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Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

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49ers Mailbag: How can the defense slow Jalen Hurts? Is the offensive line a concern? Can SF overcome issues with running QBs?

Marc Adams
Jan 25, 2023 at 7:55 AM--

It's Championship week, and the San Francisco 49ers are gearing up to take on the Philadelphia Eagles for a chance to play in the Super Bowl. The teams are evenly matched, to say the least.

But for now, it's mailbag time. Let's get to your championship questions.

What's our best defensive approach to minimizing Hurts' rushing? - Scott B.

This is something I am concerned about, and something that could be costing DeMeco Ryans some sleep. Jalen Hurts is a weapon, with his arm and his legs.

Ironically, when Hurts was at Oklahoma, I didn't think he'd make it in the NFL as a passer. I watched every game he played for the Sooners, and while he was a dangerous runner, I didn't think he threw the ball that well. Especially compared to Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray, the two Heisman-winning QBs before him.

But I was wrong, and now Hurts is better than both of the number-one overall picks.

If your strategy is to keep Hurts from running, he'll beat you with his arm. And if you play to stop him from throwing the ball successfully, he'll run on you. So the 49ers somehow need to put pressure on Hurts and still clog some of the lanes so he doesn't have as much room to run.

This will be the best offense and the best quarterback the 49ers' defense has faced, outside of Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs.

How do the 49ers defend against Jalen Hurts? Running QBs have been a problem in the past. - Niner Jim

You're right, Niner Jim. Running QBs have been the 49ers' kryptonite. Ryans will earn his money this week. If he can figure out a way to slow down Hurts, his number of head coach suitors may get even larger.

I think three key players in this matchup will be Fred Warner, Dre Greenlaw and Talanoa Hufanga. If Hurts takes off and gets past the defensive line, Warner, Greenlaw and Hufanga may be called upon to make sure he doesn't get far. This may be the biggest key to the game.

I included Hufanga in there, even though he'll probably be deep in coverage a lot, especially with the speed of the Philadelphia receivers. But I also wonder if he'll be cheating closer to the line of scrimmage in this game. Let's hope it doesn't come at the expense of another busted play.

Might the 49ers use a spy to focus on Hurts and follow him everywhere he goes? Teams used to occasionally do that to Steve Young. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't. It's risky. It can be effective in slowing down a running QB, but it can leave some open spaces elsewhere.

What is the x-factor this week? The Eagles' linebackers? Niners QB spy? - Nick E.

Nick, here are my biggest x-factors:

1. Stopping Hurts from killing you as a runner. This is obvious, but I believe the game turns on this, one way or another. If Ryans opts to employ a QB spy, that player will be a huge x-factor.

2. The 49ers' offensive line. The Eagles sacked the quarterback 70 times this season. They need to give Brock Purdy time to throw, and create some holes in the running game. Christian McCaffrey will be a very important piece of the puzzle, as the Eagles don't fare so well against running backs catching the ball out of the backfield. So I would call McCaffrey and the offensive line an x-factor (even though both are an obvious focal point).

3. The 49ers running game. The San Francisco running game will be more important in this game than in any other so far. Fortunately, the Eagles have been run on at times.

4. Purdy. Protect the football. No turnovers. Make the right decisions. Let your playmakers make plays.

Does the Cowboys radio host who wished injury on CMC catch any extra flack for the karma that came back and bit the Cowboys with the Pollard injury? - Rob

He caught plenty of heat from 49ers fans. I doubt he caught any from Dallas fans. They're too busy blaming Dak Prescott and whoever called that hideous final play. Not that it would have mattered.

But it is ironic that the guy wished for McCaffrey to get hurt, only to have his own team's running back go down.

Can you make Grant Cohn STFU? Please. - Outback

If Javon Kinlaw can't make Grant Cohn be quiet, I doubt I can.

Sorry, Outback. Try using the mute button. It works wonders.

Can the Niners D overcome their past struggles with mobile QBs? Hurts will run, a lot. Are you a little worried about the o-line vs this Eagles front? - KCarps

Yes, I think Ryans and the defense can find a way to slow down Hurts. It won't be easy. And as I posted on Twitter, if you listen to ESPN, the 49ers don't stand a chance. I've heard some of those "experts" saying it won't be close. A few have said they think it will be close. So far, I've yet to hear anyone say the 49ers will win. But we know they can.

And yes, I am more than a little worried about the 49ers' offensive line. They weren't great last week, especially in the first half. But if the 49ers' offensive line can play as they played in the second half of the previous two postseason games, and if the defense can slow down Hurts, the 49ers will win this game (unless they turn the ball over).

Another poor performance from Kinlaw. Is he the only d-lineman who Kocurek can't coach up? Or even coach to his potential? - Scott B.

Kinlaw has not lived up to his potential so far. The biggest reason is the knee injury, and the chronic problems he's dealt with because of it.

He's also really tall, and that works against him. Line play has a lot to do with leverage. For someone like Kinlaw, he has to work even harder to play with good technique and get the leverage he needs. Arik Armstead has figured this out. So has DeForest Buckner. Kinlaw still hasn't. Maybe it's partly due to his knee problems.

It would be great if he could have his breakout game on Sunday in Philadelphia. But don't count on it.

Can you beat this team I smell elimination comming. - Roszell R.

You're a Seahawks fan, aren't you? Your mastery of basic grammar and spelling gave you away.

Actually, I don't play for the 49ers, so no, I can't beat the Eagles. But I assume you're speaking of the 49ers. Yes, San Francisco has a very good chance to win this game and advance to the Super Bowl for the eighth time in team history. Usually, the home team gets a 3-point home-field advantage. The Eagles are currently 2.5-point favorites, which makes the "49ers don't have a chance" narrative all the more ignorant.

These two teams are very equally matched. It will be a good game. And the 49ers are more than capable of winning the NFC Championship.

As a Seahawks fan, you should be very familiar with what elimination smells like. Have fun watching your division rival play for the Conference Championship.

Thanks for all your questions. We'll be back next week, hopefully celebrating a Super Bowl birth.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


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