The 49ers face a stout Eagles defense in the NFC Championship game, but there’s one way Kyle Shanahan and Co. can attack this bunch.
Run early, run often.
That should be the modus operandi for head coach Kyle Shanahan and the San Francisco 49ers when they square off against the Philadelphia Eagles in what should be an excellent NFC Championship game between two top-five defenses.
Neither team has a true defensive weakness, and both squads are particularly stout down in the trenches at the line of scrimmage, the Niners having reinforced their own defensive line over the years, while Philly owns four pass-rushers — Haason Reddick, Brandon Graham, Josh Sweat and Javon Hargrave — who had double-digit sacks during the regular season.
That’ll be tough for quarterback Brock Purdy to beat, right? Especially after he was under all kinds of pass-rushing pressure during the divisional round when San Francisco eliminated the Dallas Cowboys.
In that game, it was tough for Shanahan to rely heavily on his ground attack. But he’ll have to get more out of the 49ers’ rushing offense against Philadelphia if they hope to advance to the Super Bowl.
And the Eagles aren’t necessarily strong in this department, providing a slim weakness Shanahan and Co. may be able to exploit.
49ers must run the ball vs. Eagles in NFC Championship game
There are plenty of football cliches that can be tossed around here, especially when it comes to wearing down a Philly defense that ranked second best in yards allowed and had an NFL-high 70 sacks.
Tack on the league’s third-best offense, and the Niners are going to have quite the challenge.
However, running the ball isn’t just a Football 101 exercise here. Against Philadelphia, it’s going to be mandatory. Especially when looking at how the Eagles defended against the run during the regular season.
It’s something 49ers Webzone’s Al Sacco pointed out earlier this week, too:
A pass-heavy offense with Purdy is the last thing Shanahan wants to engineer, especially considering how difficult it was for San Francisco’s offense to move the ball against Dallas for the first two-plus quarters last Sunday.
In contrast, according to Football Outsiders, Philly’s run defense does rank 21st in the league, and the 4.6 yards allowed per carry was ranked 24th, too.
Out of the 18 games Philadelphia has played this season, the defense has held opponents to less than 100 rush yards only five times, which is striking considering its point differential is plus-9.1. Typically, opponents fall behind by that much pass a lot more, and run the ball less, meaning fewer chances at 100-yard games.
The Eagles seem to be a vulnerable exception here.
Can 49ers get Christian McCaffrey going vs. Eagles?
All-Pro running back Christian McCaffrey had a tough go of things on the ground during the 49ers’ win over the Cowboys. While he netted the game’s only touchdown, McCaffrey still had only 35 rush yards on 10 carries.
That probably won’t cut it against Philly.
McCaffrey’s splits against Philadelphia don’t tell much either, as he’s managed a mere 37 rush yards on 11 attempts over just two games played. However, he did post 107 combined receiving yards and a touchdown during those games, too, so it wouldn’t be shocking if Purdy is eyeing McCaffrey as a safety valve out of the backfield.
Particularly if the Eagles’ potent pass rush is getting home with any sort of regularity.
Either way, McCaffrey might be the No. 1 player to watch on the 49ers offense, as he could hold the key to the Niners advancing beyond the NFC Championship game and into the Super Bowl.
San Francisco and Philadelphia kick off this high-profile matchup on Sunday, Jan. 29 at 3 p.m. ET from Lincoln Financial Field.