Mon, 06 Feb 2023

Spadaro: Bring on the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game!

Philadelphia Eagles
23 Jan 2023, 18:12 GMT+10

Dave Spadaro

A strong defensive performance that featured two interceptions and a balanced and patient offensive attack led San Francisco to a 19-12 win on Sunday over the Dallas Cowboys in an NFC Divisional Playoff Game, thrusting the 49ers into Sunday's 3 PM NFC Championship Game against the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. The 49ers have won 12 consecutive games, including seven with rookie Brock Purdy, the final pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, at the quarterback position.

Purdy is the team's third quarterback of the season. Second-year man Trey Lance opened the season at the position before he suffered a year-ending injury and then was replaced by Jimmy Garoppolo, who suffered a broken foot on December 4 and was replaced by Purdy, who went 5-0 through the remainder of the regular season and then won games against Seattle and Dallas in the playoffs. The 262nd overall draft pick played collegiately at Iowa State and has been sensational since then, throwing 13 touchdowns and 4 interceptions in the regular season. Against Seattle, Purdy had three touchdowns and zero interceptions and then on Sunday against Dallas Purdy completed 19 of 29 passes for 214 yards.

The 49ers are talented around Purdy, with tight end George Kittle, wide receivers Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk, and running back Christian McCafferty sharing touches and big plays. Kittle was the go-to receiver against Dallas, catching 5 passes for 95 yards and keying a second-half touchdown drive with a spectacular juggling catch that gained 31 yards.

San Francisco's defense dominated Dallas, picking off quarterback Dak Prescott twice, takeaways that led to six points. The 49ers, who played in last season's NFC Championship Game - they've been in the NFC title game in three of the last four seasons - and led eventual Super Bowl Champion Los Angeles until late in the game, led the NFL in total defense and ranked first against the pass and second against the run. Coordinator DeMeco Ryans, a former Eagles linebacker, is considered a legitimate head coaching candidate in the league.

It's a great matchup - the No. 1 seed Eagles against the No. 2 seed 49ers - on Sunday afternoon. The two best teams in the conference will go at it, with the winner heading to Super Bowl LVII in Arizona on February 12.

Here are other news and notes as the preview of the NFC Championship Game showdown commences:

1. On Sunday when the Eagles line up in the NFC Championship Game against San Francisco, they will line up with Jalen Hurts at quarterback and an offense that is as unpredictable as any in football, one that is as lethal as any, also. An offense that has been in sync for so much of the season when Hurts has been on the field - the Eagles are 15-1 when he starts - showed on Saturday just how potent it can be when it's rolling.

In the 38-7 win over the New York Giants, the Eagles gained 416 total net yards, converted 10 of 14 third downs, rolled to 26 first downs, and ran for 268 yards and three touchdowns. The 268 rushing yards were the second-most in team playoff history, trailing only a 274-yard performance in the 1949 NFL Championship Game (December 18, 1949 at Los Angeles Rams). It also marked the most rushing yards by any NFL team in a postseason game since San Francisco had 285 yards vs. Green Bay in the 2019 NFC Championship Game. Hurts threw touchdown passes on the first two offensive series and added a touchdown late in the first half when he dashed into the corner of the end zone from 5 yards away.

Now it's on to the NFC title game against San Francisco and a terrific defense, so Head Coach Nick Sirianni and his offensive coaches are back at it putting together a plan of attack that could go any one of many number of ways.

"Still trying to just climb. We've played good football. We really have. We've played good football to this date, but we know that we can keep getting better, right? We're going to end up practicing more and end up playing more games, and our goal is to just get better from this," Sirianni said after the win over New York. "We like where we are at right now. We have a great offensive line, great backs. We have great receivers, great quarterback. We have great tight ends. We're just ready to go to the next challenge. Our goal is to make sure we're playing our best ball at our next game. We look to build on what we did today."

Versatility is the distinguishing characteristic of this offense, has been all season. Hurts is a dynamic player, unlike any at his position, and the Eagles have the talent around him and the scheme in place to take advantage of everything he does. Run to set up the pass? Pass to set up the run? The Eagles can do it all.

And that is what has made them special in this journey to the NFC Championship Game.

"I think the most important thing is that we've been able to be effective in every possible way and that's all you can ask for as an offense," Hurts said. "Being able to efficiently run the ball, throw the ball efficiently, and if the quarterback can do it as well, it's a good thing to have and I think it's a special thing when we're able to do all of that. It's like pick your poison when we're executing and have the right attention to detail in everything that we're doing. We definitely want to pose a threat to the defense and that's something we work on every day."

2. This Eagles roster has been carefully crafted and has the perfect blend of experience and youth, so reaching the NFC Championship Game is not a moment too big for the team. There are five Eagles on the active roster - Jason Kelce, Isaac Seumalo, Lane Johnson, Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham - who were on the Super Bowl team from 2017. Both Linval Joseph and Ndamukong Suh have won Super Bowls.

You learn to appreciate every opportunity to reach this point.

"I don't take that for granted because every year is different," Graham said. "Some guys never get to this position, so I know for me, I'm just taking it all in because you just have to have a focus that's out of this world because so many people, especially being the No. 1 seed, everybody wants to beat you. Everybody's talking stuff about you. You've got to block the noise out. You've got to stay focused to what's at task, and that's winning the next one. That's what we're on now. We're enjoying this win and we're on to the next one because we're getting closer to our dreams right now."

3. Philadelphia's sack attack registered five more on Saturday night against mobile quarterback Daniel Jones. Back-to-back sacks ended New York's first offensive possession - Josh Sweat and Haason Reddick shared the first sack and Reddick got to Jones on the next play - so as much as the offense set the tone with its first-possession touchdown, the defense did the same.

By the end of the night, Reddick and Sweat each had 1.5 sacks, Graham had one, and Fletcher Cox had one.

"That's our job. That's what we do," Reddick said. "When you're able to pressure the quarterback from so many different players and spots, it changes the whole game for the offense. They don't know where it's coming from. We always talk about pressuring the quarterback, affecting him, and taking him out of his game. That's our intent."

4. There is love in the running back room and that camaraderie is apparent. As Kenneth Gainwell slashed and dashed for 112 yards and a touchdown against the Giants, the rest of the backs - Miles Sanders, Boston Scott, Trey Sermon - celebrated Gainwell's performance. The Eagles have gotten a Pro Bowl season from Sanders, excellent production from Gainwell and Scott throughout the year, and development in the system from Sermon, a second-year back with a lot of promise.

"Everybody's rooting for each other. I'm so happy to see Kenny get his first 100-yard game (in the NFL). He was great out there," Sanders said. "We share our success because that's what is best for the team and we all have the team first in mind."

Said Scott: "When I get my opportunities, I make the most of them. That's the mindset we all have. Work hard, control what you can control, and when it's your time, make the most of it."

As a result, the Eagles have a devastating running game - Hurts included - and the running backs are all getting touches and contributing. It's the right blend to have heading into Sunday and the biggest NFC stage.

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