This Sunday, the 49ers will square off against the Eagles for the third time under Kyle Shanahan. Up til now, they haven’t had much luck against the Birds, losing the first matchup in demoralizing fashion. The defeat brought their record to 0-8 to start 2017, making it the worst stretch to begin a season in franchise history.
Last year, the Niners started hot against the Eagles, including Brandon Aiyuck’s electrifying and much meme’d touchdown leap, but it all fell apart in the second half under the command of Nick Mullens. The backup got pulled, and C.J. Beathard entered, making the game look a little closer in the box score with a late TD drive.
This time around, as opposed to relying on two quarterbacks that might just as easily not be in the league next year, the 49ers come to battle with a duo of starting-level signal callers, who will both definitely see some action.
Will this, and the rest of the high-functioning offense, be enough to overcome the Eagles, even with a beat-up D finally? Allow Brandon Lee Gowton of Bleeding Green Nation to explain his three reasons as to why that’s going to be the case.
If you want to read my three reasons why the 49ers will fall to the Eagles, once again, you can give it a look on BGN.
1 - Questionable run defense
The Eagles’ run defense struggled early on in Week 1. The Falcons’ first 13 rushing attempts went for 87 yards (6.7 average) and five first-down conversions. Had Arthur Smith been more aggressive in goal-to-go territory, the Falcons could’ve had a touchdown or two instead of settling for red-zone field goals.
Atlanta was able to take advantage of some very slopping tackling from the Eagles. Starting linebacker, Eric Wilson finished Sunday’s game with four missed tackles. Josh Sweat, Genard Avery, Anthony Harris, and Darius Slay were all credited with one missed tackle.
The Eagles’ defense was also inviting the run to some extent with two-high looks, as opposed to the Cover 1 formations we often saw under former Philly defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. His successor, Jonathan Gannon, has a track record of utilizing Cover 2 defenses. Sure enough, the Eagles used two deep safeties on 55% of their snaps in Atlanta.
It’s entirely possible Gannon adjusts his defense to fit this 49ers matchup. He did do a good job of getting his unit to settle in after a shaky start last week.
But the 49ers’ rushing attack presents a bigger challenge. The Falcons’ offensive line isn’t very good. San Francisco, meanwhile, finished Week 1 with the fifth-best run blocking graded as determined by Pro Football Focus. Elijah Mitchell obviously went off with 104 yards and one touchdown on 19 carries (5.5 average).
The 49ers might be able to get into a rhythm that the Eagles’ defense doesn’t really have answers for. The presence of a strong running game to go with both George Kittle and Deebo Samuel as top receiving targets is a lot to deal with. San Fran’s offensive prowess could put much stress on Philly to match the production.
2 - Jalen Hurts has more to prove
It’s hard to poke too many holes in Hurts’ Week 1 performance considering he had a 90% adjusted completion rate, 326 total yards of offense, three touchdowns, and a 126.4 passer rating.
But, again, the 49ers are stronger in the trenches than the Falcons. Atlanta just doesn’t have much pass-rushing juice. The 49ers, by contrast, have a number of defensive linemen who will challenge the Eagles upfront. Four of the 49ers’ top four graded defensive players from Week 1 were from the d-line: Nick Bosa, D.J. Jones, Arik Armstead, and Dee Ford. Those guys might be able to mitigate concerns about the 49ers’ secondary following the season-ending injury to Jason Verrett.
The Eagles could look to replicate their Week 1 strategy where they counted on Hurts often throwing it short to generate YAC. Hurts has the lowest average intended air yards in the NFL so far with just 3.7. Rounding out the bottom five are Andy Dalton (4.2), Matt Ryan (5.2), Carson Wentz (5.7), and Ben Roethlisberger (5.7). Not the greatest company to be in. The 49ers could and should find a way to take away the easier stuff and challenge Hurts to beat them over the middle of the field. That’s an area where Hurts has yet to prove he can successfully attack with consistency.
3 - Trey Lance, X-factor
I know Lance only played four snaps in Week 1 but I wonder if his usage could increase in Week 2. The thinking here is that the 49ers didn’t feel the need to tip their hand by breaking out a Lance package against a much lesser opponent in the Detroit Lions. With the Eagles coming off a big win, Kyle Shanahan might feel the need to install some more wrinkles.
The Eagles might be able to hold up against Lance since they’re favoring zone more than man-to-man defense. But we’re very much new into Gannon’s tenure and we’ve yet to see how he’ll fare against a mobile quarterback.
On the chance that Lance doesn’t end up being much of a factor, I’ll add a bonus reason for concern in here and it’s how the 49ers finished last week’s game against the Lions. Some could read into San Fran letting Detroit back into the game as a troubling sign moving forward. Others could argue it’ll have the team more focused and eager to not let something like that happen again.