49ers scheming for Jalen Hurts' mobility, wary of 'kryptonite' vs. Eagles

49ers wary of 'kryptonite' heading into test vs. Hurts, Eagles originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts presents a unique challenge to the 49ers’ defense on Sunday in the NFC Championship Game.

He can run. He can pass. And he can do both better than most quarterbacks.

There aren’t many -- or really, any -- weaknesses in the 49ers' defense, but it wouldn't be the first time a scrambling quarterback like Hurts gave defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans' unit a headache.

“I think we got tested in that [Las Vegas] Raiders game, kind of unexpectedly,” defensive end Nick Bosa said Wednesday of facing a mobile quarterback. “It reminded us of what our kryptonite could be of the way we play.”

Raiders quarterback Jarrett Stidham rushed seven times for 34 yards in that Week 17 matchup that ended in an overtime win for San Francisco. That stat line isn't spectacular, but Stidham used his feet to extend plays all game long. Stidham threw for 365 yards on 23-of-34 passing, the second-best performance by a quarterback against San Francisco all season.

Hurts not only extends plays with his feet but also is a weapon in the running game with the Eagles’ read-option plays. The 49ers are preparing to handle that challenge and are wary of personal-foul penalties when trying to bring Hurts down.

“With the read option, anytime you’re facing a quarterback with that kind of ability you’ve just got to be on your assignments for a full 60 minutes, which is way easier said than done,” linebacker Fred Warner said Wednesday. “ … It’s all about being detailed and everybody swarming to the ball carrier if or when he does pull it.”

“You could treat him like a running back and try to get him down, but he may slide,” defensive tackle Arik Armstead said Wednesday. “You have to be careful of that too. It’s just being smart in those situations. It’s tough, but you’ve just got to do the best of your ability.”

Armstead was tested on that last week in San Francisco’s 19-12 victory over the Dallas Cowboys. He had a chance to bring Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott down in the end zone for a game-clinching safety with 45 seconds left but pulled up at the last second. Prescott threw the ball away, and the Cowboys’ comeback hopes survived.

"That one was, I think it wasn't that he was just scared to get the penalty,” coach Kyle Shanahan said Wednesday. “It was that where he was, he thought he was going to throw it, so he was getting ready to put his hands up to tip it, and then all of a sudden, I think it shocked him that he didn't do it, and then he was in an awkward position, so that's stuff that you talk about all the time. It's a huge challenge for these guys.”

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The 49ers haven’t allowed a quarterback to rush for over 50 yards this season, a milestone Hurts has crossed six times this season. He gained 34 yards on nine carries against the New York Giants last week.

"We are expecting this quarterback to run it,” Shanahan said. “We are expecting him to lower his shoulder, so we always have to come out and treat him like a running back until he gives himself up, which is sliding or being in that pocket, and when he does, our guys are good enough athletes to have to deal with it."

Hurts is the fourth quarterback in NFL history to log at least 20 passing touchdowns and 10 rushing touchdowns in a single season. He was named one of five NFL MVP candidates Wednesday for a reason. But the 49ers are scheming to keep the quarterback in check and make sure he doesn’t make them hurt too much with his versatility.

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