Eagles vs 49ers: 5 key matchups to watch in this weekend’s NFC bout

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Eagles
Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts scores the game winning touchdown against the Buffalo Bills during overtime in an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 26, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The Philadelphia Eagles are halfway through their gauntlet stretch of the 2023 schedule. An impressive 5-0 mark against combined contenders like the Dallas Cowboys, Kansas City Chiefs, and Miami Dolphins has given the organization some breathing room to start the stretch run.

Unfortunately for the Birds, the last part of their gauntlet is among the hardest in football. It all starts Sunday evening when the Eagles take on the San Francisco 49ers in a rematch of last year’s NFC Championship game.

Philadelphia blew out the Brock Purdy-less Niners 31-7 and San Francisco promptly cried about the game for months after due to their inability to protect their two quarterbacks in the game. Safe to say, the 49ers come into this game highly motivated while the Eagles are looking to trudge along as they’ve done all year.

As we begin to break down the highly anticipated contest, let’s look at the game’s top matchups to watch.

Nick Bosa and Chase Young vs. Jordan Mailata and Lane Johnson

Bosa wasn’t healthy in last year’s title game but even still, they were embarrassed inside by both Mailata and Johnson. The 49ers must get consistent pressure on Jalen Hurts to give their defense a chance on Sunday on the road. It’s also important for Bosa and newly-acquired edge rusher Chase Young to set the edge against the run – something the Eagles exploited in last year’s title game.

Philadelphia has one of the best offensive lines in football. A big part of that is the performance of both Johnson and Mailata. If both have good games this week, Philadelphia will have won the first position battle they will need to win in order to come away with their 11th victory of the season.

Jalen Hurts vs Steve Wilks

DeMeco Ryans may not be the defensive coordinator in San Francisco, but the vaunted defense is as good as ever under Steve Wilks. They have two top corners, a plethora of rushers, and the best linebacking tandem in the NFL.

This same defense held Hurts to just 120 yards passing on 60% completions and no touchdown passes. Philadelphia may have won going away, but their passing offense struggled mightily under the 49ers confusing scheme.

Eagles
Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Olamide Zaccheaus celebrates after catching a touchdown pass over Buffalo Bills safety Micah Hyde during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 26, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

On Sunday, this matchup will take center stage yet again. Hurts will have to successfully read San Fran’s coverages while finding ways to break through their vaunted pass rush. I would expect Wilks to send plenty of pressure as well.

This is the matchup that could decide the entire game.

Sean Desai vs. Kyle Shanahan

It has to mean something that Jonathan Gannon, for all of his ineptitude against top passers, had Kyle Shanahan completely lost on the field in the NFC Title game. Whether it was blocking Haason Reddick with a tight end on the play that knocked Purdy out, or not having a third quarterback active and ready when Josh Johnson went down, Shanahan did a terrible job on that cold January night.

Eagles
Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Haason Reddick reacts following an NFL divisional round playoff football game against the New York Giants, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023, in Philadelphia. The Eagles won 38-7. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

Sean Desai has been a lot better than Gannon this season with less personnel. Desai has already shown the ability to be successful against the Shanahan-style offense when they blew threw the Miami Dolphins over a month ago. He should be able to have some success again.

It’s still a tall order to be able to stop this kind of offense with this many weapons. Desai needs to make sure everyone in the secondary is on the same page.

Nicholas Morrow vs. Christian McCaffrey and Deebo Samuel

Philadelphia is far more short-handed against the 49ers than they were in the NFC Title game. With Zach Cunningham down, the Eagles will need to rely on Nicholas Morrow to be the run-stuffing linebacker that cuts down Christian McCaffrey and Deebo Samuel’s targets inside.

San Francisco loves to run their stretch offense and that’s something the Eagles have struggled with all season. While we expect to see a lot of Christian Eliss in this game, the middle of the field is going to be a problem for Philadelphia if Morrow doesn’t have the game of his life.

If he doesn’t though, this could very well be another shootout that Hurts and the offense will have to traverse through.

AJ Brown vs. Charvarius Ward

You may think that I would highlight the Deebo Samuel-James Bradberry controversy that the 49ers created in the offseason.

That’s not the matchup to watch though.

In last year’s title game, AJ Brown was held to just four catches and 28 yards while being primarily guarded by 49ers top corner Charvarius Ward. Ward is among the more underrated corners in the NFL with the size and speed to shut down any top receiver.

A.J. Brown eagles
Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver A.J. Brown (11) celebrating his team’s touchdown to take the lead against the Washington Commanders during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 29, 2023, in Landover, Md. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

How the 49ers play Brown this week will be highly interesting. I think it’s a safe bet that Ward will be the guy on Brown and try to take away Hurts’ #1 option. If Dallas Goedert doesn’t go, this could be a game which Philadelphia desperately misses a middle-of-the-field weapon.

AP Photo/Matt Slocum