Why Eagles Are Brock Purdy's Toughest Test Yet

Philadelphia Eagles CB James Bradberry
Philadelphia Eagles CB James Bradberry
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

NFL Conference Championship - This is the matchup we wanted.

With all due respect to the rest of the conference, the Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers have been the clear class of the NFC this season, and there's no more fitting way to determine a conference champion then by having them go head to head.

Before Jalen Hurts' shoulder injury, the Eagles were the clear No. 1 team in football. From Week 1 to Week 15, Philadelphia's 33.1% DVOA led the league as the 13-1 Eagles looked next to unstoppable. And while they waffled down the stretch a bit as injuries took their toll, the Eagles came back last week and showed that yes, they remain one of the best teams in football with a 38-7 rout over the New York Giants in the divisional round. They're out to show that their December slump wasn't anything to be concerned about and punch their ticket to the Super Bowl for the first time in five years.

The 49ers, on the other hand, have put up the best DVOA in the league since Christian McCaffrey came to town. Scratch that; they have actually been the top team in football since Week 2, coming out of the monsoon in Chicago to put up a 36.4% DVOA the rest of the way, with the No. 1 defense and No. 1 pass offense in football. Kyle Shanahan's men have been knocked down to their third quarterback of the season, and yet are still just one game away from returning to the Super Bowl after losing three years ago. They haven't lost a game since October 23, and they don't plan on starting now.

It's the kind of heavyweight battle we live for—a matchup of strength against strength. Two deserving teams, but only one slot to put them in. There isn't an underdog here; these are the two favorites battling it out. Should be a good one.

For those who may be unfamiliar with the Football Outsiders stats, they are explained at the bottom of the page. Scroll down or click this link. Game charting data appears courtesy Sports Info Solutions, unless noted. All stats represent regular season only, except for weighted DVOA and anything else specifically noted.

DVOA 27.6% (2) 25.2% (3)
WEI DVOA 43.9% (1) 26.3% (1)
49ers on Offense
DVOA 13.2% (6) -9.7% (6)
WEI DVOA 26.4% (2) -8.8% (8)
PASS 35.% (3) -15.5% (1)
RUSH -0.5% (13) -1.9% (21)
Eagles on Offense
DVOA -14.1% (1) 15.1% (3)
WEI DVOA -12.8% (3) 12.6% (6)
PASS -8.0% (5) 23.9% (9)
RUSH -23.6% (2) 15.4% (1)
Special Teams
DVOA 0.2% (15) 0.5% (13)

If you have FO+, you can click here to see all the matchup of DVOA splits for this game.


SF OFF Week-to-Week DVOA PHI DEF Week-to-Week DVOA

Brock Purdy withstood the Cowboys' pass rush. Now it's Philadelphia's turn to try to stop the seventh-round sensation.

The strategy against Purdy throughout his win streak has been to give him as much pressure as he can handle and try to bait him into looking like a rookie and make a backbreaking mistake. Dallas got the first part down, managing to pressure Purdy on 48.5% of his dropbacks a week ago. But pressure is not enough, as Dallas learned. They only managed two sacks, both in the first quarter. And while Purdy didn't do much against the pressure (just 3-for-10 for 24 yards), he didn't wilt either. There was one tipped pass, one more that Brandon Aiyuk had to box out defensively, and then a lot of smart throwaways and balls in the dirt rather than forcing anything to a well-covered receiver. And when Purdy wasn't pressured, he was near-perfect: 16-for-19 for 190 yards, including some balls squeezed into some very tight spaces.

The Eagles don't get quite as much pressure as Dallas does, though it's close. But they were significantly better at converting that pressure into sacks and knockdowns than the Cowboys were throughout the season; their 11.2% adjusted sack rate was the best we have seen since the 2000 Saints. They're not going to bring as many exotic looks as Dan Quinn challenged Purdy with; they're just going to send a nearly inexhaustible supply of pass-rushers at him all day long. From Javon Hargrave to Haason Reddick to Josh Sweat to Brandon Graham, the Eagles bring Pro Bowl-caliber rushers from all angles. They may not be able to force Purdy into bad throws, but they certainly have the tools to get him on the ground more often, forcing him to convert in negative situations.

The matchup to watch is Reddick against Mike McGlinchey on Purdy's right side. McGlinchey and Spencer Burford are the weaker side of the San Francisco offensive line from a pass-protection standpoint—certainly not bad, but significantly easier than getting through Trent Williams on the left. McGlinchey gave up five pressures against Dallas, which plays into Purdy's habit of bailing out of the pocket to his left and throwing across his body. We all saw McGlinchey tossed aside like a ragdoll by Micah Parsons last week, and he struggled against J.J. Watt and Maxx Crosby down the stretch. McGlinchey has been better this year than in years past—he has cut his blown-block rate to 3.2% from a career average of 4.0%—but he'll have to step up his game to keep Purdy clean this week.

To blunt Dallas' pass rush, the 49ers sped up getting the ball out of Purdy's hands and committed to the run game to take advantage of over-pursuing Cowboys rushers. Expect both strategies to be on the docket once again this week.

Philadelphia has the top pass defense in the league, but a lot of that comes from the pass rush and the cornerback trio of James Bradberry, Darius Slay, and Avonte Maddox, who has returned to practice for the first time in a month. They match up better against more traditional offenses than they do San Francisco's parade of positionless pests. They rank 24th covering running backs and 22nd covering "other receivers"—they don't give up a ton in the way of yards, but on a per-play basis, they do struggle when asking people other than their top corners to cover. They also rank 23rd against passes thrown to the short middle of the field, and no one likes peppering the short middle of the field with running backs and tight ends more than Kyle Shanahan's 49ers. Look for them to try to isolate guys like Kyzir White or Marcus Epps on Christian McCaffrey or Deebo Samuel and strike at that soft underbelly. Philadelphia can at least rest comfortable knowing that they average a below-average 4.9 YAC, meaning they're well set up against San Francisco's fleet of receivers.

The Eagles also struggled against 21 personnel this season, with a DVOA of just 13.1%, which would have ranked near the bottom of the league over a full season. The few good plays the Giants managed last week before the game became a blowout also came with two backs in the backfield. The 49ers, of course, love their 21 personnel—either traditionally, with Kyle Juszczyk at fullback, or by using Samuel as a wideback alongside McCaffrey or Elijah Mitchell. Only Miami used the formation more frequently, only Baltimore used it more efficiently, and no one had a higher success rate than the 49ers did with multiple backs on the field.

In short, the 49ers' natural passing game plan matches up very well with the weakest parts of Philadelphia's defense. You get the feeling the Eagles would rather be facing Cincinnati's trio of elite receivers than San Francisco's matchup nightmares.

One thing that won't slow Philadelphia down in the passing game is pre-snap motion. The 49ers had the second-most pre-snap motion in the league this year, using it on both passing and rushing plays to force defenses to show their hand and find favorable matchups. But the Eagles have the second-least EPA allowed on passing attempts with motion as Jonathan Gannon's defense stays disciplined and adjusts their coverages to match. However, motion on the run is another story as Philadelphia's 0.08 EPA per attempt allowed on runs with motion was second-worst in the league.

The Eagles have shored up their run defense since adding Ndamukong Suh and Linval Joseph in Week 11, but they're still just at -11.4% DVOA, 15th in the league over the back half of the year. The one game they lost with Hurts at quarterback saw Washington run the ball over and over—46 designed rushes to 31 passes, allowing them to stay on the field and hold the ball for over 40 minutes, tiring out the Philly defense and keeping their own players fresh to match up against the Philadelphia rushing attack. This is the same strategy the 49ers used in the second half against the Cowboys, where they ran the ball 21 times in 31 plays. It wasn't the most efficient game plan in the world, but it wore down the Dallas pass rush and slowed them down, keeping them from pinning their ears back and going after Purdy. Expect the same sort of strategy this week, with the 49ers attempting to blunt the Philadelphia pass-rushers by running outside zone right into the areas of the field they vacated. Anything to slow down Gannon's attack.

For that to work, of course, the 49ers need to be healthy. Neither Christian McCaffrey nor Elijah Mitchell practiced on Thursday, banged up in the win over Dallas. They're both expected to play, but keep an eye on that as we approach game time.


PHI OFF Week-to-Week DVOA SF DEF Week-to-Week DVOA

So, Jalen Hurts seems fine.

All eyes were on Hurts' shoulder last weekend. Yes, he returned in Week 18, but he didn't do much of the designed runs and RPOs that have elevated Philadelphia's offense this year. Well, consider him back; while Hurts didn't have his most prolific game in the divisional round, he threw two touchdowns and rushed for another in the first half. Things tapered off in the second half, in large part because the Giants weren't offering any kind of a threat. It also looked, at times, like Hurts was actively avoiding contact, though that could again just be due to the score and situation. Either way, Hurts seems to be healthy enough that the Eagles can run their full offensive package.

The Eagles have the top run offense in football with or without a healthy Hurts, but they jump from 17.1% to 22.6% if you only look at the time before Hurts' shoulder injury. The Eagles lead the league with 185 RPOs, as the threat of Hurts rushing makes opposing defenses play 11-on-11. Historically, rushing quarterbacks have been a real pain for this San Francisco defense. While that hasn't been the case so much this season—they have only allowed -11 rushing YAR to quarterbacks and were strong against both designed runs and scrambles—it's still a pressing concern. Part of their decent numbers this year might be from avoiding Kyler Murray (twice) and Russell Wilson in a good offense; both Marcus Mariota and Jarrett Stidham managed to find significant room to work against the 49ers this year. And when the Eagles and 49ers played in 2021, Hurts ran for 82 yards on 10 carries and scored a touchdown. It's a concern, to say the least.

The threat of Hurts keeping the ball and running opens up massive room for Philadelphia's running backs. The Eagles ran 33 zone-read plays against New York last week, racking up 221 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The Giants were so off balance, they allowed 4.6 yards before contact. That's an extreme example, of course, but the Eagles were near the top of the league with 3.3 yards before contact per attempt this season. Miles Sanders, Boston Scott, and Kenneth Gainwell get to enjoy massive heads of steam before they're touched as the offensive line clears them a path and Hurts distracts at least one tackler, and so they're off to the races.

The fewest yards the Eagles had on the ground with Hurts this season was 67, against the Titans and their first-ranked run defense. San Francisco ranks second to Tennessee in run defense DVOA and in adjusted line yards, and is tops in second-level and open-field yards allowed. They aren't particularly strong in power situations, so the patented Unstoppable Short-Yardage Sneak is likely to still be unstoppable, but Philadelphia is going to find it tougher sledding this week than they did the week before. There have been 284 individual 70-yard rush games this season; the Eagles have 14 of them themselves. The 49ers have allowed zero.

The matchup to watch here is Nick Bosa against Lane Johnson. Part of that is, well, both players are very good, and seeing Bosa put his league-leading pressures up against Johnson's two straight years without allowing a sack is worth the price of admission all by itself. There's also the issue of Johnson's health as he's still playing through a torn groin; Bosa should provide a tougher challenge than Kayvon Thibodeaux. But it also could be the key to the Eagles run success in this one—the 49ers are in the top five in adjusted line yards in every directional split except for wide right, where they rank 27th. Some of that may come from Bosa stunting to the inside from his wide-9 alignment, leaving a hole that running backs can hit before the rest of the defense can fill in. Against the Eagles' RPO-heavy offense, if Bosa and the other 49ers pass-rushers penetrate upfield too quickly, lanes will open up for the Eagles to gash them on the ground.

In the passing game, there's good news and bad news for the Eagles. The good news is that the 49ers are still susceptible to both play-action and deep shots, so long as the offensive line gives Hurts enough time to stand and deliver. At least once per game, the 49ers' cornerbacks allow someone to slip past them, and both A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith should have no problem finding ways past Charvarius Ward and Deommodore Lenoir at some point in this one. The 49ers' 36.6% DVOA against deep shots ranks 24th in the league, and is a ticking time bomb—we have seen CeeDee Lamb and DK Metcalf have 40-plus-yard catches in the past two weeks, and we'll surely see it again this week.

The bad news is that the 49ers play almost exclusively zone, a scheme that has slowed down Philadelphia's passing attack in the past. Half of Hurts' interceptions have come against zone coverage, despite it only accounting for 25% of his dropbacks. And while we're now getting into some very fine slicing and dicing, Hurts falls to negative EPA per play against Cover-3 zones specifically. The 49ers play the second-most zone coverage in the league, and a lot of that is Cover-3 with Fred Warner, the best coverage linebacker in football, taking away the middle of the field. Warner-versus-Hurts is a matchup to watch, and it may influence Philadelphia to attack the boundaries of the field more often than they normally would.

One final interesting question: will the 49ers blitz? Hurts has a 34.9% DVOA without the blitz, but that falls to -0.3% when opponents send extra rushers. But San Francisco goes from a -16.7% DVOA without a blitz all the way to 20.6% with a blitz, 28th in the league—their yards per play are similar, but every single one of their interceptions have come without a blitz. It's one of the rare matchups in this one that is weakness-against-weakness. I suspect that the 49ers will stay with their usual strategy and not send extra rushers Hurts' way, so we'll see how much the Eagles' line can win their matchups and give Hurts time to dice up the deep coverage.


Philadelphia ranks 13th in special teams with a 0.5% DVOA and is not in the top or bottom eight in any individual portion. It is, by far, the least interesting part of the team.

That blandness does mean they have an advantage in the kicking game. Though Robbie Gould is a perfect 29-for-29 on field goals in 15 postseason games, he's in the twilight of his career and doesn't have the same leg as he used to. Jake Elliott and the Eagles are at +4.1 points of field goal value while Gould and the 49ers are at -5.1; if this comes down to a battle of field goals, advantage goes to Philadelphia. On the other hand, the Eagles have been fairly bland at returns while the 49ers boast Ray-Ray McCloud. McCloud muffed a punt against Dallas but made up for it with a 53-yard kick return shortly afterwards; he was third in the league this year with 10.8 yards per return.


This matchup is close enough that we'd probably advise taking the points no matter who was favored, so San Francisco (+2.5) seems fairly promising.

As for a straight-up pick? Even taking the Gardner Minshew games out of the equation, the 49ers have been the better team over the past two months and have a significant advantage in weighted DVOA. The gap is smaller is you look at DVOA over the course of the full season—small enough that any home-field advantage might be more than enough to cover it—but it's still there. Technically, if you go by the numbers, we're predicting Brock Purdy to be the first rookie quarterback to start a Super Bowl in two weeks.

But who cares about predictions? On paper, this is a fantastic matchup between two teams with a claim at being the best in football this year. Enjoy it! And we'll come back and dissect how everything went wrong for somebody next week, I'm sure.





DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) breaks down each play of the season and compares it to the NFL average based on situation and opponent. You'll find it explained further here. Since DVOA measures ability to score, a negative DVOA indicates a better defense and worse offense, and a positive DVOA indicates a better offense and worse defense.

Team DVOA numbers incorporate all plays; since passing is generally more efficient than rushing, the average for passing is actually above 0% while the average for rushing is below 0%.

SPECIAL TEAMS numbers are different; they represent value in points of extra field position gained compared to NFL average. Field goal rating represents points scored compared to average kicker at same distances. All special teams numbers are adjusted by weather and altitude; the total is then translated into DVOA so it can be compared to offense and defense. Those numbers are explained here.

Each team is listed with DVOA for offense and defense, total along with rush and pass, and rank among the 32 teams in parentheses. (If the DVOA values are difficult to understand, it is easy to just look at the ranks.) We also list WEIGHTED DVOA (WEI DVOA), which is based on a formula which drops the value of games early in the season to get a better idea of how teams are playing now (explained here).

Each team also gets two charts showing their performance this year, game-by-game, according to offensive and defensive DVOA. In addition to a line showing each game, another line shows the team's trend for the season, using a rolling average of the last five games. Note that the defensive chart is reversed so upwards is a more negative defensive DVOA (which is better).


45 comments, Last at 30 Jan 2023, 12:14am

#1 by vrao81 // Jan 27, 2023 - 11:00am

It's going to be darn close..just like the afccg.

Points: 1

#3 by Pat // Jan 27, 2023 - 12:50pm

and punch their ticket to the Super Bowl for the first time in five years.

It's insane to me that people write it like this. Not calling you out Bryan, everyone does this. But "first Super Bowl in 5 years" is pretty insane, because it's actually "for the second time in six years." And that's rare - the only franchises that have been there more in that short a span since '00 is obviously the Patriots and Steelers (with the Chiefs possibly joining them). More than 2 in 6 obviously means you were the conference rep 50% of the time in that span, which is nuts.

The insane thing is that no matter what, we're going to have at least 4 franchises in the past 6 seasons that've been there twice - Chiefs, Patriots, Rams already have, and either the 49ers or Eagles will pick it up. And if the Bengals win it's five franchises, meaning there would only be two 'unique' Super Bowl contenders over that span (loser of Philly/49ers and the Bucs). Death of parity, indeed.

The other thing is that if Philly does get back to the Super Bowl, they're the fastest team in at least 30 years to return to the Super Bowl with both a head coach and a QB who weren't on the team for the first (at 6 years). Obviously the Steelers did it with a new head coach and the Rams just did it with a new QB (and there are obviously plenty of other examples).

There might be a historical example that's faster but I think you'd have to go pretty far back. Note that the "who weren't on the team" part avoids both the Walsh/Seifert 49ers and Parcells/Belichick Patriots. As far as I can tell the fastest prior to the Eagles were the 49ers/Giants at 8 years. Doing it in 6 is pretty impressive for the front office.

Points: 5

#5 by Oncorhynchus // Jan 27, 2023 - 1:09pm

I mean either way the NFC is going to be represented by a repeat recent Super Bowl contender with a new QB. Either way, the NFC is also going to be represented by a team who fired Chip Kelly within the last 10 years. So if you're looking for a Super Bowl formula, might I suggest hiring and firing Chip Kelly? (Maybe Urban Meyer will wind up having the same effect?)

But it's funny to call this the death of parity because 3 of the 4 teams vying for a chance in the Superbowl were all the bottom of their division two years ago. They all had a top-10 draft pick in 2021. So for all Brandon Beane doesn't want to suck enough to have the chance to draft Ja'Marr Chase, 3 of these teams just did exactly that. And one of them still has a top-10 draft pick next year!

Points: 4

#14 by Pat // Jan 27, 2023 - 2:27pm

were all the bottom of their division two years ago.

Yeah, as I've stated many times I hate people talking about the Eagles as a "worst to first" example, and pretty much same thing for the 49ers. Those were just serious down years due to injuries. The Bengals are really the only "rebuild of a classically bad team" in my opinion: all of Philly, the 49ers, and Chiefs have far more success in the past 25 years than struggles.

So for all Brandon Beane doesn't want to suck enough to have the chance to draft Ja'Marr Chase

Chase was a top-5 pick. Even as bad as Philly was in '20 they weren't that bad. I mean, the 49ers had to trade the farm to get up to a top-5 after that year.

Points: 3

#29 by Oncorhynchus // Jan 27, 2023 - 7:38pm

Chase was a top-5 pick. Even as bad as Philly was in '20 they weren't that bad.


The Eagles had the same record as the Bengals in 2020. They were both 4-11-1. The tie? Against each other. Eagles had the 6th pick due to strength of schedule. Yeah, they were that bad. Don't give me that injuries baloney. I know they had a lot of injuries that year - mostly to the offensive line. But the backups were pretty good in most cases. Hell Jordan Mailata won the starting job over their injured 1st round pick after his 2020 campaign (and Andre Dillard is not a bust; he's perfectly adequate - Jordan Mailata is just better).

There were a lot of things wrong with that team beyond the injuries. I agree the Eagles didn't need to do a full rebuild because - despite the o-line injuries in 2020 - their long-term team building philosophy has been to ensure strong defensive and offensive lines and they had a good core there (even so they drafted Kelce heir apparent in the 2nd round back-to-back years in 2021 and 2022). But they upgraded massively at WR and QB between 2020 and now. They also added several stars on the defensive side in Haason Reddick and James Bradberry.

Even so, this team is not playing in the NFCCG with Wentz behind center.

Points: 2

#34 by Pat // Jan 28, 2023 - 8:06am

The Eagles offensive line issues in '20 were horrendous. Mailata was *not* the guy he was a year later. He had just barely started football! You look at Philly's backups now and it's like "hey, they're still good" but first, they barely played this year versus having to play 3 positions deep most of the year. And second, they're better backups!

I don't even get the point being made here. Yes, obviously Wentz was a problem. Duh. But without the OL injuries, that team's not having a 4 win season. No way. Pederson would've just leaned on the run just like Sirianni did the next year.

Would they be in the CCG with Wentz? Of course not. But that's not what I'm saying. The Bengals haven't been a consistently winning franchise. Philly has. They had one bad year from injuries that got amplified. The Bengals in '20 had nowhere near the talent Philly had.

edit: Just to clarify, Philly in 2020 planned on starting Dillard, Brooks, Kelce, Seumalo, and Johnson. Those players played (roughly) zero, zero, all, half, and one-third of the snaps, respectively. The fill-ins were Peters (who they released), Mailata (first football snaps ever), Herbig (Y2 UDFA), Pryor (Y3 6th round), Driscoll (Y1 4th), and Opeta (Y1 UDFA). All of those backups had NFL potential but they were both raw and extremely early in their development. Philly has great backups because of the coaching. But that takes time. 3 of those guys were still backups (Dillard, Opeta, Driscoll) in '22. Meaning that even if there were injuries in '22, they had better depth. The other point to note is that because there weren't injuries, they didn't have to burn money on a replacement (Peters), which means they had more money to spend on fill-ins.

One of the things that I've mentioned here before is that it's important to note that sometimes teams choose to become very bad teams once a season starts falling apart - not by losing games intentionally, but by not spending hard to fill holes that open up. In 2022, after Davis went down Philly spent around $4M to bring in Joseph and Suh for half a season - but when the OL started falling apart even more in-season in '20, they didn't bring in anyone because it didn't make any sense.

Points: 0

#25 by IlluminatusUIUC // Jan 27, 2023 - 4:11pm

So if you're looking for a Super Bowl formula, might I suggest hiring and firing Chip Kelly?

Regardless of the downstream possibilties, firing Chip Kelly is rewarding on its own.

Points: 3

#43 by brentblackwell // Jan 29, 2023 - 4:08pm

Sure, the 49ers made a selection in the top 10 in 2021, but they had to trade from outside the top 10 to get it.

Points: 0

#6 by theslothook // Jan 27, 2023 - 1:15pm

It's insane to me that people write it like this.

I was thinking the same thing. 5 years sounds like a long time until you remember this is the NFL and there are 32 teams and the game is such that team cycles are incredibly short. Its made even more insane when you realize that neither Aaron Rodgers nor Drew Brees nor Steve Young before them ever got to a second sb; let alone the chance to win it. 

It is also a wonderful reminder of just how quick turnarounds can be in the NFL. 3 years ago; the Eagles were on the butt end of a loss to the then Redskins. Just who amongst the nfl populace imagined they would be hosting the NFC Championship game and possibly be favored to win it all?

Points: 1

#10 by Chuckc // Jan 27, 2023 - 1:57pm

I'm not sure the Parcells/Belichick Patriots should be discounted considering there was Pete Carroll in between.

Points: 0

#16 by Pat // Jan 27, 2023 - 2:34pm

Yeah, I know what you mean - but there were a lot of things in common between those teams, though - going back to Belichick was very much a reset in the Carroll era. Same season-starting QB, and the HC, OC, and DC were all on the '96 team as well, and the offensive scheme basically reset, too.

If the Eagles has been in the Super Bowl late in the Reid era it would've been the same argument with Pederson too.

Points: 1

#17 by Raiderfan // Jan 27, 2023 - 3:22pm

“is obviously the Patriots and Steelers (with the Chiefs possibly joining them).”

The Chiefs have already joined them—beat SF and lost to TB.

Points: 1

#35 by Pat // Jan 28, 2023 - 8:08am

That list was more than 2, not just 2. Two happens very often, three in six is much more rare.

Points: 1

#4 by Oncorhynchus // Jan 27, 2023 - 12:52pm

The fewest yards the Eagles had on the ground with Hurts this season was 67, against the Titans and their first-ranked run defense. San Francisco ranks second to Tennessee in run defense DVOA and in adjusted line yards, and is tops in second-level and open-field yards allowed. They aren't particularly strong in power situations, so the patented Unstoppable Short-Yardage Sneak is likely to still be unstoppable, but Philadelphia is going to find it tougher sledding this week than they did the week before. There have been 284 individual 70-yard rush games this season; the Eagles have 14 of them themselves. The 49ers have allowed zero.


I'm thinking this is going to get blown up. The Eagles had 67 yards against the Titans defense, sure, but that's because they couldn't be bother to run the ball when the Titans had the 28th ranked pass offense. Throwing worked whether the run was established or not, so Hurts just put it up in the air. They put up 136 yards versus the 5th ranked Cowboys (Week 6 when Hurts was in the game) and 111 against the 6th ranked Steelers. So respectable, but not otherworldly.

But if we look to last year when the Eagles had much the same O-line, Hurts and Sanders, they played the #1 ranked rush defense in New Orleans and absolutely smoked them to the tune of 242 yards (the highest they gained and the highest NO allowed - almost 100 yards more than anyone else). They also played the 49ers last year in Week 2. The 49ers were the #2 ranked rush defense at the end of the season. And this was before Steichen took over play calling and the Eagles rededicated to the run. The Eagles gained 151 yards - and that total isn't really inflated by one-off rips. Hurts got 27 of his 82 on one run - but the rest of the runs were under 10 with several in the 6 - 7 yard range. 

Atlanta and Las Vegas were able to get some traction on the ground versus the 49ers. So was Seattle for that matter before the game got out of hand. I think the Eagles are going to be able to move the ball on the ground.

Points: 2

#9 by Kaepernicus // Jan 27, 2023 - 1:50pm

Atlanta played a pre-season version of the 49ers defense. They were missing their entire defensive line and had just lost their second corner for the year the week before. That was Lenoir's first start, Jimmie Ward was still missing so they had a rookie in at slot as well, and Mooney Ward got injured half way through the game. I would not read anything into that game if you are trying to get a read on the defense. Last year SF was a below average run defense the first half of the season and then proceeded to be the best rushing defense in the NFL from that point on. They gave up 100+ yards rushing in 7/8 of their games to start the season. They only gave up 100+ yards once the rest of the way to the Seahawks and 73 of those yards came on a fake punt. This year the rushing defense has been nearly as good the whole way with a few bad games sprinkled around. The biggest thing about the 49ers rushing defense is they never give up big runs. All of their bad defensive performances against the run have been of the 3-6 yards a pop variety.

If the Eagles are going to be successful on the ground they are going to have to do it methodically. That means Hurts is going to take a ton of hits. Hurts is a fantastic power runner with incredible vision, he is like a mini Cam Newton in the QB run game. He will not be able to outrun Warner, Greenlaw, or Hufanga with any frequency. One other reason the 49ers have the best second level run defense is they have 2 of the best run stopping DBs in the NFL in the Wards. No matter how you slice it this is going to be a very difficult match up for the Eagles running offense. 

The biggest weakness on the SF defense by far are deep passes to the outside, as noted in the article. It has not been every game though. DK Metcalf did really well in the WC game but was pretty much shut down in the other 2 games. The biggest issues with the Seahawks generally this season revolved around Lockett. I actually think Devonta Smith is going to be the bigger issue in this game. Mooney Ward plays very physical and was able to get in DK's head in Seattle. I am sure Ryans will try to do the same thing with Brown. I have no clue if it will work but they have to try something on him. One thing is certain though this game is going to feature a ton of zone coverage from SF. If Jalen can find the holes in the zone he can have success through the air.

The biggest wild card here for me is how ready the Eagles will be for a defense of this caliber. They just got done playing 2 games against the worst LBs in the NFL and have to turn around and deal with the best LB duo. SF should be ready for the pass rush since they just got done dealing with the Cowboys last week. The Hurts led Eagles haven't faced a defense of this caliber since their week 6 game against the Cooper Rush led Cowboys. It will be interesting to see how Sirianni decides to attack it, this game should be fascinating.

Points: 10

#7 by TimK // Jan 27, 2023 - 1:36pm

Really looking forward to this game. It might not have all the firework of Bengals @ Chiefs, but the clash of styles and greater run/pass mix seem more interesting to me.

One typo : “ But San Francisco goes from a -16.7% DVOA when blitzing all the way to 20.6% with a blitz “ seems to be missing a negative somewhere?

Points: 1

#31 by rh1no // Jan 27, 2023 - 9:47pm

IDK, man. I think this game has the potential for PLENTY of fireworks

Points: 0

#8 by big10freak // Jan 27, 2023 - 1:40pm

It's down to individual matchups at this point assuming both coaching staffs work to their typical standard


If I am Philly I am a tad concerned about my back seven dealing with runners or receivers on yards after contact which of course is the essence of the SF offense.  I really admire the Eagles line.  The secondary can really cover.  But against a bruising running game I have a few doubts about the Eagles past that d-line crew


For the Niners as mentioned in the article the Niners have some spots on the o-line that can be exploited by a really good Eagles d line.  And on defense you can, assuming you get the time, go downtown on SF.  It's very Wisconsin Badgery defense in that they almost conceded the deep pass relying on their rush to nullify this one concession.  But the Eagles line is about as suited to the challenge as one could expect


It's a heavyweight cage match.  Sticking with SF 


But either winner will do the NFC proud in the SB

Points: 5

#13 by Kaepernicus // Jan 27, 2023 - 2:25pm

I am really interested in seeing where they line up Bosa. I honestly think I would leave him on Johnson and try to really push him with that groin injury. He's a great tackle but I have seen a great tackle get abused because of injury just last year in the NFCCG. Williams was hurt and had a poor game by his standards. Kayvon seemed to have a few good reps against Johnson last week. I wonder how well he can hold up against Bosa with his incredible power rush moves. The 49ers force more 3 & outs than any other team. They really force teams to beat them in chunks and stop teams from getting into a rhythm when healthy. If the Eagles offensive line dominates it will be a long day.

Points: 3

#26 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jan 27, 2023 - 4:36pm

There's always the chance that they Micah him and just leave Bosa unblocked, let Hurts read him, and let Johnson truck some unsuspecting DB.

Points: 2

#28 by Kaepernicus // Jan 27, 2023 - 6:31pm

Good point. I have confidence in Hufanga and the Wards taking that on and winning enough. Lenoir and Gipson not so much.

Points: 0

#11 by JS // Jan 27, 2023 - 2:04pm

I feel like this is the SB; the winner here will be a what, 4-5 point favorite against either AFC team? And I'll give the points, though I think Cincinnati can make it close. And of course, any of the four teams could win it all and I wouldn't be shocked or anything. But both of these teams are amazingly solid, and I don't think DVOA or point differential or anything else quite tells the story. The lull Philly had late in the year, and the early-season issues for SF (whatever they were) are long gone.

Points: 2

#15 by Kaepernicus // Jan 27, 2023 - 2:29pm

Vegas disagrees at this point. I think the look ahead lines are between +1.5 and pick em for the NFC teams. Gotta respect the super QBs of the AFC over the complete teams in the NFC.

Points: 4

#19 by rh1no // Jan 27, 2023 - 3:37pm

NFC was weak this year. The Eagles played the easiest schedule in the league by DVOA while the Purdy-Niners played the second-easiest schedule. Traditional metrics tell a similar story, as ESPN's strength of schedule metrics have SF in 32nd place and Philly tied for 28th.

The 49ers lost to the lowly Broncos and squeaked by a mediocre Raiders team while getting blown out by the Chiefs. They'd rightly be considered underdogs to the Chiefs in a rematch, and probably to the Bengals, too.

The Eagles went undefeated against the AFC and only dropped one game at full-strength, so it's possible they'd be favorites against the AFC champion. But I'd bet Vegas -- and the betting public -- would favor Super Bowl champion Mahomes or the second-chance Bengals over a relatively untested Philadelphia squad. 

Of course, that's assuming both games this weekend are close, hard-fought battles. A blowout by any team would likely swing popular opinion.

Points: 4

#30 by Oncorhynchus // Jan 27, 2023 - 8:59pm

The Eagles will have 22 starters healthy for this game - for the first time since Week 8. The 49ers will have a gimpy running back core and a 7th round rookie at QB.

The Eagles lost 3 games - in only one of those games was their 4th quarter win probability below 50% for the entire quarter (according to RBSDM's model: it was a high of 48% against the Saints on the drive before Minshew game killing interception). The 49ers lost 4 games and in two of them their win probability was less than 25% for pretty much the entire 4th quarter.

The Eagles won the turnover battle in 11 of their games, tied in 2 and lost in 5. Their record in those games is 11-0, 1-1, and 3-2 respectively.

The 49ers won the turnover battle in 12 of their games, tied in 3 and lost in 4. Their record in those games is 12-0, 3-0, and 0-4. 

Good teams play close until the end even when they make a lot of mistakes. Good teams can overcome their own mistakes. The Chiefs won 5 of their 7 games in which they lost the turnover battle. The Bill won 6 of their 10 games in which they lost the turnover battle.

The 49ers have the best turnover differential in FB at -13. Turnovers are a fairly luck driven stat. The Eagles are good enough to overcome some amount of bad luck. The 49ers are not. It might be better to be lucky than it is to be good - but on Sunday their luck run out. Eagles 28 - 49ers 14.

Points: 0

#32 by bravehoptoad // Jan 27, 2023 - 10:32pm

Turnovers are a fairly luck driven stat.

There's an oversimplification. Creating turnovers is a skill. Actually recovering them is where the luck comes in. It's one of FO's big talking points for explaining when DVOA results are wildly different from game results or even season results.

I recall FO has done research on this, in that certain types of turnovers are more likely to be recovered by the fumbling team and other more likely by the defending team. I'd imagine there's some stat quantifying that--expected turnover differential vs. actual turnover differential, but I don't know where to find that.

Points: 3

#36 by Pat // Jan 28, 2023 - 11:44am

The other point to note is that for a while, the Eagles had by far the best turnover differential in the NFL, but they lost the NFL's interception leader to injury for so many games the insanely dumb Pro Bowl rules kept him from being a Pro Bowler.

And even though they got CJ back earlier than Maddox, they played him at nickel because CJ at nickel and Blankenship at weak safety is more fundamentally sound, even though you're giving up playmaking potential.

Having Maddox at nickel and CJ back at weak safety makes them a very dangerous secondary.

Points: 0

#21 by theslothook // Jan 27, 2023 - 3:48pm

I believe the Chiefs are a narrow favorite to win the sb. If Mahomes survives this game and has 2 weeks to heal, I think the Chiefs will be favored over SF or Philly.

Right or wrong, the elite QB is viewed as the trump card 

Points: 3

#23 by KnotMe // Jan 27, 2023 - 4:02pm

I think the view is: With a guy of Mahomes(and Burrow to a degree) caliber there is a chance the Niners/Eagles play great defence and he just fires balls into tight windows and it doesn't matter. 

Points: 2

#24 by Kaepernicus // Jan 27, 2023 - 4:09pm

It's not just the fact that they have Mahomes and Reid either. The Chiefs have a very good pass rush too. They are built to hold a lead and Chris Jones is a dominant interior pass rusher. They have a very well built roster for their identity and have spent real time and resources developing a quality rushing attack. If Mahomes is healthy they could really put it on the Bengals on Sunday.

Points: 2

#12 by StraightCashHomey // Jan 27, 2023 - 2:05pm

The think Philly's rankings in total DVOA and weighted DVOA in the table are off. It's showing both Philly and SF at first in weighted. 

Points: 2

#20 by coremill // Jan 27, 2023 - 3:40pm

The matchups seem to favor SF, in that the things SF is good at/wants to do on offense--running the ball with lots of motion, 21 personnel, short/medium passes to the middle of the field--are the things Philly comparatively struggles with.  And on the other side, SF generally defends the run very well and Philly's RPO game doesn't attack their weaknesses on the outside.  The one question here is how SF deals with Hurts as a runner, where the Niners have struggled in past years but haven't been challenged much this year.

Also, there's a lot of talk about how Purdy will handle playing in a Championship Game, but it's not like Hurts has much experience at this level either against a defense of this caliber.  Hurts did play in two national championship games in college, but he sucked in both of them (combined 16/39 for 152 yards) and got benched of course in the second one.  

One X-factor is that the Eagles had a bye followed by an easy game last week and are at home, while the Niners played two weeks ago, had a very physical game last week, and then have to travel this week.  In a close game in the fourth quarter, the Eagles might be just a tiny bit fresher. 

Points: 4

#22 by Kaepernicus // Jan 27, 2023 - 3:50pm

Based on this breakdown it seems that a lot of the match up splits favor the 49ers playing their standard game plan on defense and offense. The softest parts of the Eagles defense are against the run and the short passing game over the middle. Those are 2 areas SF attacks as a priority every game. The Eagles have home field advantage and a clear rest advantage coming off a bye week and a friendly scrimmage against the NFL's worst rushing defense. It seems like these things probably cancel each other out and the game will come down to coaching and game plans. In that scenario I have to go with Shanahan and Ryans. This is their 3rd NFCCG in 4 years vs. the 3rd playoff game for the Eagles regime. Shanahan manufactured a victory over a better Cowboys team on the road last year with a QB with 1.5 arms and Bosa/Warner missing most of the second half. This SF team is much better than that one and I am expecting a brilliant game plan from both of them. SF 24 PHI 20.

Points: 5

#38 by Beavis // Jan 28, 2023 - 6:46pm

So you want to selectively focus on the experience Shanahan has blowing leads late in big games as a positive, and totally ignore the unprecedented inexperience of the SF QB as a potential negative? And you still only have SF winning by 4? Seems like a strong endorsement of the Eagles in actuality.

Points: -1

#41 by Kaepernicus // Jan 29, 2023 - 11:15am

I mean he's been the HC for 6 seasons in SF and is 6-2 in the playoffs. Yeah they blew the SB in half a quarter because Jimmy G turned into garbage after getting wrecked by Chris Jones and the defensive line was gassed by the end. He still had a winning game plan for 3.5 quarters of an SB. I have SF winning by 4 because it is a road game and the Eagles are a very good team. As for the experience of the QBs they have the same amount of playoff starts. Purdy also had to beat the Seahawks on the road in Seattle with the division on the line while injured in a short week. He did fine with the crowd noise and he seemed to get right quickly. He faced pressure on 48% of drop backs last week and did a good job of throwing it away when he couldn't find anything. When he wasn't pressured he lit them up. If he plays the same way he did last week and the running game takes a step up the 49ers will win the game. The Eagles have a great pass rush but they do not have a single player as good as Parsons. I am a bit more worried about Hargrave in the middle than any of their other defensive linemen. We will see what happens. This is also the single biggest game Hurts has ever played in and he just got done playing a terrible defense 2 straight games. Why is everyone just assuming Hurts is going to play just like he did in the regular season and not press? He faced almost no pressure last week and still had a sack fumble. It will be interesting to see how he does under more pressure this week. Bosa demolished Mailata last year and from what I have heard he has been a little worse this year due to injury.

Points: 0

#42 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jan 29, 2023 - 12:11pm

It would be an enormous embarrassment if the 49ers didn't romp their way to a SB title.

Anything else would be an unconscionable choke job of epic proportions.

\I would say unprecedented, but Shanahan has done it three times already

Points: -1

#37 by Sid // Jan 28, 2023 - 1:06pm

There's a mistake in the weighted overall DVOA rankings. In the chart, both teams are listed at #1.

Points: 0

#39 by occams_pointed… // Jan 28, 2023 - 7:03pm

I posted this question on the other thread:

I wondered about DVOA STRENGTH of SCHEDULE.

The final four look like this:

Bengals 4th 4.2%

KC 29th -3.6%

SF 31st -5.8%

Philly 32nd -5.9%


Is this normal? How often do the final four teams look like they've had schedules that (excepting Cincy) were not something to "battle test them"?

Points: 4

#40 by rh1no // Jan 28, 2023 - 9:11pm

That's a great question! I glanced at the strength of schedule among the top ten teams by DVOA for the past ten years and saw a lot of highly-ranked teams with middling-to-low strength of schedule.

For example, the 2016 Patriots finished #1 in total DVOA and weighted DVOA while facing the easiest schedule in the league. Their foes in the AFC Championship Game, the Pittsburgh Stealers, were 4th in total DVOA and weighted DVOA after facing the 16th-toughest schedule in the league. On the NFC side, the Packers went 10-6 against the 10th toughest schedule, showing up as the 7th-best team in total DVOA and the 6th best team in weighted DVOA. The ill-fated Falcons were third and second, respectively, in total DVOA and weighted DVOA after facing the 21st toughest schedule.

The team that faced the toughest schedule that year was the Philadelphia Eagles, who missed the playoffs at 7-9 despite being a top 10 team in both total DVOA and weighted DVOA. Of the other teams facing the toughest schedules only the Giants (#3) made the postseason, while Washington (#4) barely eclipsed .500 and Cleveland (#2) managed just one win all year.

Again, I'm just eyeballing the stats here, but this trend -- assuming it really is a trend -- makes intuitive sense. After all, the best team in the league will never play itself, right? So doesn't that make their schedule a little easier by default? 

The NFL tries to ensure parity by scheduling division winners against division winners and division runners-up against division runners up, etc. But season-to-season performance can have a great deal of variance, in large part due to injuries to stars. Think of how much the Indianapolis Colts dipped in 2011 after Peyton Manning was injured. They went 2-14, despite being a division winner in 2010. Or look at the precipitous drop off of last year's Super Bowl winning Rams.

For years, the Patriots dominated one of the weakest divisions on football, racking up wins against Dolphins, Jets, and Bills teams that were constantly shuffling head coaches and starting quarterbacks. Playing a weak schedule in any year -- let alone EVERY year -- allows these teams to rack up wins, which leads to home field advantage and maybe even a bye in the playoffs, positioning these teams for deeper runs.

And on top of all of that, playing a weaker slate of opponents means your star players are less likely to get injured. It's more likely that a high-performing team will have a dominant pass rusher who can sack and potentially injure your starting quarterback than, say, the Browns.

So I'd guess that the whole narrative of being "battle-tested" is just that: a narrative just the same as "momemtum" or "second-half adjustments." In reality, the NFL season is a war of attrition. Having an easier schedule makes it easier to survive that war with fewer meaningful losses. The talent gap is narrow enough that a healthy and rested but less talented team has a significant advantage over a fatigued and injured higher quality opponent.

You know, like ... maybe.

Points: 5

#44 by horn // Jan 29, 2023 - 6:42pm

Imagine betting on Brock Purdy at the Linc with a trip to the SB on the line.

Points: 0

Save 10%
& Support Bryan
Support Football Outsiders' independent media and Bryan Knowles. Use promo code KNOWLES to save 10% on any FO+ membership and give half the cost of your membership to tip Bryan.