Coming off a Week 1 victory over the Detroit Lions, the 49ers head into Philadelphia for a Week 2 clash with an Eagles team coming off of a week one trouncing of the Atlanta Falcons. I’m going to share some keys for a 49er win and give a final score prediction for the game.
Keep the Eagles defensive line off balance
The Eagles' defensive line is arguably their strongest unit on the team and one that played a major role in their Week 1 victory over Atlanta, logging 21 pressures (per PFF) while terrorizing Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan all afternoon.
The interior, in particular, was quite menacing, as Javon Hargraves, Hassan Ridgeway, and Fletcher Cox all logged at least four pressures last week.
The key to combat this for the 49ers will be maintaining an effective rhythm with the run game and subsequent play action. The Eagles defensive line looked nowhere near as lethal when it couldn’t pin its ears back and rush the passer in obvious passing situations.
Expect to see a good amount of Kyle Juszczyk in this game, as I would expect Kyle Shanahan to exploit his advantage against Eagles linebackers in coverage off of play-action while also having his presence likely keep the base defense on the field.
Force the Eagles to beat them through the air
I thought the 49ers' defense as a whole played well versus the Lions, save for a handful of odd possessions to close out the game. The only noticeable issue they appeared to have was slowing down Detroit on the ground. The Lions rushed for over 100 yards at a clip of 5.5 yards per carry.
To me, the 49ers' biggest issue with defending the run appeared to be one of discipline, as a handful of players were regularly taking themselves out of plays.
Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts is not afraid to utilize his legs, coming off of a game where he averaged an impressive 8.9 yards per carry. The 49ers' defense has had its share of issues with mobile quarterbacks during the last couple of seasons, so going into this week, there needs to be a strong game plan in place that will allow them to contain Hurts and keep him in the pocket.
Feed George Kittle
Kittle was targeted five times in the opener, registering four receptions for 78 yards. While Deebo Samuel stole the show, Kittle quietly averaged 19.5 yards per reception and was particularly lethal with the ball in his hands, averaging 14.7 yards after the catch. The all-pro tight end is a matchup nightmare for any NFL defense, but especially for an Eagles defense that does not look particularly strong at the linebacker or safety positions.
The Eagles’ linebackers gave up a reception on all but one of the targets that were directed their way during Week one, so ideally, Shanahan finds a way to exploit that matchup and set up his superstar tight end to dominate between the numbers and create some huge chunk plays off of play-action.
Give the cornerbacks some help
After losing Jason Verrett to a season-ending ACL injury, and the uncertainty surrounding Emmanuel Moseley’s status for Sunday’s game, there is a high likelihood that the 49ers go into this game with rookie Deommodore Lenoir and journeyman Dontae Johnson as their starting corners.
While I think Lenoir played very well in his first career start versus Detroit (Lenoir only allowed one catch for 3 yards on three targets while playing 69 coverage snaps), it’s unfair and unrealistic to expect a rookie to maintain that level of play week after week. Johnson got picked on a bit when he came in after Verrett’s injury, and unfortunately, would appear to be the weak link that could potentially be exposed should he start opposite Lenoir.
First-year defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans would be wise to scheme up as many looks as possible that won’t leave his corners on an island. Incorporating a lot of safety help over the top into his coverages could go a long way, even at the cost of running more Cover 2 rather than the Cover 1 it appears Ryans seems to favor. Another big game from the defensive line would be gigantic too, don’t have to cover for long if the pass rush is getting home.
Avoid mental mistakes
On paper, the 49ers look like the significantly better team, and the only logical way I can see them leaving Philadelphia with a loss is by beating themselves. However, this is one of those games I feel the 49ers should win pretty easily as long as they avoid that significant costly turnover and do the little things like executing on special teams.
Last week it was an unlucky bounce on an onside kick and an uncharacteristic fumble from Deebo Samuel, which made the result much closer than it ever would have been.
Add in a missed field goal attempt and a couple of sloppy third downs, and it nearly changed the outcome of a game the 49ers dominated for the majority of the game. However, if they can avoid too many of these errors, the talent advantage they have over Philadelphia should be enough to escape with a win and head back to the west coast with a 2-0 start.
49ers 31 - Eagles 20
I think the 49ers come out strong again, run the ball with great success and control this game from the jump. Niners by two scores, and they come home from their first road trip with a 2-0 record to start the season.