Last weekend’s disappointing loss to the Redskins is now in the rearview mirror…to a point. The lingering effects of the game are still here in the form of injuries. And it’s those injuries that are going to really hurt this team for the next few weeks. This weekend, the Eagles travel across the country to play the 0-4 San Francisco 49ers on Sunday Night Football. Let’s get at it!
On offense, the 49ers line has been weak most of the season. They have let up eight sacks, which isn’t too bad. However, they have let up 26 QB hits and are tied for fourth worst in the NFL. Last weekend, they allowed Alex Smith to be sacked three times and he was under duress during much of the game. Meanwhile, the Eagles defensive line was less than effective against the Redskins, only sacking McNabb once and getting a few QB hits. The Eagles defensive line needs to make a statement early and get after Alex Smith.
At running back, the 49ers have a stud in Frank Gore and he is the exact type of runner that we struggle with. He’s very physical and can wear down a defense. Last week against Atlanta, he rushed for 77 yards. He has 270 yards and 1 TD for the season. His best game was during week two when the 49ers took on the New Orleans Saints. He tore them up for 112 yards and scored his lone TD. In games where the 49ers have been getting blown out (@Seattle, @Kansas City), they have essentially abandoned the running game which has made his statistics look like he’s slowing down. That’s not the case at all. Gore is still very dangerous and can overtake a game.
Meanwhile, the Eagles defense got gashed in the running game last week by the Redskins. The Eagles allowed 169 rushing yards to a team that was previously averaging 74.3 yards a game on the ground. The Eagles are incredibly weak up the middle with Brodrick Bunkley and Mike Patterson at defensive tackle and the 49ers will take full advantage of that. I expect Gore to have a field day against us.
At tight end, we are going to be facing Vernon Davis, who will be our biggest challenge yet. He is, in my opinion, the best tight end the league has to offer. Last weekend, the Eagles did a fairly good job of shutting down the entire Redskins passing attack, including Chris Cooley. They limited him to two catches for 37 yards. Much of that had to do with McNabb being off his rhythm though. Cooley was getting open. Vernon Davis has amassed 209 yards and a TD off of 19 receptions, but he will be a nightmare for the Eagles with the match-up problems he creates. He is ninth in the league in receiving yards, tied for seventh in receptions, and among many elite tight ends that have caught TD passes this season. However, all season he has been playing teams who cover the tight end well. We are not one of those teams. If Alex Smith gets into a rhythm he will carve this defense, mainly the linebacking core, up with Vernon Davis. Make no mistake, Davis is a guy to start in fantasy football this weekend.
At wide receiver, it’s a slightly different story which is a good break for us. Michael Crabtree will one day be elite but he’s not quite there yet. Alongside of him, the 49ers have Josh Morgan, Dominique Zeigler, Ted Ginn Jr., and Kyle Williams. Ted Ginn Jr. hasn’t played since week one and isn’t likely to play this week. The 49ers wide receivers have combined for 323 yards and one TD. The Eagles secondary should be able to take care of business but I am worried about the loss of Asante Samuel due to a concussion. All signs indicate that Samuel will not be in the lineup, and that will hurt us. While he isn’t putting up big INT numbers he is completely shutting down his side of the field. We are very lucky that we aren’t facing a group of stud wide receivers this weekend and because of that the rest of the secondary should be alright. I won’t be surprised if Nate Allen continues to impress this week, and comes up with another INT.
Moving under center, the 49ers are led by former #1 overall draft pick Alex Smith. Smith has had an up and down career (mostly down) but he’s been surrounded by inconsistency. This season he has thrown for 920 yards, three TDs, and seven INTs. When he’s been ‘on,’ he’s been a very solid quarterback. However, he’s been ‘off’ more than he’s been ‘on.’ The Eagles defense is giving up 168 yards a game through the air, which is 5th in the NFL. Alex Smith has averaged 230 yards a game against some solid, if not spectacular, defenses. He’s also been playing catch-up for two of the four games. I expect he’ll get a ton of yards from his tight ends but he’ll be limited down the field. As a whole, I’d expect a decent day from Smith as the Eagles defense has a tendency to make mediocre QBs look much better than they really are, especially when we’re on the road.
Flipping over to the Philadelphia offense, the Eagles offensive line is clearly in shambles. The right side is incredibly weak, especially at the guard position. Teams are easily getting penetration without blitzing. The 49ers defensive front has been stout, earning six sacks through four games and many more QB hits. Mike Singletary has put together a very physical team. The Eagles offensive line simply has to get their act together if they want to have a chance. If any Eagles scouts or front office executives are reading this (highly unlikely), I have two things to say: 1) Wow! You’re reading this! Cool! 2) Draft/trade for some above average o-linemen this offseason. Please.
Behind the offensive line, it seems we will be with running back LeSean McCoy despite suffering a broken rib last weekend. He played through the pain and put together what was likely his highest quality game as an Eagle. The 49ers are giving up 108 yards a game on the ground but I can’t see McCoy having a great game with the injury. I won’t be surprised if we see much more of a running back rotation this weekend with Mike Bell and Owen Schmitt getting more carries than usual. Should McCoy not be the starter due to injury, we can expect Mike Bell to be the starter, though I’d rather see Schmitt get the majority of the carries. If McCoy isn’t starting, I’d expect the 49ers to completely shut down the running attack of the Eagles.
At tight end, Brent Celek finally decided to join the party last week. I guess he’s one of those “fashionably late” kind of guys. But even in “showing up,” he only caught three passes for 27 yards. One of those catches was for a TD though, so I can’t complain there. The 49ers gave up 7 completions and 41 yards to tight end Tony Gonzalez last week against the Falcons. Given Kolb’s tendency to check down I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see Brent Celek get about that many catches along with a nice chunk of yardage.
The Eagles wide receivers, while extremely talented, vastly disappointed me last weekend and there’s plenty of blame to go around. There were plays in which they were getting wide open and Kolb was not getting them the ball. That’s on Kolb. However, there were plenty of other plays in which the receivers looked lazy and were just going through the motions. That is unacceptable. I understand that they likely prefer playing with Vick because of his arm strength and experience, but you still need to play 100% on every snap. When they were open, Kolb had gotten into rhythm with just checking down. The Eagles receivers only amassed 65 yards last weekend. That’s pathetic. For as talented as they are, they should’ve made that Washington secondary look silly. The receivers need to do a better job of getting open consistently and giving Kolb the chance to take shots down field. The 49ers defense gave up 199 yards to the Falcons receivers last week, along with a TD. If the receivers can get open early and get Kolb comfortable throwing the long ball they should be able to run all over that secondary. It comes down to both the receivers and Kolb out there. Both need to play 100% on every down.
Kolb is getting a shot at redemption here. He has a chance over the next few weeks to reclaim this team. I am very curious to see how he will build upon a decent game against Washington. Oh, how I wish Avant had held onto that ball in the endzone. For one thing, we would’ve won the game. For another, that could’ve been a tremendous confidence boost for Kolb, which is something he needs because frankly, his confidence is shot. It’s obvious. There are multiple factors as to why and I’ll get into that in a later article this week. Kolb needs to play well here for us to have a chance. Last week, the 49ers kept Matt Ryan relatively in check. They allowed him 273 yards and a TD but they also picked him off twice. Prior to Matt Ryan, the 49ers were allowing tons of yards and TDs to QBs. Teams were beating them with the no huddle offense and quick slants. Kolb’s strength is supposed to be his ability to get rid of the ball quickly and accurately so here’s his chance to prove that.
On special teams, the Eagles played okay at best against Washington. They started miserably, allowing a long punt return which set McNabb and company up with great field position which resulted in an easy TD. For the rest of the game, the coverage bunkered down for the most part. Meanwhile, our return game is nonexistent. Teams will not punt to DeSean Jackson and nor should they. The Eagles have looked alright but nothing spectacular on kickoffs. The 49ers had a huge play on special teams last weekend, blocking a punt and recovering the ball in the end zone for a TD. Plays like that can change games and the Eagles punting unit will need to make sure they look at what happened on that play for the Falcons and make sure they don’t repeat the same mistake.
On the coaching staff, Andy Reid continues to sink this team. His horrid clock management and inability to change a game plan in the middle of a game is killing us slowly but surely. Meanwhile, the 49ers have a head coach in Mike Singletary who seems to be stuck in the 80s. His style of coaching is not very effective in the NFL and I think he’d be better serving as a mentor for players or positions coach rather than a head coach. However, I do believe Singletary will get this 49ers team very fired up this weekend because their backs are 100% against the wall. And that brings me to…
HOW I SEE IT:
I see us losing this game. The 49ers offense presents our defense with too many problems. Frank Gore and Vernon Davis are matchup nightmares. Past that, I don’t trust our offensive line unit at all and Kolb just might get killed behind them. Patrick Willis should have a great day on the blitz. We are a team that travels across the country very poorly. For those at home who are superstitious, we all don’t play very well on Sunday Night Football. And, as I mentioned already, the 49ers are desperate. They need this win. That, combined with everything else, will result in an upset over our Eagles. I hope I’m wrong.