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Eagles vs. 49ers: Three matchups to watch in NFC Championship Game

On Sunday, the Philadelphia Eagles will host the San Francisco 49ers for the right to represent the NFC in this year’s Super Bowl. Anyway you try to spin it, this has all the makings of a classing NFC title game.

Both teams are stacked with talent and evenly matched across the board. But of course, there are still areas where both teams can take advantage.

Let’s take a look at three key matchups that will likely determine the outcome of Sunday’s NFC Championship Game.

>> Read More: Eagles News: Status updates on Avonte Maddox, Lane Johnson for NFC Championship Game vs. 49ers

Lane Johnson/Jordan Mailata vs. Nick Bosa

Containing Nick Bosa should be priority number one for the Eagles offensive coaching staff this week. He’s a game wrecker who will likely take home the Defensive Player of the Year award.

Limiting a guy who racked up a league-best 18.5 sacks and 48 QB hits is easier said than done. But if there’s one man on this Earth who can do it, it’s Lane Johnson. The Eagles RT proved that, despite his lingering abdominal injury, he’s a stone wall on the right side of Jeff Stoutland’s offensive line. He completely shut down rookie Kayvon Thibodeaux last week and looked like his normal All-Pro self.

Outside of Bosa, San Francisco doesn’t have any other top-tier pass rushers. Their second-leading sack man, Charles Oheminu, only tallied 6.5 sacks this season. Take away Bosa’s 18.5 sacks, San Fran is left with just 25.5 sacks on the year. Bosa has accounted for nearly 50 percent of the team’s total sack production.

While Bosa will likely faceoff with Johnson for the majority of the game, expect him to switch sides on occasion to face Jordan Mailata on the left side. Mailata still has a ways to go before he reaches the pedigree of Johnson, but he’s still a very good offensive tackle. He posted an overall PFF grade of 77.6 this season, good for 14th among 84 qualifying tackles in 2022.

Shut down Bosa and you shut down the Niners pass rush. It’ll be up to Johnson and Mailata to answer the call.

AJ Brown vs. 49ers cornerbacks

From top to bottom, the Niners have some of the best defensive personnel in the league. They have All-Pros on every level of their defense. Their cornerback room, however, doesn’t stack up that well against the Eagles wideouts. More specifically, AJ Brown.

After hauling in just three catches for 22 yards last week, he’s due for a big outing against San Fran. The last time Brown faced this defense was last year, where he put up 11 receptions for 145 yards and a touchdown. Demeco Ryan’s defense looks a bit different now, but it’s important to note that Brown did that in a game where Derrick Henry didn’t play and his No. 2 WR was a washed up Julio Jones.

San Fran had the luxury of keying in on Brown in their last meeting. They won’t be afforded that same luxury this time around. The Eagles running game has to be accounted for at all times, and Brown will have another 1,000-yard receiver opposite of him in DeVonta Smith. Not to mention TE Dallas Goedert, who tore apart the Giants defense last week in the divisional round.

Niners CB Chavarius Ward has been solid throughout the year, posting a coverage grade of 75.1 (19th out of 120 corners). As for second-year CB Deommodore Lenoir, he’s had his ups and downs. For the year, he earned a 55.2 coverage grade, good for 94th among CBs. He’s allowed a completion percentage of 68.7 along with a passer rating of 85.7 when targeted this season. He’s also relatively small compared to Brown, standing at 5-foot-10, 200 pounds.

We also can’t forget that the Niners defense, for all their hype and greatness, are prone to giving up big plays. They surrendered a league-high eight passes of 50 yards or more this season. Brown has taken the top off almost every defense he’s faced this season. There’s no doubt he’s capable of doing it to Ryan’s group as well.

Eagles run defense vs. 49ers running game

The key to slowing down every iteration of the Shanahan offense is pretty simple – clog the running lanes and forced the quarterback to beat you with his arm.

In totality, the Eagles run defense was average at best this season. They finished the year ranked 17th against the run while allowing 4.6 yards per carry. Those less than satisfactory numbers are due in large part to the three game stretch from Week 8-10, where Jonathan Gannon’s group allowed an average of 157 rushing yards per game.

Howie Roseman added Ndamukong Suh and Linval Joseph to his defensive front following that three game outlier and the run defense has vastly improved. Since Week 11, the Eagles are allowing 118 yards on the ground per contest.

The 49ers backfield will be a little banged up entering championship weekend. Christian McCaffrey is good to go, but he sat out of practice for most of the week with a calf issue. His backup, Elijah Mitchell, is questionable with a groin injury.

Every time the Eagles run defense has been questioned since Week 11, they’ve answered the bell. Jonathan Taylor, Derrick Henry, and Saquon Barkley all struggled to get anything going against this defense. Regardless of the narrative being pushed about Gannon’s defense, they’re more than capable of shutting down any opposing running game.

If they slow down the Niners ground attack and force Brock Purdy into unfavorable situations, the Eagles defense will feast all game long.

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