4 most important 49ers in NFC championship game

The 49ers on Sunday will for the first time in a long time run into a team with a roster as good as theirs. A showdown with the Eagles for the NFC championship will be perhaps the biggest test all year for both clubs.

San Francisco and Philadelphia are very evenly matched, meaning Sunday’s game could come down to a handful of individual efforts.

The Eagles on both sides of the ball have strengths that the 49ers don’t match up well with. Their interior defensive line is one of the league’s best, and their ability to churn out big plays with deep throws in the passing game is one of the NFL’s most effective. However, the 49ers can mitigate some of those strengths if they get good outings from these four players:

RB Christian McCaffrey

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The 49ers must do two things on offense against the Eagles: run the ball effectively and keep Purdy upright. McCaffrey will not only be San Francisco’s lead back, but his presence in the screen game and as an outlet when Purdy is under duress could open the 49ers’ entire passing attack. San Francisco has struggled to get McCaffrey going as a receiver in the postseason. In the final 10 regular season games he averaged five catches and 44 yards per game. In two postseason games he’s averaged four catches for just under 20 yards per game. If McCaffrey has a big game as a pass catcher, it’s good news for the rest of the 49ers’ offense.

SS Talanoa Hufanga

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Part of the 49ers’ penchant for giving up long touchdowns this year has been due to Hufanga’s aggressiveness. He can’t fly downhill on play action Sunday, and he especially can’t get out of position when Eagles QB Jalen Hurts scrambles. Hufanga’s aggressiveness is what makes him an All-Pro. He has to reign it in and deploy it appropriately Sunday against one of the deep ball passing QBs in the NFL. If Hufanga does that, he could make a couple big plays to help swing the game instead of giving up those plays.

Interior OL

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The 49ers’ four interior lineman had a rough go against the Cowboys. Dallas’ interior defensive line generated 13 pressures, seven of which were allowed by the interior. Daniel Brunskill gave up three of those while rotating in at right guard with Spencer Burford who allowed one in 15 pass blocking snaps per Pro Football Focus. Center Jake Brendel gave up surrendered one pressure and left guard Aaron Banks allowed a pair. They have to be better as pass blockers, to be sure, but a more consistent run blocking game from this group is imperative. It would take a ton of pressure off the offense if the 49ers can establish the run with even a little bit of efficiency. That’ll start with the performance of that quartet in the middle.

DT Arik Armstead

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The Eagles’ offense is one of the NFL’s most diverse in its ability to affect defenses on the ground and in the air. That’s why Armstead is vital for the 49ers. He’s perhaps their best run defender, but he’s been one of their most productive pass rushers in the playoffs. Armstead tallied three pressures and a sack in the wild card round, and five more pressures in the divisional playoffs. If he can keep the Eagles from running on the interior and pressure Hurts when he drops back, it could derail a lot of what makes Philadelphia’s offense successful.

Story originally appeared on Niners Wire