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How the 49ers and Eagles have changed since their last meeting

There will be two new starting QBs this year, but those aren’t the only changes

Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The San Francisco 49ers and the Philadephia Eagles meet Sunday after the two teams met in Philly early last season.

The Eagles won the Week 4 matchup last season 25-20 in one of the most disappointing losses of the season for the Niners, despite not having Jimmy Garoppolo under center.

Philadelphia has a new head coach. San Francisco has a new defensive coordinator. That’s just scratching the surface between everything that’s changed. Let’s take a look at the changes from both teams.

Eagles offensive changes

Here’s a look at who started on the Eagles offense against the Niners last year:

QB Carson Wentz
RB Miles Sanders
WR Travis Fulgham
WR Greg Ward
TE Zach Ertz
OT Lane Johnson/Jack Driscoll
OT Jordan Mailata
OG Nate Herbig
OG Matt Pryor
C Jason Kelce

Johnson played 37% of the snaps and was replaced by Driscoll.

Now let’s take a look at Philly’s starters from Week 1 against the Falcons last week:

QB Jalen Hurts
RB Miles Sanders
WR DeVonta Smith
WR Jalen Reagor
TE Dallas Goedert
TE Zach Ertz
OT Jordan Mailata
OT Lane Johnson
OG Isaac Seumalo
OG Brandon Brooks
C Jason Kelce

The Eagles will start a new quarterback, two new wide receivers, and two new offensive guards. Philadelphia led all offensive lines during Week 1 in adjusted sack rate. You can thank Hurts’ legs, but also, the Eagles have a good offensive line.

San Francisco has to be much better against the run this week as the Eagles had the second-most explosive run plays during Week 1 with five.

Tackling in the open field must improve, too. Dre Greenlaw missed three tackles last week, and Jimmie Ward missed another. Greenlaw won’t play, but I’d argue Azeez Al-Shaair was better in Week 1:

49ers defensive changes

Let’s look at the different starters this time around on the 49ers' side of the ball. Let’s just say there’s an upgrade or two this year.

San Francisco’s defensive starters against the Eagles in 2020:

DL Kerry Hyder
DL Arik Armstead
DL D.J. Jones
DL Javon Kinlaw
LB Fred Warner
LB Kwon Alexander
LB Azeez Al-Shaair
CB Dontae Johnson
CB Jason Verrett
S Jaquiski Tartt
S Jimmie Ward

I had to triple-check to see if this was accurate. It feels like Alexander hasn’t been on the 49ers in forever.

Al-Shaair has more experience and is now two years removed from a severe knee injury.

Johnson could start in place of Verrett. Kyle Shanahan was on KNBR Friday and said Emmanuel Moseley would try to practice Friday, but it’ll come down to Johnson, Josh Norman, Dre Kirkpatrick, and Ambry Thomas if he can't go. Kirkpatrick just had his second practice, while Shanahan said Norman looked good this week.

Expect Demmodore Lenoir to start. Shanahan said the team is high on the rookie and “the games not too big” for Lenoir.

There was somewhat good news on Kinlaw’s font. Shanahan said Kinlaw would have a full practice Friday, and he made it through Thursday’s practice. So if Kinlaw can practice Friday and Saturday, the hope is he’ll suit up Sunday.

The most significant difference this time around is No. 97 will play. Also, No. 55. Nick Bosa played 55% of the snaps, with Dee Ford playing 33% of the time. The duo combined for five pressures, two QB hits, and two sacks. Ford’s QB hit resulted in Jared Goff’s pick-six. Bosa and Ford are relentless, and their pressure should force Hurts into a mistake.

Kinlaw, Armstead, and Moseley were all in uniform to start Friday’s practice, which is a great sign. Unfortunately, Moseley’s injury designation is “doubtful,” which means these are your likely starters:

EDGE Nick Bosa
DT D.J. Jones
DT Javon Kinlaw
EDGE Arik Armstead
LB Fred Warner
LB Azeez Al-Shaair
CB Deommodore Lenoir
CB Josh Norman
CB K’Waun Williams
S Jaquiski Tartt
S Jimmie Ward

Friday’s injury report:

Greenlaw - OUT

Moseley - doubtful

Kinlaw - questionable

Armstead - questionable

Harris - questionable

Describing the upgrade from Hyder to Bosa and Ford coming off the bench is tough to put into words. Plus, with Samson Ebukam substituting in, that allows San Francisco to get creative on passing downs:

From left to right: Bosa-Ford-Armstead, with Ebukam isolated to the right. DeMeco Ryans is ensuring one of Bosa or Ford gets a 1-on-1. The two flip-flopped in this look a few different times.

Ford’s first step is as explosive as it gets. Look at his get-off here at the top of the screen and how much ground he covers:

49ers offensive changes

Going from Nick Mullens to Jimmy Garoppolo is like going from a clunky old Acer laptop to the latest version of a MacBook Pro. We saw last week how Garoppolo keeps the offense on schedule.

Sometimes it’s as easy as throwing the ball to an open receiver, while other times, it’s avoiding a sack and throwing an incompletion to live for another down. Garoppolo will face a better pass rush than last week, but the 49ers' offense is still superior to the Eagles' defense.

Here were last years starters for San Francisco on offense:

QB Nick Mullens
RB Jerick McKinnon
FB Kyle Juszczyk
WR Brandon Aiyuk
WR Kendrick Bourne
TE George Kittle
C Ben Garland
OG Laken Tomlinson
OL Daniel Brunskill
OT Mike McGlinchey
OT Trent Williams

The box score looks good for the 49ers ground game, but that’s thanks to a 38-yard rushing touchdown from Brandon Aiyuk. Outside of that, the offense averaged 4.1 yards per carry on 19 attempts. There was only one explosive run, which came on a 3rd & 21 from McKinnon, where he ran for 15 yards.

Trent Williams had his worst game of the season. I’ll bet on him every day of the week. Alex Mack is a massive upgrade at center, and you could say the same for Elijah Mitchell and Trey Sermon at running back.

Here’s a look at the 49ers starters for this game:

QB Jimmy Garoppolo
RB Elijah Mitchell
FB Kyle Juszczyk
WR Brandon Aiyuk
WR Deebo Samuel
TE George Kittle
LT Trent Williams
LG Laken Tomlinson
C Alex Mack
RG Daniel Brunskill
RT Mike McGlinchey

The Niners' offense finished fifth in EPA per play during Week 1 and seventh in success rate. Philadelphia played well, but the Falcons offense looked anemic, and their offensive line didn’t stand a chance. That won’t be the case this week.

For comparison, Atlanta’s EPA per play was -0.277, with a success rate of 35%. San Francisco’s was +0.250 and 50.9%. Slight difference.

Kittle, Deebo, Mitchell, and adding Aiyuk with good pass protection and a competent quarterback will lead to explosive plays, which should be the difference in this game.

San Francisco had five passing plays over 20 yards during Week 1. Only three teams had more, while the running game had three runs for more than 15 yards. Coincidentally enough, only the Lions finished Week 1 in the top-10 of explosive passing and running plays.

Eagles defensive changes

The Eagles' defense didn’t allow a passing play over 20 yards, but they allowed six runs over 15 yards, which led the league. Expect the 49ers pre-snap motion to get Philly’s linebackers out of place, which should lead to Mitchell having another big day at the office.

EDGE Josh Sweat
EDGE Brandon Graham
DT Fletcher Cox
DT Malik Jackson
LB Nathan Gerry
LB T.J. Edwards
LB Duke Riley
CB Darius Slay
CB Jalen Mills
S K’Von Wallace
S Rodney McLeod

Here’s who Philly started Week 1:

EDGE Genard Avery
EDGE Brandon Graham
DL Derek Barnett
DT Fletcher Cox
DT Javon Hargrave
LB T.J. Edwards
LB Eric Wilson
CB Darius Slay
CB Steven Nelson
S Marcus Epps
S Anthony Harris

Teams who struggle at the second level with poor linebacker play tend to get eaten up by Kyle Shanahan.

A lot has changed for both teams, and mainly in a positive light. San Francisco has more upgrades across the board, which is why it’s easy to feel confident Sunday.