This is an easily winnable game for the 49ers. Yes, I said easily. I just watched a bunch of game film on the Eagles and came away very unimpressed by their defense. Their offense revolves around Michael Vick and he's not playing this game. McCoy will probably grit it out and play but he'll be limited in action. So here's how you beat them if you're the 49ers.
Their defensive line (especially the ends) are very weak against the run. I can't count how many times the Eagles brought extra men up to the line of scrimmage yet the Redskins managed to gain huge chunks of yards on the ends. One memorable play they had four defensive linemen up front, brought an OLB and the two ILB and Clinton Portis ran for 12 yards and a touchdown around the left end. Stay away from the middle of the field and run bounce it outside all day long.
They also have the same problem defending passes that the 49ers do, with sloppy tackling and poor recognition. Since we've actually managed to improve somewhat on that I'd say that's a definite plus. In the passing game I'd stay away from their corners and utilize the middle of the field as much as I can, making particular use of Vernon Davis as there's nobody on the Eagles who can cover him. If they use the same game plan as last year and double team him, than that should free Michael Crabtree up, or take away that extra defender for the run.
Alex Smith gets lots of grief for his checkdown passes, but he's nothing compared to Kolb. Last week's game had maybe three passes that were longer than 10 yards, and one of them was a Hail Mary pass at the end of the game. He looked for his first option right away and if the guy wasn't open he immediately threw to the underneath man, even if the deep man was open. To my mind it appeared that he was scared of screwing up by throwing the INT so he took the safe route. His receivers made several big plays after his checkdown passes, otherwise the Eagles would not have had even a ghost of a chance at coming back on Sunday night.
I really think the 49ers can win this one.
St. Louis @ Detroit
This will be an interesting game. It features two historically bad teams who are making comebacks and are looking much improved over previous years. Both feature QBs picked #1 overall (though Stafford will be out this week), and both feature impressive running backs (Jahvid Best and Steven Jackson).
The Rams biggest strength is in their defense, which is surprising (although maybe it shouldn't be given who their head coach is). As I pointed out in my NFC West Review, the Rams have the 4th best defense in the league in points allowed and are genius at creating turnovers.
Shaun Hill has been a competent game manager for the Detroit Lions. The key players in the Lions offense are Brandon Pettigrew and Jahvid Best, who are the team's leading receivers. This happens for a few reasons. The Detroit Lions offensive line is not very good at all, which does not allow for long passes to develop. Shaun Hill has always been more comfortable throwing short, rather than throwing long, and teams double team Calvin Johnson. This leaves Jahvid Best open for lots of dump off routes (and he's very good at breaking tackles), as well as Brandon Pettigrew for routes across the middle.
Amazingly, despite the poor offensive line performance, the Lions are a predominantly passing team. On first down the Lions have passed 55% of the time. On second down that percentage jumps to a whopping 72%, and on third down it increases yet again to 81%. It's a very one-dimensional offense thanks to the inability of the offensive line to run block. When the Lions do run the ball it's almost exclusively to the right side. According to ProFootballFocus, the Lions have yet to run outside of the left tackle, and have run only twice inside the left guard and the center.
Here are my keys to victory for the Rams. First they need to make sure the Lions don't jump off to a quick start. This team has scored twice as many points in the first half of games as they have in the second half, so keeping the scoring low will be important. Second I'd put Ron Bartell (who I think is their best CB) on man coverage on Johnson and float a safety over the top to help out on the deep stuff. Third I'd concentrate on making sure Best doesn't have a big game. If Brandon Pettigrew turns out to be the leading receiver, that's ok since that means you've shut down Johnson and Best, the two most dangerous weapons on offense for the Lions.
Offensively I wouldn't change a thing.
I don't think Detroit's going to have the offensive weaponry to beat the Rams, especially with Stafford out. I think the Rams win this one.
New Orleans @ Arizona
This is going to be a tough game for the Cardinals. Last week the Chargers embarassed them with a 41-10 beatdown in San Diego. This week they get to face another high-octane passing defense with the New Orleans Saints. The Saints are like the Colts in that they're going to put up points on you no matter what you do. Your best options are to try and keep them under 30 points, and to match them score for score.
The Cardinals have only managed to score 58 points this year, which is six more points than the 49ers have scored, but I don't think they have the defense to contain Drew Brees. Max Hall will be starting at QB and he's going to be facing a very agressive Gregg Williams defense. My guess is that he'll have two interceptions, maybe three, and that will kill the team.
The Saints defensive line is the weakest point on that team. The 49ers managed to play them close in large part due to controlling the clock with the running game. Arizona doesn't have the luxury of two first round offensive linemen, nor do they have Frank Gore in their backfield. Instead it's runningback by committee with Beanie Wells, Tim Hightower, and LaRod Stephens-Howling. HIghtower has managed one 100 yard rushing game this season when he picked up 115 against the Falcons, but that was on the strength of an 80 yard TD run. His other games have been 50 yards, 40 yards, and 24 yards.
In the Lions/Rams preview I mentioned the lopsided nature of the Lions offense. The Cardinals offense is even worse. First down is pretty even with just over 50% running plays. Second down the team passes 73% of the time, and on third down they throw for a whopping 96% of the time. A full 75% of their third down plays have been 3rd and 6 or longer, which is a testament to the ineptness of the offense.
Max Hall will have to start hot for the Cardinals to keep up with the Saints.
Drew Brees still likes to target the underneath passes, particularly the middle of the field. This is where his bread and butter is, and his receivers are excellent at turning those short passes into long gains. The Cardinals will need to rely on their ILBs to shut down that part of the field, and on their safeties to prevent the big plays.
I think the Cardinals are outmatched in every facet of this game and I expect another drubbing.