Eagles’ Shane Steichen explains challenge of 49ers top-ranked defense

Steichen breaks down challenge of 49ers top-ranked defense originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

For months it seemed like the Eagles and 49ers were on a collisions course headed for the NFC Championship Game.

Now, it’s finally here. Well, almost.

In trying to sum up this upcoming matchup, Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni explained it well, saying there’s going to be a lot of “good-on-good” on Sunday afternoon.

It doesn’t get much better than seeing the Eagles’ high-flying offense against the No. 1 defense in the NFL.

What makes DeMeco Ryans’ 49ers defense so tough?

“I think just watching them over the past couple days, they're very sound in what they do up front,” Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen said. “It starts with (Nick) Bosa and (Arik) Armstead. Those guys are really good players. Bosa is an exceptional player. He has really good speed to power. They do a good job in their rush lanes collapsing the pocket, especially on 3rd down.

“(Fred) Warner and (Dre) Greenlaw, really good players. I can't say enough about Warner, just the way he plays within that scheme. You can tell he prepares the right way. He understands route combinations. He has incredible instincts to where the ball is. He understands line blocking schemes of when to shoot, go through the gaps. Like I said, he plays within the scheme really well, but phenomenal instincts.

“And then on the back end, they're really sound too. Just overall a really good, solid defense that we've got to be ready for.”

The Eagles this season ended up with six Pro Bowlers from their offense: Jalen Hurts, Miles Sanders, A.J. Brown, Jason Kelce, Lane Johnson, Landon Dickerson.

And the 49ers have three players from their defense on the NFC team: Nick Bosa, Fred Warner, Talanoa Hufanga.

While using Pro Bowl nods might not be the best way to evaluate the overall effectiveness of a group, it at least lets you know there’s a ton of talent on these units. And it’s going to be an awful lot of fun to watch them go against each other.

While the Eagles probably have more household names on their offense, that 49ers defense is stacked with talent and it starts with Bosa, who is likely going to be the NFL Defensive Player of the Year after 18 1/2 sacks this season.

And Bosa might not even be the most important player on that defense. Because you can make a strong case for Warner, who is one of the most talented linebackers in the NFL.

Steichen, like the rest of the football world, was impressed watching Warner cover Cowboys star receiver CeeDee Lamb deep down the field on Sunday night.

“He's an exceptional player,” Steichen said. “Like I said, he has great instincts. He can cover tight ends, receivers really good. Defensively they're really good at tackling too. They don't have a lot of missed tackles. They wrap up well. Just a really solid defense.”

And on the back end, Hufanga is a Pro Bowler but Steichen also has a ton of respect for fellow safety Tashaun Gipson, who was with the Browns when Steichen was a coach in Cleveland earlier in his career.

“Both those guys are really solid,” Steichen said. “They can fly around. That whole defense is really good.”

The 49ers this season finished as the No. 1 overall defense in the NFL after giving up just over 300 yards per game. Here’s a look at where the 49ers ranked in some major categories as a defense this season:

Yards: 1st
Points: 1st
Points per drive: 1st
Passing yards: 20th
Rushing yards: 1st
Takeaways: 2nd

Looking at that list, it’s clear that the only area the 49ers have been susceptible is in the pass game. They’ve been stout against the run. But the Eagles have Stout in their run game — OL coach Jeff Stoutland.

And the Eagles also have Hurts, who presents a different rushing dynamic that the 49ers haven’t really seen this season.

“We have to be ready for everything,” Steichen said, “how they're going to play certain things in the run game, so we have to prepare the right way, give different looks in practice and walk-through of what we think we might get, all those different things. But I'm sure they'll have a plan, and we have to be ready for it.”

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