Birds Super Bowl Bound After Running Over San Francisco In NFC Championship Game

Bill Streicher, USA TODAY Sports

The Eagles were back at the Linc on Sunday, this time to face the team that many considered to be the best team in the NFC over the back half of the season.

The Eagles did not seemed phased by their opponent, particularly on defense.

Before the half, the Eagles defense had one major issue and that was tackling Christian McCaffrey. That issue lead directly to the San Francisco 49ers scoring their lone points of the first half. Almost as an example of that issue, the Birds missed three tackles on the 23-yard touchdown run that brought the 49ers even with Philly in the second quarter.

Outside of that, the Eagles defensive front was clearly beating the offensive line on almost every play leading to a stifled passing game for the 49ers and the Eagles recovering two fumbles.

Offensively, the Eagles benefitted from a great play by DeVonta Smith, who then rushed his team to the line to avoid replay overturning what could have otherwise been a turnover on downs.

Meanwhile the run game (excluding multiple poor decisions by Hurts to keep) had great success up the middle and all three of the Eagles first-half touchdowns came via the ground game.

Frankly, this game could have been an absolute blowout at the half, but the execution of the Eagles offense really lagged for much of that first half.

The second half became a nightmare scenario for the 49ers as Josh Johnson was slammed by Ndamukong Suh (legally) and wound up concussed. After being forced to leave the game, Brock Purdy came back in and was really no threat at all.

The game was clearly locked up when the 49ers started the fourth quarter down by three scores and only running the ball, resulting in a drive that killed five minutes of clock and ultimately was a turnover on downs. The 49ers gained only 28 yards in those five minutes.

While I’m sure there will be San Francisco fans who argue that the team could have won had their quarterbacks not been hurt, the reality is that the only reason they got hurt was because their offensive line was no match for the defensive front of the Eagles. There were fans out there who tried to argue crazy things like “if you remove the games with the highest sack totals, the Eagles pass rush is only really good instead of great”. It was that attitude that doomed San Francisco to head back to the bay as only Trent Williams could sustain a block for more than a portion of a second and those free rushers wailed the quarterbacks the 49ers put out there numerous times until there was no longer a passer to be tackled.

Overall the Eagles offense set a record with four rushing touchdowns in the game, drives that put up 28 points and killed 18:50 worth of the total time on the clock.

For the second-straight playoff game, the Eagles second team was on the filed in the end as the backups saw some more reps after a dominant win.

Offensive MVPs: Offensive Line

The second-team offensive line didn’t do as well as they did last week, but the Eagles offense really got going and kept the game in check with their run game. It really didn’t matter who was running it because the offensive line dominated once again, despite this being the top run defense in the league this year. The stats were not eye-popping (they only averaged 3.6 yards per carry overall if you exclude the kneel downs to end it), but the Eagles were able to consistently move the chains when they ran behind the blocks that their offensive line (particularly Jason Kelce) provided. Of course, you have to mention a record four touchdowns rushing behind those big guys. Not to mention that Lane Johnson, playing through a painful injury, shut down Nick Bosa all game and left the 49ers with essentially no above average pass rushers available.

Defensive MVP: Haason Reddick

Reddick came up huge in this game. While he wasn’t a major factor in stopping the run once the 49ers became locked into a run-only offense, Reddick forced the fumble and got the sack that knocked Brock Purdy out of the game. He then dominated the right tackle on the bad snap, resulting in his collecting that fumble. Both plays resulted in huge momentum swings that kept the then-struggling offense afloat long enough for them to find their run game.

Game Notes

  • The play calling was not great, but the execution was an even larger problem for the offense in the first half. The Eagles missed out on a walk-in touchdown when Jalen Hurts overthrew AJ Brown. DeVonta Smith dropped a deep pass that bounced off his chest. Hurts kept the ball on runs multiple times where the running back was not covered or gained five yards before contact. If those issues were addressed, the score could have been even more lopsided for Philly at the half.
  • Whatever it was that convinced the Eagles to run to the outside so frequently is mind boggling. The Eagles were gashing the 49ers up the middle and whenever they bounced out they ran into the 49ers three best defenders: Bosa, Greenlaw and Warner. It shouldn’t be a surprise that this made those place far less effective, so I’m not sure why they went back to it so many times.
  • Reed Blankenship made the big play that really took out the 49ers wind by forcing a turnover (fumble) with just four minutes left in the game, allowing the Eagles backup offense to see the field yet again.
  • It should at least be noted that Darius Slay probably should have registered an interception in this one and just couldn’t get back to it. Ultimately, it didn’t matter but it could have been some stat padding that could have made this game look even worse.
  • Trent Williams was clearly upset with his team, forcing him to slam K’Von Wallace to the ground late in the fourth quarter and disqualifying himself from the game. Certainly not a move the veteran would make if he had any hope of moving on at that point in the game.
  • Josh Jobe was a clear weak link in this one. Reacting to being dominated on a return lead to a personal foul and he stopped playing a punt where he could have pinned the 49ers in their own five-yard line instead of the touchback he allowed by pulling up. It’s unclear what his value is to this team.

Injury Notes

  • Landon Dickerson exited in the fourth quarter with an apparent elbow injury. At that point, it was wise not to put him back in even if he was healthy again. It is yet to be seen if he’ll be available for the Super Bowl.

San Francisco 49ers at Philadelphia Eagles – January 29, 2023

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