Thu, 30 Mar 2023

Four Downs: Bold Predictions for NFC Championship vs. Eagles

San Francisco 49ers
29 Jan 2023, 22:44 GMT+10

Briana McDonald

The San Francisco 49ers return to the NFC Championship Game for the second-consecutive season as they go on the road to take on the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. This matchup marks the second postseason meeting all-time between the two teams, with the 49ers beating the Eagles 14-0 on December 29th, 1996 in the NFC Wild Card Round.

"This is what you dream about since you're a kid," tight end George Kittle said. "You dream about it when you're in high school, college and when you're in the NFL you dream about situations like this. Whether it's a hunger, a starvation, a desperation, you do everything you can to make sure at the end of the game that you're going to win it."

For this week's Four Downs, 49ers team reporter Lindsey Pallares and 49ers Spanish insider Jesús Zarate have joined me to break down several storylines ahead of the team's conference championship against the Eagles.

1st Down: Your MVP of the Postseason So Far?

@LindseyLares: RB Christian McCaffrey

Everyone expected him to have a significant impact on this team, but did anyone expect the team to go undefeated since he was fully unleashed? He came in ready to work and has 12 touchdowns to his name in a San Francisco uniform. On top of what he has accomplished on the field, it's apparent that players in the locker room like and respect him, and it's the type of camaraderie that the 49ers have that helps fuel you through a deep playoff run.

@JesusZarate87: QB Brock Purdy

He made his playoffs debut against the Seattle Seahawks with an impressive performance. Purdy completed 18-of-30 attempts for 332 yards and three touchdowns. He also had four carries for 16 yards and one touchdown. Purdy made history in that game becoming the first rookie quarterback to register four total touchdowns in a playoff game. Although he didn't score against the Dallas Cowboys the following week, he protected the ball really well in a defensive battle. Purdy also moved the ball in crucial moments of the game to give the 49ers a good chance of winning.

@BriMcDonaldTV: LB Dre Greenlaw

Defense wins championships. That's what Bear Bryant said, right? San Francisco is hoping this statement stays true as they enter Sunday's contest against the Eagles with the No. 1 ranked overall defense. Greenlaw has been my MVP of the postseason so far when looking at the 49ers defensive side of the ball. Although categorized as an "under-the-radar" player by NFL analysts, he's led the league's top defense in total tackles (17) during the playoffs.

2nd Down: How Can the 49ers Level Up in the NFC Championship Game?

@LindseyLares: Starting out hot

I'm going to echo what Kittle said in his media availability on Thursday for this answer. The biggest adjustment he's hoping to see from his team in this next game is a hotter start out of the gate. Especially against a team like the Eagles that matches up really well with the 49ers, you don't want to be playing catch up. Setting the tone early with a score is going to go a long way when playing a talented team in hostile territory. In last weekend's game versus the Cowboys, the 49ers were not able to put up points until late in the first quarter during their third offensive series. Kittle said he would like to see San Francisco's offense be more effective on the opening drive, and that's one way to level up in this upcoming matchup.

@JesusZarate87: Protecting the pocket

I think the 49ers can level up in the NFC Championship if they are able to give Purdy more time in the pocket. Against Dallas, he was under constant pressure. The Eagles will not make that challenge any easier but the offensive line has the talent to step it up. They will really need to play at their highest level because Philadelphia led the league during the regular season with 70 sacks. They can really be a nightmare pressuring the quarterback.

@BriMcDonaldTV: Forcing turnovers

What's helped the 49ers secure their previous two playoff wins was forcing turnovers. A total of two turnovers in each game forced by San Francisco was really the different maker in who took over control of each game and rolled with a higher momentum. Should the 49ers defense apply that same pressure against Philadelphia's dynamic offense, they're likely to see success in the title game.

3rd Down: Which Eagles Player Must Be Contained?

@LindseyLares: QB Jalen Hurts

There is only one correct answer for this question, and it is absolutely the Eagles QB1. The second-year starter is on the short list for the AP MVP award, and that is for good reason. He has been a huge contributor to Philly's ground game and can easily go get a first down if you give him the opportunity. That is not a knock on his talent as a passer because that's a big part of his game, but the 49ers want the defense to put on a pass masterclass to set themselves up for success.

@JesusZarate87: QB Jalen Hurts

The 49ers definitely need to contain Hurts. That is easier said than done, but to have a chance to beat the Eagles, they need to limit the damage Hurts can cause when he gets out of the pocket and starts running. He can obviously also beat teams with his arm, but if you can keep him inside the pocket, then the 49ers great pass rush will have a better chance of getting to Hurts.

@BriMcDonaldTV: LB Haason Reddick

Reddick can wreck an offense's game when he attacks the quarterback. This season, the linebacker has tallied 16.0 sacks and recorded 1.5 in last week's Divisional Round Game against the New York Giants. The 49ers offensive line will need to find a way to limit his production in order for Purdy to have success under center.

4th Down: What is Your Bold Prediction for the NFC Championship Matchup Against Philadelphia?

@LindseyLares: The 49ers are going to roll to 13 straight wins and punch their ticket to Super Bowl LVII.

@JesusZarate87: The 49ers defense will hold the Eagles to 17 points or less.

@BriMcDonaldTV: Defensive lineman Nick Bosa is going to take down Hurts at least two times.

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