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USA Today Sports Media Group
USA Today Sports Media Group
Glenn Erby

Eagles NFC Championship preview: Where the 49ers are most vulnerable?

The San Francisco 49ers are heading to Lincoln Financial Field as the No. 2 overall seed and with the reputation of having the NFL’s top defense.

Even with elite pass rushers and an All-Pro linebacker, this 49ers’ defense has holes and it can be found in the back four, and when teams are able to physically match up with DeMeco Ryan’s defense up front.

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Talented wide receivers and a dual-threat quarterback are the perfect recipes for success, and Philadelphia has the best of both worlds.

Patrick Mahomes passed for 423 yards and three touchdowns in a 44-23 Chiefs win, while the Falcons also were able to solve the riddle, rushing for 168 yards as quarterback Marcus Mariota completed 13 of 14 passes with two touchdowns and ran for 50 yards and a touchdown as Atlanta converted 9 of 14 third downs in an upset win over San Francisco.

Raiders quarterback Jarett Stidham also had success, throwing for 365 yards and three touchdowns as Las Vegas went blow for blow with the mighty 49ers.

With game time fast approaching, here are three key areas where the 49ers are vulnerable.

49ers secondary is the weakest link

Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Davante Adams had seven catches for 153 yards and two touchdowns against the Niners in Week 14. Tyreek Hill recorded 146 yards and a touchdown on nine catches a few weeks earlier.

The 49ers’ secondary allows explosive plays and it’ll be the perfect scenario for A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith to have 100+ yards receiving each.

Deep passing game

Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Quez Watkins lost snaps to Zach Pascal in the divisional round win, but the speedy wide receiver could have opportunities over the top against the Niners.

According to Football Outsiders, San Francisco ranked 24th in DVOA against deep passes while, according to TruMedia, it ranked 26th in EPA per play and 23rd in defensive success rate against passes that traveled at least 20 yards downfield.

Watkins hauled in a 90+ yard bomb in the 2021 matchup.

Short yardage -- Eagles heavy rushing attack

Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

For all of the physicality surrounding the Niners on defense, the Eagles offense, and running game offers a stout remedy for any bullying tactics from the opposition.

Philadelphia will have moments where they spread San Francisco out to run, and they’ll also have moments where they pass out of a heavy or bunch formation. The Eagles are averaging an NFL-best 0.17 EPA per rush out of 11 personnel while also averaging a league-best 0.42 EPA per dropback out of 12 personnel.

The Niners’ defense is only ranked 15th in defensive EPA per dropback against 12 personnel and they also rank 31st in third-and-short defense, allowing opponents to convert 69.6 percent of the time, including the playoffs. The Eagles rank No. 3 in third-and-short conversion rate (68.5 percent).

Look for a ton of Jack Stoll and Grant Calcaterra in two and three tight-end sets.

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