which had just one sack against the Cowboys.

Why the Eagles could struggle against the 49ers:

49ers running backs could sustain drives

Running back Christian McCaffrey, acquired from the Carolina Panthers, has brought the versatility that makes him one of the best running backs in the league. He has amassed 193 yards from scrimmage in two playoff games. The 49ers use him all over the field, from the traditional running back spot to a slot receiver. McCaffrey is elusive and trouble in the open field.

The Eagles had problems with opponents that controlled the run game this season — the Washington Commanders and New Orleans Saints used it to create manageable third-down situations to extend drives. McCaffrey could wear down the Eagles defense and play keep-away from the offense.

The 49ers have a stout run defense

During the regular season, the 49ers allowed 77.7 rushing yards per game, the second-lowest total in the league. The 49ers have carried that success Into the playoffs, allowing 90 yards per game, with the Cowboys only rushing for 76 yards Sunday. The biggest reason the 49ers have been able to stop teams on the ground is linebacker Fred Warner. Warner, a two-time first-team AP All-Pro linebacker, does a good job getting the 49ers in the right play call, and linebacker Dre Greenlaw has done well diagnosing the play, meeting the ball carrier in the hole, and making the tackle.

The Eagles successfully ran the ball against the Giants, using the trio of Miles Sanders, Kenneth Gainwell, and Boston Scott to help the Eagles rush for 268 yards, the second most in the team’s postseason history. The Eagles have also used Hurts on designed runs but were selective when they did so against the Giants. The Eagles’ rushing attack has to find a way to consistently pick up yards against the 49ers defense, relying on the offensive line to open holes not just at the line of scrimmage but at the second level to break off decent gains.

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Chris Franklin may be reached at cfranklin@njadvancemedia.com.