No disrespect to Nick Sirianni and Co., but the Philadelphia Eagles have undoubtedly had the easiest path through the postseason out of all four teams remaining.
And yes, they 100% earned it with a fantastic 14-3 regular-season showing that allowed them to pick up the No. 1 seed and a first-round bye in the NFC. And then they got somewhat fortunate when the familiar New York Giants, whom they had already beaten twice in the regular season, upset the Minnesota Vikings in the wild-card round.
But things will get very, very real for the Eagles on Sunday when they face off against the San Francisco 49ers, and they might need to get out of their comfort zone to beat the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs.
Before we get into the Eagles’ conference championship matchup against the 49ers, it’s worth rewinding for a moment to take a look at how predictable Philadelphia’s 38-7 divisional-round win was over the Giants (our model gave them a 90.8% win probability heading into the matchup).
New York had a fantastic season, but the team overachieved more than any other team in the NFL based on its talent and overall efficiency this season. And tons of credit goes to head coach Brian Daboll for scheming the Giants up to finish 9-7-1, make the playoffs and upset the Vikings. But they ranked 24th in overall EVE, 22nd in offensive EVE and 26th in defensive EVE during the regular season. The Giants will be a team on the rise as Daboll and Giants general manager Joe Schoen continue to fix that roster.
Some of New York’s biggest weaknesses aligned perfectly with the Eagles’ biggest strengths and what Sirianni and offensive coordinator Shane Steichen like to do on offense. Philadelphia ranked sixth in rushing EVE heading into the game, while New York was 30th in EVE against the run. The Eagles run the ball in expected rushing situations 82.6% of the time, which ranks 10th in the league. The Giants rank 24th in EVE against the rush in expected running situations.
The Eagles run the ball in expected passing situations 22.3% of the time, which ranks seventh. The Giants rank 28th in EVE against the run in expected passing situations. And on defense, the Eagles rank second in EVE against the pass, while the Giants sit 25th in passing EVE.
We know that the Eagles beat the Giants three straight times this season. Based on the overall discrepancy in talent and each team’s strengths and weaknesses, it would have been difficult to imagine the Giants beating the Eagles without something unforeseen happening. It was a terrible matchup for New York and a really great one for Philadelphia.
Though our model gives them a 70.0% win probability, there’s a reason why the Eagles are only favored by 2.5 points at home this Sunday against San Francisco. The 49ers rank first in overall EVE heading in, second in offensive EVE and third in defensive EVE. They’re second in passing EVE, second in rushing EVE, second in EVE against the run and 11th in EVE against the pass. The 49ers are great at running the ball and defending the run and really, really good on both sides of the passing game.
And they match up well defensively with what the Eagles like to do on offense. They rank first in EVE against the run in expected passing situations. Philadelphia runs the ball on 44.5% of snaps, which ranks ninth in the league, and San Francisco has one of the best run-stopping defenses in the NFL.
What the Eagles don’t like to do, based on play-calling tendencies, is pass the ball in expected rushing situations, which they do 17.4% of the time (23rd), and pass the ball in expected passing situations, which they do 77.7% of the time (26th). They’re 20th in passing EVE in expected rushing situations, but third in passing EVE in expected passing situations.
Philly might need to get uncomfortable to beat the 49ers, however. Two of San Francisco’s worst metrics defensively are in those situations the Eagles typically avoid: EVE against the pass in rushing situations (19th) and EVE against the pass in expected passing situations (14th). The 49ers are also 14th against the pass in neutral spots (think first-and-10 at the 50-yard line), but they’re elite in every rushing situation.
The 49ers’ defense is stacked with some of the best players at their respective positions in linebacker Fred Warner, edge defender Nick Bosa and safety Talanoa Hufanga, but outside cornerback Deommodore Lenoir has struggled and San Francisco doesn’t have another premier pass rush across from Bosa.
The Eagles do have the right quarterback if they plan on increasing their rate of passing the ball in expected passing situations. Quarterback Jalen Hurts ranks fourth in passing EVE in expected passing situations and has the league’s lowest check-down percentage (4.8), but overall he ranks 14th in the league in well-thrown percentage and 19th with a pickable pass rate of 4.18% – worse than the league-average mark of 4.30%. The majority of his 174 carries for 794 yards and 14 touchdowns have come on designed runs, though Philadelphia still ranked fourth in scramble rate this season.
The Eagles don’t use a ton of play-action compared to the rest of the league. They only utilized play action on 10.5% of their snaps, which ranked 26th in the league. They might need to increase their play-action usage to throw the ball in expected rushing situations. Philadelphia does love to use RPOs, ranking first in the NFL with a 10.0% RPO rate. The next-highest team, the Miami Dolphins, used RPOs on just 7.0% of snaps, and the league average was just 2.8%.
The offensive line has been impressive once again with Jordan Mailata at left tackle, Landon Dickerson at left guard, Jason Kelce at center, Isaac Seumalo at right guard and Lane Johnson at right tackle. They allowed the sixth-lowest pressure rate during the regular season despite using the quick-passing game on just 27.7% of their passing snaps (29th in the league). The Eagles also faced the third-highest blitz rate this season at 39.1%.
Combine all of that with the fact that Philadelphia’s playmakers rank sixth with a 60.8% burn rate (including the playoffs), and yeah, the Eagles have a pretty high-powered passing attack and they shouldn’t have too much trouble increasing their drop-back rate if needed Sunday against the 49ers. Wide receiver A.J. Brown, acquired by the Eagles in a trade with the Tennessee Titans during the NFL Draft last offseason, has been a true game-breaker, ranking fourth among qualified wide receivers in burn yards per route run and second in broken tackles per touch during the regular season.
The 49ers will actually also need to get out of their own comfort zone offensively to exploit a weakness in Philadelphia’s defense. The Eagles are dominant in pass defense and rank ninth in EVE against the run in expected neutral situations, but they’re 27th versus the rush in anticipated passing situations. The 49ers run the ball in expected passing situations just 17.6% of the time (ranking 21st in the NFL) despite ranking second in rushing EVE in those spots.
The 49ers couldn’t get much going on offense in Sunday’s win over the Dallas Cowboys. They face a similar challenge this Sunday against a stout Philadelphia defense, except this time Kyle Shanahan, Brock Purdy and the rest of the 49ers will need to prevail on the road.