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Four matchups to watch Sunday night: Aiyuk versus Slay will be must-see

The 49ers have a significant advantage in a few areas, but expect the Eagles to do everything they can to make Mullens uncomfortable in the pocket.

Cincinnati Bengals v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Sunday night’s game between the San Francisco 49ers and Philadelphia Eagles will feature a marquee matchup at tight end and linebacker. Plus, at those same positions, a matchup where the 49ers have to take advantage. There are two other matchups we’ll get into, too.

Zach Ertz vs. Fred Warner

The Eagles will be without Dallas Goedert, who I’d argue is more effective than Ertz, but that means Ertz will see the lion-share of the targets. The Giants were able to get Evan Engram open a couple of times against Warner, but they tried to run the same route twice, and Warner made New York pay for that.

Ertz has been targeted 23 times in three games. He has 15 receptions, eight going for first downs, for 130 yards and a touchdown. The bulk of Ertz’s targets come within ten yards of the line of scrimmage. Eleven of his 23 targets come over the middle and underneath 10 yards, which is right where Warner lines up.

Warner has been targeted 12 times this season and has allowed only 44 yards while breaking up a pass and intercepting one as well. On obvious passing downs, we’ll see these two lined up against each other, and I think we all know who has the advantage. This will be a pivotal matchup as Ertz is one of the only healthy pass catchers on the Eagles roster. Robert Saleh needs to make anyone else on Philly’s roster beat the 49ers.

Kyle Shanahan vs. Nate Gerry

This matchup is more about Kyle Shanahan versus Gerry, but George Kittle will have a friendly “welcome back” opponent as he faces a defender who has struggled mightily this year. Before the game, we picked on Blake Martinez last week, and Shanahan put Martinez in a blender during Week 3. Gerry has arguably played worse than his numbers suggest. Gerry has been targeted 13 times while allowing 13 receptions for 158 yards and a pair of touchdowns. For a good time, search Gerry’s name on Twitter. This is my co-host for this podcast, who happens to cover the Eagles:

Too often, Gerry gets caught with his back turned and finds himself out of position. Sunday night, expect Shanahan to isolate Gerry on Kittle and possibly even a receiver. Thoughts and prayers, Nate.

Eagles pass rush vs. the Niners offensive line

The Eagles have taken advantage of a few bad offensive lines, and, based on how they’ve played this season, that may continue Sunday against the 49ers. Philly is ranked 10th in adjusted line yards against the run and fifth in adjusted sack rate. The Niners offensive line ranks 31st in adjusted line yards. The scheme has protected both quarterbacks from getting sacked too often, thankfully.

Fletcher Cox remains one of the best interior defensive linemen in the NFL, but Malik Jackson has given teams trouble up the middle as well. Jackson has six QB hits on the season, which leads the Eagles. Philadelphia has a deep defensive line that includes Vinny Curry, Josh Sweat, and Brandon Graham. This is the one area that worries me. Philadelphia is outside of the top-15 in both QB knockdown percentage and pressure rate, but they’re fourth in sacks. This is a team whose sacks come in bunches.

We’ve documented the struggles of the 49ers running game. Kittle playing should be a significant boost as the offense has struggled to get to the edges. The Eagles have been stingy on the ground as a defense as well, allowing only 37% of runs to be successful. I’m fascinated to see what Shanahan does to neutralize this defensive line.

Darius Slay vs. Brandon Aiyuk

Let’s act as if Deebo Samuel won’t suit up Sunday night. Eagles cornerback Darius Slay has been impressive this year. His numbers don’t fully tell the story. Slay has allowed 10 of his 16 targets to be completed, but only for 87 total yards, including a 21-yarder. He is one of the smarter cornerbacks in the league. What this video:

That is a textbook understanding your “divider rules” as a cornerback and using that to your strength.

In overtime, on a critical third-down last week, Slay undercut a route from A.J. Green on a crossing route and made a stop for a minimal gain. Slay’s competitiveness is as good as it gets. Being sound technically and competitive makes Slay one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL.

Slay has traveled with receivers, especially when there is a clear threat. This would be a challenge for Brandon Aiyuk, who has struggled a bit off the line of scrimmage in a couple of games. Aiyuk had a clean release off press coverage in the slot on one of his receptions last week, but Slay is in another class than any of the Giants cornerbacks. I could see Schwartz and the Eagles forcing Kendrick Bourne or Trent Taylor beat them and not the Niners first-round pick. Aiyuk has the athleticism to beat Slay, but can he consistently win with technique? That’s what it’ll take against the talented veteran. We’ll see if Aiyuk is up for the challenge.