Eagles’ Defense Bullies 49ers, Punches Super Bowl Ticket

Philadelphia Eagles

Getty Eagles' Haason Reddick #7 celebrates with Fletcher Cox #91 after recovering a fumble against the 49ers.

PHILADELPHIA — Nick Sirianni’s aggressiveness paid off.

With Sirianni’s Philadelphia Eagles facing a 4th & 3 from the San Francisco 49ers‘ 35-yard line, just 4:42 into the 2023 NFC Championship Game, the second-year head coach dialed up a deep ball down the sideline to DeVonta Smith that the second-year wide received pulled down with a spectacular — albeit controversial — one-handed catch.

Opening-salvo delivered.

For some inexplicable reason, Kyle Shanahan didn’t challenge the play. Despite video replay showing the ball hitting the ground and Smith seeming to rush his teammates up to the line of scrimmage before the 49ers could decide whether to throw the flag.

Two plays later, running back Miles Sanders darted through the heart of the 49ers’ defense, giving the Eagles a 7-0 lead 54 minutes from a Super Bowl berth.

Sirianni was one of the NFL’s most aggressive coaches in the sport this season, and by going for the jugular on the first drive of the game, the Eagles’ head coach set the tone.

Philadelphia never really looked back, in fact, the defense created chaos for the 49ers’ offense in a 31-7 victory in the NFC Championship.

The Eagles’ relentless onslaught of pressure didn’t just overwhelm the 49ers, but Cinderella quarterback Brock Purdy was knocked from the contest with an elbow injury, only to be pressed back into action when Josh Johnson was pulled off by officials after suffering a possible concussion in the 3rd quarter on an Ndamukong Suh quarterback hit.

This game was billed as two of the NFL’s most complete teams squaring off with a Super Bowl berth at stake. But, the 49ers’ injuries at quarterback quickly changed the entire complexion of the contest.

Even with San Francisco’s significant limitations on offense in the second half, the Eagles are Arizona-bound because of the same strengths that put them in this position in the first place; a dominant ground game and a relentless pass rush.

There is something fitting about one of general manager Howie Roseman’s most impactful offseason additions, Haason Reddick, playing a pivotal role in delivering the Eagles to a second Super Bowl berth in five years.

Here are 3 takeaways from the Eagles’ NFC Championship Game win over the 49ers:

Philadelphia Bullies 49ers at Their Own Game

San Francisco finished the regular season averaging a league-high 138.8 rushing yards per game, and combined for 294 yards on the ground in playoff victories over the Seattle Seahawks and Dallas Cowboys to advance to the NFC Championship Game.

Sunday, Nick Sirianni and the Eagles ripped a chapter from Kyle Shanahan’s playbook.

In the first half alone, the Eagles rushed for 79 yards, most impressively in the red zone, where Philadelphia scored rushing touchdowns of 6, 13, and 10 yards to open up a 21-7 lead at the break.

When Hurts crossed the goalline on a QB sneak with 43 seconds remaining in the 3rd quarter, the Eagles scored a postseason franchise record 4 rushing touchdowns. Dominating on the ground, and consistent success inside the 20-yard line is a winning formula in the NFL. Especially in the postseason.

Sunday, the Eagles finished a perfect 4-for-4 scoring touchdowns inside the 20-yard line, effectively punching their ticket to Glendale, beating San Francisco at its own game, in the process.

Eagles’ Pass Rush Led the Way

Part of what has made the Eagles one of the more dangerous teams in football all season is the star-studded depth in the front-seven, and against the San Francisco 49ers, that group paved the road to the Super Bowl.

Haason Reddick was flying to the football in the first quarter, producing 2.0 sacks, and forcing a Brock Purdy fumble that Linvel Joseph recovered, one week after powering the Eagles’ defense past the Giants with a 2.0 sack showing.

Then, after Purdy was knocked from the game, Javon Hargrave sacked Josh Johnson, raising Philly’s first-half total to 3.0.

Philadelphia’s 70 regular-season sacks led the league, and Sunday’s performance by the Eagles’ front-seven both powered the victory and strengthened defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon’s head coaching resumé.

What Happened to Kyle Shanahan?

It’s easy to give a head coach a pass when his third and fourth-string quarterbacks both suffer significant injuries, significantly limiting the playbook. But, Shanahan must wear at least a portion of the blame for the 49ers’ offensive debacle.

At any given point during a season, Shanahan is one of the NFL’s brightest offensive minds, an innovator. But, Sunday when the opportunity presented itself to run either Christian McCaffrey or Deebo Samuel at quarterback, following Johnson heading to concussion protocol and Purdy clearly struggling to throw the ball more than a few yards past the line of scrimmage, San Francisco stuck with Purdy.

It clearly was a disastrous situation, and maybe there was some fog of war taking place on the San Francisco sideline, but why not put the ball in one of your most explosive playmakers’ hands every single snap? Especially after rushing for over 138 yards per game?

Regardless, San Francisco’s playbook was limited by circumstances, but it felt like Shanahan passed on an opportunity to let his playmakers get involved to try to salvage the season.

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