When the San Francisco 49ers took the field against the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Championship game, Brock Purdy and the offense were met with the particularly violent defensive front of Jonathan Gannon, who knocked Mr. Irrelevant out of the game in the first and his backup, Josh Johnson, two quarters later. While Niners fans knew the Eagles’ defense was going to be good, as they were right up there with DeMeco Ryans’ unit all year, few expected to see the very outcome of the game defined by the pass rush and big hits by Haason Reddick and Ndamukong Suh.
As it turns out, the Eagles’ defense played like they had a fire lit under them because they did, as before the game began, George Kittle’s comments on Philadelphia’s defense being “good on paper” struck the unit the wrong way, as Darius Slay mentioned on his podcast after the game.
“But when he said that we looked good on paper, in the football world, we know how to take that,” Slay said via NBA Sports Philadelphia. “That’s basically saying not too physical, that’s talking ‘bout we look talented on paper but are we gonna put the paper to the field? You know, so as a defense, with us being one of the best defenses in the league as well, we took that as disrespect.”
“Because we didn’t say they looked good on paper. We said they’re a great defense, they’re a great team. We were trying to show our respect, which respect is due. But him saying that triggered a lot of guys in the locker room, including myself. Even though I still have a lot of respect for the guy, but it triggered us to go out and play a lot harder to show who’s physical. So you seen as the game was going on, you see who been the most physical team.”
Though the Niners tried to remain physical when Purdy and Johnson exited the game, with Trent Williams taking things a bit too far by being ejected for fighting with K’Von Wallace, it’s clear the Eagles were the more physical team in the NFC Championship, which was a new development worth addressing moving forward.
George Kittle’s Comments Didn’t age Particularly Well
Checking out the comments in question from Kittle heading into the NFC Championship, the All-Pro did sound a bit reticent about giving the Eagles props, suggesting “we’ll see” how they look in the game.
“We’ll see on Sunday, won’t we? I mean, they’ve got six first-round draft picks on the defensive line, they’ve got a really good secondary, they’ve got physical guys at linebacker. So whatever you see on paper, sure. It’s the NFL. When you look at paper, it should be like, ‘Oh yeah, we can match their physicality’ and stuff like that. And then you get on the field on Sundays and the film after the game will show you exactly what you’re asking. I know we’re going to come out, we’re going to be violent, physical, I’m expecting them to do the same thing. We’ll see.”
Considering the Eagles kept the Niners’ offense to just seven points, albeit due to extenuating circumstances, in the NFC Championship game, it’s safe to say they came as advertised.
Nick Sirianni was Impressed by the San Francisco 49ers’ Defense
While Kittle wasn’t too willing to complement the Eagles’ defense in earnest, Nick Sirianni was far kinder about his penultimate opponents of the 2022 NFL season, specifically shouting out Demeco Ryans for his defense’s fortitude.
“Like, I see [Ryans’] players genuinely selling out,” Sirianni told reporters via NBA Sports Philadelphia. “And you can see their interactions in the game right when you watch it on television. Like, you see those guys playing really hard for him.”
“Why does a player play really hard for a coach? I think one thing that happens is they really recognize that that coach cares about them as a person. They really recognize that that coach is genuinely making them better. So, again, am I in their meetings and hearing how DeMeco Ryans is making guys better? No, but I see it that obviously, that he is doing that and that these guys love to play for him.”
Regardless of the outcome of the NFC Championship game, Sirianni was a believer in Ryans and understood why he was so hyped heading into the head coach hiring cycle.
“And so it’s no surprise to me that he’s one of the hot head coaching candidates coming up for this year,” Sirianni said. “And I got a lot of respect for that. This is a really well-coached football team. And we’ll have to be on our stuff this week.”