The Eagles will come into this game with a chance to clinch a playoff spot (with some help). This is a 49ers team riding high off a victory against the Cardinals but I think it was as much of the Cardinals giving away the game as the 49ers taking it. However, the Eagles don’t need to play down to this team because if they do they’ll end up the same as the Cardinals. The 49ers have a lot of young talent, they are still just trying to figure out how to put it all together. If the Eagles come out and play the way they have been the past couple weeks, they shouldn’t have trouble putting this team away.
Here’s some quick team stats and league rankings:
Points per game: 20.7 (18th)
Yards per game: 288.6 (27th)
Pass yards per game: 189.8 (22nd)
Rush yards per game: 98.8 (24th)
Points per game: 18.6 (8th)
Yards per game: 338.6 (18th)
Pass yards per game: 243.6 (27th)
Rush yards per game: 95 (5th)
Alex Smith – Smith is one of those guys who has struggled to find success in the NFL. He has been given another chance this year in San Francisco and is finding a mild success. His rating is higher than in years past (although not stellar) and his touchdown to interception ratio is better (still not stellar). However, I think he is finding some rhythm with Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree who are two talented young players. The Eagles can’t let him get the ball to these guys too often as they’re both capable of making big plays.
Frank Gore – The Eagles number one priority on Sunday is going to be to shut down Frank Gore. He had a great game against Arizona last week and will look to repeat the effort against the Eagles. If the 49ers open up a run game early, it sets up Smith to get things done through the air. The Birds can’t let Gore run all over them and need to force Smith to try and beat them with his arm. Defensively, the team must tackle better than last week and this starts with bringing down Gore.
Michael Crabtree – He arrived late on the scene but already has more receptions, yards, and touchdowns than Darrius Heyward-Bey who was drafted above him. Crabtree is consistently catching three to six passes a game and has found the end zone twice over the last four weeks. You can’t deny the guys talent no matter how big of a hassle he made for the 49ers. He’s not a stud yet, but he has the potential. The secondary will need to keep an extra close eye on him and not allow him to do anything big.
Vernon Davis – Even though he’s a tight end, Davis it he 49ers number one receiver and is having a great year. Among tight ends, he is first in the NFC is receiving yards (815) and first in the NFL in touchdowns (11). This is scary because the Eagles always struggle to cover the tight end position. The defense can’t let this guy get open too often and keep drives going or make big plays. It’s a given that he’s going to get his touches, but they need to be held to a minimum.
3-4 Defense – This is going to be the first 3-4 defense the Eagles see since they played the Chargers back in the middle of November. I don’t think it’s a huge deal, but I’m sure there are definite changes in the blocking scheme. We’d definitely like to see the Eagles have a successful run game so the lineman are going to need to communicate well and get good blocks on the linebackers.
Linebackers – Former Eagles Takeo Spikes lines up as one of the middle men in this scheme but he’s not the one I’m worried about. Next to him is the pure tackling machine Patrick Willis who leads the NFL in tackles and always finds his name way up there on the leader board. The guys is a monster and is someone the Eagles will really need to get good blocks on if they want to be successful in the run game. With three games left, he’s only nine tackles behind his mark from last year and has already tied his record for sacks in a season. The Eagles offense is going to need to pay close attention to wherever #52 is on the field.
Secondary – This secondary didn’t allow Kurt Warner to throw a single touchdown last week while intercepting him twice. They do have talent, and we get to see another ex-Eagle in Michael Lewis at one of the safety positions. The Eagles offense has had a lot of success hitting on big plays this year so you know they’re going to look to do that on Sunday. Establishing a run game should help set up the big play. However, I don’t think this secondary is good enough to shut down the weapons we have all afternoon. I expect Donovan to be able to do some big things against this secondary.
I’ll be interested to see if the 49ers willingly kick to DeSean Jackson after the damage he did against the Giants. If I were them, I wouldn’t be kicking to him. I’d like to see Macho Harris get the Eagles some nice starting field position on kick returns. On the other side, the Eagles can’t allow the 49ers to have a big play on special teams because this can really get a whole team fired up.