The San Francisco 49ers host the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, with the Eagles looking to remain undefeated, and the 49ers looking to figure out what exactly makes up a successful second half. We took some time to chat with Brandon Lee Gowton of Bleeding Green Nation this week. Yesterday, we discussed players we would take from each team. Today, we're back with reasons why each team might lose. I like this format because it forces us to consider our own team's weaknesses, rather than just homer up and think of why our team is awesome.
Why the Eagles will lose
The obvious weakness of the Eagles' offense is up front in the trenches. Philadelphia is missing starting left guard Evan Mathis, starting center Jason Kelce, starting right tackle Lane Johnson, and swing tackle Allen Barbre. The Eagles' offensive line hasn't been a complete disaster considering the less than ideal circumstances. In the past two weeks, the Eagles haven't allowed a single sack. They have allowed a lot of hits, however. According to Pro Football Focus, Nick Foles has been hit 14 times this season, which is more than any other NFL quarterback.
Another concern Philadelphia's offensive line is their inability to open holes in the running game. 2013 NFL leading rusher LeSean McCoy has only gained 175 yards on 60 carries for a bleak 2.9 average. He just hasn't had room to run like he did when the Eagles offensive line was healthy last season. The 49ers' front seven could give the Eagles' patch-work offensive line some fits.
I noted earlier that the Eagles have gone two weeks without allowing a sack. On the flip side, they have also gone two weeks without registering a sack. Philadelphia lacks a stud pass rusher that generates consistent pressure. What makes the pass rush worse is that starting inside linebacker Mychal Kendricks will likely be out. Kendricks is usually a threat to rush the passer as a blitzer. The lack of pass rush subsequently makes life harder on the Eagles' lackluster secondary. Washington backup Kirk Cousins threw the ball with much success against Philadelphia's defense in Week 3. Starting cornerbacks Cary Wiliams and Bradley Fletcher were both picked on. San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick might be able to take advantage of the Eagles in the same way.
Why the 49ers will lose
The offense has gotten off to a strong start each of the last three weeks, but has then struggled in the second half. They have scored a league-high 59 points in the first half, while scoring a league-low 3 points in the second half. A poor performance from Colin Kaepernick would be the easy call here, but I'll go with offensive line consistency. The group could be welcoming back right tackle Anthony Davis to the starting lineup, but if they don't find some consistency soon, the 49ers offense will struggle.
The 49ers have moved away from their ground game, and that is potentially due in part to their offensive line struggles. If this group does not perform well against the Eagles defensive line, the 49ers could once again be in for second half struggles.
While the Eagles offensive line is banged up, they potentially get a respite from a 49ers pass rush that has lacked teeth. Justin Smith has been a presence, getting a sack in each game, but the rest of the pass rush has been questionable at best. Ahmad Brooks showed up to training camp overweight, and has seemingly struggled to really get going since then. Corey Lemonier and Dan Skuta are filling in for Aldon Smith while the latter serves a 9-game suspension. These two filled in last season for Smith during his 5-game rehab stint, and they were a serviceable replacement. This year, neither has been able to do much in the pass rush, with Lemonier being the bigger disappointment. Rookie Aaron Lynch has flashed some skills, but he has not gotten an increase from his high of 20 snaps.
If the pass rush can't get anything going, the Eagles could easily find holes in the 49ers secondary. That group has been inconsistent, although lack of a pass rush only serves to weaken that group. Foles very well could have plenty of time to pick apart the secondary on Sunday.