SANTA CLARA -- After a Week 17 wake-up call in Las Vegas, the 49ers' defensive line has been more disciplined. But Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts could be the obstacle keeping the club from their ultimate goal as they prepare to face off in Sunday's NFC Championship Game.
On that New Year’s Day matchup with the Raiders, quarterback Jarrett Stidham broke containment and ran the ball seven times for 34 yards, with four of those carries resulting in first downs. DeMeco Ryans always has stressed to players to work as a group and swarm to the ball, and the 49ers defensive coordinator has seen his group play with much more discipline since their visit to Sin City.
“They’ve done a good job,” Ryans said on Thursday. “The Raiders game was not good and we allowed the quarterback to get out way too much, but the guys have done a really good job over the past couple weeks of being on it.
"We'll have to have that same focus, that same relentless mindset to be where we're supposed to be as we're rushing the quarterback, and have an awareness that Jalen could get out and he may get out. But nobody's going to panic if he does get out one time. We know this guy's going to make plays. There's a reason why he's up for the NFL MVP. He's a really good player, he's going to make some plays.”
In Week 18, Arizona Cardinals quarterback David Blough recorded negative two yards on the ground. In the playoffs, Seattle Seahawks play-caller Geno Smith registered four carries for 28 yards, and one week later, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott gained 22 yards on four carries.
Now in the NFC title game, the 49ers will need to strike a balance between making sure Hurts doesn't own them on the ground while keeping him from hurting them in the air.
"I think there has to be a good balance with the shot plays and the running," Ryans said. "... We know the challenge that we have this week when guys have to go up and be able to make a play. They get opportunities when the ball is up, it's an opportunity for us to go up and make the play. That's how I view it, and when it comes to him scrambling around, that's all 11.
"It starts with our D-line being where they're supposed to be and guys who are responsible to go get the quarterback. We just have to do our job. No, we can't make a bigger deal out of it than it is. Everybody has to do their job, be where they're supposed to be, and we play defense with all 11 as a group swarming. That's what's going to help us defend the quarterback running.”
On Wednesday, defensive end Nick Bosa shared how the Raiders game was a good lesson for the defensive line.
“I think we got tested in that Raiders game, kind of unexpectedly,” Bosa said. “It kind of reminded us of what a kryptonite could be of the way we play. Just being smart and not trying to go make crazy plays to change it, and playing within the scheme — that’s how you win at this time of year.”
Hurts gets a huge assist from his offensive line that is filled with experience and talent. Veteran center Jason Kelce and tackle Lane Johnson have helped open lanes, allowing Hurts to gain 760 yards and 13 touchdowns on 165 carries in his 15 regular-season appearances.
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In the Eagles' divisional-round win over the New York Giants, Hurts racked up another nine carries for 34 yards and a rushing touchdown. The talented quarterback also completed 16 of his 24 attempts for 154 yards and two touchdowns while only being sacked one time.
“Their offensive line is the strength of that team,” Ryans said. “They’ve done a really good job, very physical group, big offensive line, physical offensive line who tries to get after it and they’re a really good team, but also our guys are good too, so it’s going to be a physical matchup. We know we’ll get their best, they’re going to get our best as well.”
Bosa and his defensive counterparts have their work cut out in setting the edges and not letting Hurts break free on Sunday when the NFC Championship Game kicks off at 12 p.m. PT at Lincoln Financial Field. Ryans trusts they will be ready.