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Spadaro: Jonathan Gannon primed for his elite defense to battle the 49ers

Eagles Insider Dave Spadaro
Eagles Insider Dave Spadaro

To line up against the San Francisco 49ers offense means that resources are spread thin, communication is vital, and execution at the very highest level is essential. Otherwise, a defense is going to have a high price to pay.

Defensive Coordinator Jonathon Gannon doesn't want that to happen, of course, when the Eagles play in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field. While he has the highest respect for the Niners and what they do, Gannon also happens to oversee a defense that was at the very top of the NFL in this special 2022 season. For example – and follow along, because there are a lot of bullet points here – the Eagles ruled most major defensive categories this year.

The Eagles were ...

• 1st in sacks (70)

• 1st in pressure rate (10.7%)

• 1st in yards per play (4.78)

• 1st in passing defense (179.8 ypg)

• 1st in yards per pass attempt (5.5)

• 1st in tackles for loss (97)

• 1st in opponent negative plays (125)

• 2nd in total defense (301.5 ypg)

• 3rd in games allowing 17-or-fewer points (9)

• 3rd in opponent passer rating (81.6)

• 3rd in quarterback hits (115)

• 4th in takeaways (27)

• 4th in interceptions (17)

• 7th in explosive plays allowed (119)

• 7th in forced fumbles (15)

• 8th in defensive points allowed per game (18.9)

Then came the postseason, and the Eagles absolutely dominated the Giants in Saturday's 38-7 victory, so Philadelphia has plenty of momentum and confidence about a defense that has been statistically dominating and that has a host of players who have had career seasons and a large handful who have been honored for their seasons – specifically linebacker Haason Reddick (Pro Bowl, All-Pro), cornerback James Bradberry (All-Pro), cornerback Darius Slay (Pro Bowl), and tackle Jordan Davis (All-Rookie Team).

The 49ers are a different kind of test, however. They have a variety of weapons, they have experience together, they are well coached, and they are extremely physical. In many ways, the 49ers' offense and the Eagles' defense are mirrors of each other.

And that's what makes Sunday such a great, great matchup.

"That's a good question. They're in the Final Four (of the playoffs) for a reason," Gannon said. "They're very well-coached and they have a lot of really good players. They do a good job. They put them in good situations, and they're multiple. They do some unique things with their guys because of their skill sets. Just like any game, we have to have a plan for that. But you start going through, start watching the tape, and then you look at the paperwork and then you talk to different people in our building what do we need to do, this and that, and it just keeps coming back. It doesn't surprise me, like this is the Final Four game; of course they're going to be good in every metric. Of course, they've got really good players. I think they've got guys at their position that they're probably the best in the world at their position. 

"It's going to be a big-time challenge, and it's going to be fun because we're good, too, and we have some of the best players in the world at our positions, too. We'll look forward to that challenge, and we'll be fired up on Sunday afternoon."

The best against the best – that's the way it should be in a conference championship game. Gannon's defense has been outstanding all season, and it's as much a matter of how the Eagles play within the scheme as it is how they are able to slow down such weapons. Philadelphia's pass rush comes from a lot of different angles. The Eagles take the football away. They stop the run.

Gannon's defense makes very few mistakes, gives up very few big plays, and will be a challenge for rookie quarterback Brock Purdy, who is 7-0 as a starter and who has 13 touchdowns and only 4 interceptions, zero in the two playoff victories.

"He's a good player. He's a really good player. He plays extremely fast. He knows where to put his eyes. He gets out of trouble at a pretty good clip, and what I mean by that, you see some free runners or the pocket breakdown and guys have hard time getting him on the ground. He doesn't take a lot of sacks, but he makes quick decisions, he's accurate, he gets the ball out of his hand.," Gannon said.

"You know that Kyle (Shanahan) is a really good coach. He knows how to coach the quarterback of what they're trying to get done with certain plays, and he's doing that. That's a reason that they're playing in this game."

This is a great matchup – Gannon's standout defense against an offense with big-play pieces like running back Christian McCafferty, wide receivers Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk and tight end George Kittle.

Big time against big time. Gannon's defense held San Francisco to 306 total net yards in the 2021 Week 2 game at Lincoln Financial Field in a 17-11 loss. The 49ers were shut out until late in the first half. The Eagles lost defensive end Brandon Graham early in the game.

Both sides know each other. They know how good the other side is. That's the way it should be with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line.

"You have to play what your eyes see, and you have to have a plan for when they do those type of things," Gannon said. "We'll have adjustments that we need necessary for some different things, but ultimately, it's us just communicating, getting lined up, alignment, assignment, key technique, and then playing with violence. That's what we'll harp on this week."

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