The San Francisco 49ers face the Philadelphia Eagles for the second year in a row on the road Sunday. So we can get a better feel for the eagles, Brandon Lee Gowton from Bleeding Green Nation and The SB Nation NFL Show was kind enough to take the time and answer questions about what could be a sneaky good game.
Brandon does great work. Be sure to check him out on multiple podcasts or any of his work over at BGN.
1 - The 49ers have had trouble in recent years with mobile QBs. How has Jalen Hurts looked, and do you see him as a big enough threat to challenge the Niners' defense?
Hurts was pretty impressive against the Falcons. Now, granted, Atlanta’s secondary is pretty trash, and they don’t have much pass rush outside of Grady Jarrett. Even so, it was a really encouraging outing by the second-year quarterback. He finished Week 1 as PFF’s second-best graded quarterback with an NFL-high 90% adjusted completion percentage. He never really put the ball in harm’s way and regularly did a great job of taking what the defense gave him. He looked poised, confident, and in command out there. He was smart about picking his spots to run the ball as opposed to relying on his mobility too often.
The big thing to watch moving forward, obviously, is his consistency. Can Hurts replicate this success? He’s probably not going to be able to go through the entire season and thrive with the lowest average intended air yards in the league as he had in Week 1. He’s not going to be able to rely on the Eagles leading the league in YAC every week. Defenses are going to try to take away some of the easier stuff and challenge him to throw the ball down the field. I don’t worry about Hurts when it comes to the deep ball.
Through both game and practice settings, he’s demonstrated good touch while airing it out. The question is if he can work the middle of the field in the intermediate passing game. If I were DeMeco Ryans (shoutout to Mufasa!), I’d be looking to make Hurts prove he can beat the 49ers in that regard.
The 49ers’ defensive line figures to create more pressure for Hurts than he had to deal with in Week 1. His mobility will allow him to evade some of it, but there’s also the concern he might hold the ball too long and lose possession. Only six players fumbled more than Hurts, who had the slowest time to throw in the league, last year despite the fact he played just 334 snaps (29.6%).
2 - With the 49ers secondary being a hot topic this week and knowing the Eagles have spent a first-round pick on a wide receiver the past two years, how are DeVonta Smith and Jalen Reagor doing, and do you think they can be a legitimate 1-2 punch not just this week but for the season?
DeVonta Smith is the real freaking deal. He’s the guy I really wanted the Eagles to take in the 2021 NFL Draft, and I was so happy when they traded up to get him. Any concerns about his size were overblown.
He looks slight, yeah, but he sure doesn’t play small. He’s just clearly so talented. He gets open with ease. He makes tough catches look simple. He’s silky smooth, to the point where Jalen Hurts has referred to him as a “smooth criminal.”
We didn’t see DeVonta used as a burner in Week 1, but he’s certainly capable of that based on his time at Alabama and in Eagles training camp. Only a matter of time before we see that show up in a regular-season game and perhaps as soon as Sunday afternoon.
Smith is already a legit WR1; he led the Eagles in targets, catches, and yards in Week 1. That’ll only continue moving forward. He could very well end up being in the Rookie of the Year conversation.
As for Reagor, I’m not as high on him. He had a strange training camp. He made some truly incredible catches in 1-on-1 drills but really wasn’t impactful in 11-on-11 stuff. Which, you know, kind of matters a lot more.
I caught flak on BGN for not being as impressed as others were with Reagor’s Week 1 performance. Perhaps I was being too harsh, but I just don’t think anything he showed portends to this being some kind of breakout season for him. I was much more encouraged by what I saw from Smith, by contrast.
My expectation for Reagor is that he’ll be kind of like this team’s new Nelson Agholor. He’ll make some good plays, but he’ll also be really frustrating at other times. Week 1 was a solid start for him, but he still has a whole lot to prove.
And based on training camp, I currently feel more optimistic about Quez Watkins’ outlook. The 2020 sixth-round pick had one of the best camps of any player on the team. Watkins had a weird Week 1 in that he only saw three targets, and they all came on the first three plays of the game. But he’s a threat to be more involved moving forward. He has legit deep speed, and he’s demonstrated the ability to win in other ways, such as with his sharp route-running and contested catchability.
3 - What’s one reason you like Philly in this matchup and why?
Heading into Week 1, I had confidence about the Eagles winning because I looked at Atlanta’s depth chart and saw that it was pretty bad. I thought Hurts would be able to take advantage of that weakness, especially with a healthy offensive line protecting him. Sure enough, he did.
Heading into Week 2, I feel similarly. Again, the 49ers have a much better defensive line, which mitigates San Fran’s secondary concerns to some extent. But the Eagles’ offensive line should give Hurts enough time to be successful.
If the Eagles lose this game, it won’t be because they let him get wrecked as much as the quarterback failed to take advantage of the opportunities that were given to him. The Eagles should be able to put up points to match or even outpace the 49ers’ production.
4 - What do you think the Eagles biggest weakness is in this matchup?
The biggest concern I have is that the 49ers are going to be able to run the ball against this defense successfully. Jonathan Gannon ultimately had an impressive debut as an NFL defensive coordinator.
The Eagles didn’t allow a touchdown, and they were the only team in the league to not allow a play over 20 yards. I doubt they’ll be able to keep that streak going in Week 2. The Eagles’ defense looked leaky early on in Atlanta before ultimately settling in. Starting linebacker Eric Wilson had, like, eleventy billion missed tackles (actually “only” four), and he wasn’t alone in making mistakes.
The 49ers have an offensive line that will open some holes for Elijah Mitchell, who obviously fared well against the Lions in Week 1. The Eagles seem to be OK with their opponents favoring the run to an extent. And it’s certainly preferable to allowing big passing plays.
But stopping the run seems especially critical when playing against a Kyle Shanahan team. I can’t help but think back to former Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz and how he always talked about stopping the run was his priority (to a fault, even).
His preference to be +1 in the box could be a weakness, but it typically seemed to work against Shanny, who is just 1-6 against Schwartz in their last seven meetings. Shanahan’s teams scored just 16.1 points per game in those matchups. It’ll be interesting to see how Gannon adjusts in this tilt. Intriguing chess match between him and Shanahan.
5 - Score prediction, why, and did a Week 1 win bring optimism to the fanbase?
I’ll say the Eagles win this game in a shootout, 33 to 30. I’m a big believer in vibes, and the Eagles have a lot of positive energy going for them right now. They’re healthy, they’re confident, they’re playing with energy, they’re looking well-coached, they’re getting good quarterback play, they’re strong in the trenches…things seem to be trending in the right direction.
By contrast, I question the 49ers’ vibes following what some might describe as a “moral loss,” … not to mention San Fran’s injury issues. I think Hurts ultimately takes advantage of the 49ers’ weakened secondary. And I think the raucous home crowd at Lincoln Financial Field can’t be discounted. It’s going to be the first time Eagles fans have been at The Linc in full force for the first time since January 2020.
The Week 1 win absolutely has people juiced about this Eagles team. Watching them play well is such a breath of fresh air coming off last year’s miserable season. The crowd is going to give the Eagles an edge.