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NFC Championship Game: 5 keys for Eagles-49ers

The NFC Championship Game is on Sunday afternoon, and here are five keys to watch, determining who goes to Super Bowl LVII. The Eagles must start quickly, while the 49ers need to run the ball early.

5. Eagles: Hit the deep ball

The Philadelphia Eagles have crushed teams all year, hitting receivers A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith time and again with deep shots down the field. Second-Team All-Pro quarterback Jalen Hurts should be looking for them repeatedly on Sunday against a 49ers defense without a top-end corner. Charvarius Ward is a good cornerback, but he’s not elite. If Ward ends up in single coverage with either Brown or Smith, Hurts should hit his back step and let fly.


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4. 49ers: Move Nick Bosa around

The Niners have a good pass rush, but 18.5 of their 44 sacks during the regular season came from Bosa. He’s the main force up front, and San Francisco defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans should move him all over the line, whether it be in alignment or with stunts. Bosa is going against perhaps the best offensive line in the game, and should stay away from right tackle Lane Johnson. However, lining up him over the guards occasionally, shaded away from All-Pro center Jason Kelce, is the smart move.

3. Eagles: Get off to a quick start

While Philadelphia certainly has the firepower to rally if need be, getting out to a quick lead puts the Niners in tough position. For starters, the crowd at Lincoln Financial Field will only become more of a factor. More importantly, it will make San Francisco rely increasingly on the passing game, moving away from star running back Christian McCaffrey.


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2. 49ers: Run the ball repeatedly on early downs

If there’s one weakness for the Eagles, it’s their run defense. The unit ranked in the bottom half of the league this season, and can be exploited by the tandem of McCaffrey and Elijah Mitchell (Mitchell didn’t practice this week and is listed as questionable). San Francisco needs to pound the ball early and make life easier on rookie quarterback Brock Purdy, who is facing the league’s best pass rush. Speaking of which …

1. Eagles: Get pressure on Brock Purdy

This is the game-changer, one way or the other. The Eagles had 70 sacks in the regular season to lead the NFL. San Francisco’s front is excellent, but if it can’t hold up, Purdy is in for an impossible afternoon. Philadelphia has to get pressure with four, allowing the secondary to be aggressive and pick off a pass or two.

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