49ers Analysis

Five 49ers to watch in NFC title game rematch vs. Eagles

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The 49ers take the field Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles, currently the top team in the NFC.

Make no mistake: It is a huge game.

But coach Kyle Shanahan’s job is to keep it in perspective, too.

“I think it's always tougher when the moment's a lot bigger outside of the building just because of the obvious ramifications and the history,” Shanahan said. “But the moment is exactly what it is every Sunday and you’ve got to make sure that's reality for our players.”

After all, the 49ers had a crucial game on Thanksgiving at Seattle, and they have another biggie next Sunday when the Seahawks visit Levi’s Stadium.

Still, if the 49ers (8-3) have any chance of earning the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs, they need a victory over the Eagles (10-1).

Last season, the Eagles claimed the top seed and played host to the 49ers in the NFC Championship game.

If there is a return matchup this postseason, the 49ers want the game to be staged in Santa Clara.

In order for that to happen, here are five 49ers who must come up with big on Sunday:

5, RT Colton McKivitz

There has not been much talk about 49ers right tackle Colton McKivitz since Pittsburgh edge rusher T.J. Watt beat him one-on-one for three sacks in the season opener.

McKivitz has settled in and played to a level in which there has been no discernible drop-off from a year ago, when the 49ers had Mike McGlinchey in that spot. McGlinchey signed a five-year, $87.5 million contract with the Denver Broncos.

McKivitz has surrendered two sacks and two quarterback hits in the 49ers’ past 10 games. But his assignment on Sunday will be Eagles edge rusher Haason Reddick, whose hit on Brock Purdy knocked him out of last season’s NFL Championship game.

“He (McKivitz) is going to have to bring his lunch pail to work,” said Barrett Brooks, former NFL offensive lineman and analyst at NBC Sports Philadelphia. "Because Haason Reddick is feeling kind of personal about how things were being said last year.”

Reddick heard the statements from such 49ers as Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk, who seemingly minimized the Eagles' victory because of Purdy's injury.

Reddick leads the Eagles with 8.5 sacks on the season.

4, S Ji’Ayir Brown

The rookie will make his second career start, and it will be less than an hour from where he grew up in Trenton, New Jersey.

Brown’s first start was largely uneventful. He had four tackles in the 49ers’ 31-13 victory over the Seattle Seahawks on Thanksgiving.

The challenge on Sunday will be much greater, going up against NFL MVP favorite Jalen Hurts and talented wide receivers A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith. Also, Ji’Ayir Brown will have duties in the run game with the Eagles’ improved run game behind D'Andre Swift and, of course, Hurts.

Philadelphia has a big-play offense, and the 49ers rookie figures to be tested repeatedly throughout Sunday’s game.

3, RB Christian McCaffrey

When the 49ers went to Philadelphia for the NFC Championship game, running back Christian McCaffrey was battling a calf strain. He proved to be the 49ers’ only offense that day with the issues the team experienced at quarterback.

What makes McCaffrey one of the players to watch in this game is how he matches up against the Eagles’ defense.

Philadelphia has been plugging in linebackers. And Shanahan will undoubtedly design plays in which those linebackers are tested against McCaffrey in coverage.

McCaffrey leads the NFL in rushing with 939 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also has 48 receptions for 389 yards and five touchdowns.

McCaffrey figures to have the ball in his hands a lot on Sunday as a central figure of the offense, whether it’s on the ground or through the air.

2, DE Nick Bosa

Philadelphia right tackle Lane Johnson sat out last week’s game due to a groin injury. He is expected back on the field to line up against Nick Bosa.

Johnson, 33, is a four-time Pro Bowl player and two-time All-Pro. He is still playing at a high level, but will he be moving well enough to stay in front of Bosa?

Bosa has taken his game to the next level upon coming back from the bye week. Of course, that might also have something to do with the addition of defensive end Chase Young on the other side.

Bosa has five sacks and 10 quarterback hits in the past three games, and was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week for his performance against Jacksonville in Week 10.

There will be opportunities to make plays. Hurts has been sacked 29 times this season. He's thrown 10 interceptions and lost four fumbles.

If Bosa adds to those numbers on Sunday, the odds increase of the 49ers returning home with a victory.

1, QB Brock Purdy

Purdy has come a long way since that day in January when the 49ers went to Philadelphia with a spot in the Super Bowl at stake.

Purdy said he was just trying to find his way in the NFL at that point of his rookie season.

Now, he said he is much more comfortable in Shanahan’s offense and with his role as a leader and conductor of the offense.

Also, he has come a long way physically.

He is all the way back from a torn elbow ligament he sustained that day. Purdy leads the NFL in completion percentage (70.2%), passer rating (112.3) and yards per pass attempt (9.4).

As he prepares for this game, Purdy said he is focused on only the job at hand — and not what transpired at the end of last season.

“Am I going to go into the game saying I want revenge and all that stuff? It’s not like that,” Purdy said. “I’m just going to try to do my job and be the best Brock that I can be for this team.”

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