SANTA CLARA — The 49ers took a unique defensive approach toward facing the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 13 at Lincoln Financial Field.
In the process, the 49ers believe they found a way to limit the effectiveness of the Eagles’ MVP-candidate quarterback.
“Obviously, we put the blueprint out there,” 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa said. “Hopefully, the Cowboys watch the tape.”
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The 49ers (9-3) can move into the No. 1 spot in the NFC with a win Sunday over the Seattle Seahawks along with a Dallas victory over the Eagles (10-2).
San Francisco believes its 42-19 victory over the Eagles proved they found a way to limit the effectiveness of Philadelphia quarterback Jalen Hurts.
The key is not necessarily to apply pressure to Hurts when he drops back to pass. Rather, it must be the correct kind of pass rush to make sure he is unable to escape the pocket and use his speed for big-yardage scrambles up the middle.
The 49ers were mostly able to take away Hurts’ first read with sticky coverage from defensive backs Charvarius Ward, Ambry Thomas and Deommodore Lenoir. Then, Hurts did not seem to have any answers.
San Francisco 49ers
During the process of game-planning to face the Eagles, the 49ers observed Hurts rarely works through his progression. If he does not get rid of the football quickly with a pass intended for his first option, his eyes adjust toward looking for a place to run.
"Jalen is looking at the (pass) rush every play,” Bosa said. “So you just have to be disciplined and not give him that quick escape route.”
In 2021 and ’22, his first seasons as the Eagles’ starter, Hurts rushed for 784 and 760 yards with a total of 23 touchdowns. He has 430 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground this season.
Coach Kyle Shanahan and defensive coordinator Steve Wilks ask members of the 49ers’ defensive line to focus their pass rushes on collapsing the pocket with straight-forward lines to the quarterback.
Bosa, a master technician with a plethora of pass-rush moves, rarely used anything other than a basic bull rush against Philadelphia right tackle Lane Johnson.
Hurts’ eyes appeared to be following Bosa’s progress. He held onto the ball for long periods of time and seemed to prematurely leave the pocket outside the tackles.
“You definitely get frustrated as pass rushers when the quarterback is holding the ball for that long, no matter what your game plan is,” Bosa said. “But when you look at what we set out to do and what we planned on doing, we did exactly that.”
The Eagles came into the game averaging 28.2 points per game. The 49ers held Philadelphia out of the end zone until the 6:31 mark of the third quarter, when Hurts scored on a 1-yard sneak. He was limited to just 20 yards rushing on seven attempts.
Philadelphia became one-dimensional. Hurts completed 26 of 45 pass attempts for 298 yards. Including his three sacks for minus-27 yards, Philadelphia averaged just 5.6 yards every time Hurts dropped back to pass.
Bosa went head to head against Johnson, 33, a four-time Pro Bowl selection in his 11th NFL season. Johnson has mastered the art of the kick step that is synched up with the snap of the ball. Offensive tackles in a two-point stance are allowed to adjust their back foot before the snap of the ball, which is why Johnson is not called for false starts due to his early movement.
Bosa said when an offensive tackle takes such an exaggerated kick step, it invites the pass rusher across the line of scrimmage to pick a side to attack.
Bosa resisted the temptation to sell out for the possibility of a sack. He and his teammates on the defensive line remained focused throughout the game on the team aspect and not the stat sheet.
“When you play on a good team like this, a really good team, you have to sometimes give up some of the selfish-type statistics (such as) rushing out of your gap, stuff like that, for the bigger picture,” Bosa said. “And I think we did that great.
“We made Jalen stay in the pocket and escape outside instead of those B gaps, and it paid off.”
Now, the question is whether the Cowboys can or will implement the strategy as effectively as the 49ers did on Sunday.