The 49ers earned their second road win of the season with a superb defensive performance versus an Eagles team that moved the ball at will in their week one game versus Atlanta.
By all measures, the Eagles’ offense was a tougher matchup for the 49ers’ defense than the Lions, but a bend but never break mentality has so far defined DeMeco Ryans’ defensive game planning.
Quarterback Jalen Hurts was 12-24 versus the 49ers defense, who logged six total pass breakups, with rookie Deommodore Lenoir registering three of those. His clutch pass break-ups prevented big gains, and his heads-up coverage negated a touchdown when he pinned receiver Jalen Reagor to the sideline, forcing him to step out of bounds and drawing an illegal touching flag when he came back in the field of play and caught the pass.
On offense, two 90+ yard touchdown drives were all the 49ers needed to put points on the board while the defense did the bulk of the work. For the most part, the offense struggled to move the ball against a very good front, specifically the Eagles’ defensive line.
In the end, though, all it took was one Jimmy Garoppolo throw through an extremely tight window and then getting to the third read on his touchdown pass to Jauan Jennings on the next play, plus another third-down conversion over the middle on the second 90+ yard drive that led to the second touchdown a few plays later.
Secondary holds the line on defense
The 49ers defense surrendered just three points through 56 minutes of the game until the Eagles scored with four minutes left in the fourth on a Jalen Hurts 1-yard run up the middle. Leading the way for the secondary was rookie Deommodore Lenoir, who had three pass breakups on deep passes down the sideline while covering Jalen Reagor and DeVonta Smith.
He put a lot of good coverage reps on tape (minus the 91-yard completion), and perhaps his best came early in the game when he pinned Jalen Reagor to the sideline and forced him to step out of bounds before he caught the pass. Lenoir knew he stepped out and let up on the play as Reagor caught it, but in the scoring review, the replay official saw Reagor had stepped out and overturned the call.
The 49ers are playing cover-1 behind a five-man rush called “cover-1 dog.” In Cover-1 dog, five coverage defenders are playing man-to-man with a single high safety aligned deep down the middle of the field.
Corners in this coverage will play with inside leverage technique underneath on the inside hip because they do not have a safety they can funnel the receiver to. Lenoir presses Reagor to the sideline, stays in phase the entire time, and gets Reagor to step out with two feet before he touches the pass.
On the call, the officials ruled that Reagor had illegally touched the ball after he stepped out of bounds with both feet and never reestablished with two feet. Since he never reestablished himself, the play results only in an incomplete pass and loss of down from the previous spot.
His pass break-ups are good examples of the entire defense working in tandem at all levels. The pass rushers flush the quarterback from the pocket or force early throws. On one pressure, linebacker Fred Warner forced Hurts into a hurried throw to DeVonta Smith with Lenoir in coverage.
The throw was good, but the coverage by Lenoir was even better as he was able to bat the pass away as the last possible second as it arrived. On his other pass breakups, he stayed in phase with the receivers in tight coverage and was able to knock the passes out of Smith’s hands on the two other pass breakups in the clips above.
Jimmie Ward and Jaquaski Tartt pass break-ups
Jimmie Ward and Jaquaski Tartt also had pass break-ups, and Tartt arguably made the play of the game on defense when he had a touchdown-saving tackle on a 91-yard catch and run by the Eagles.
On Ward’s pass break-up, the 49ers are in a 2-high coverage with Ward the field safety to the wide side. The route combination by the Eagles is a go route with a deep out route by the slot.
Lenoir passes off the go route when the slot receiver cuts outside, so Ward zones off over the top of Reagor’s route and cuts him off from making a play on the pass.
Tartt’s pass break-up came off of a play-action pass where the receiver actually got behind him by about a yard, but he was able to mirror the route and stay underneath and with the WR in his back pocket. Of course, it helped that the pass was slightly underthrown, but Tartt gave Hurts no window to place the pass and turned just as the ball arrived, so he could knock it away.
Nick Bosa’s stock continues to rise
Bosa received the up arrow for last week’s performance on defense, where he registered five pressures, including one sack against the Lions. In week two against the Eagles, he registered three more pressures, including two sacks, one of which was a strip-sack (although the defense was unable to recover the loose ball).
He beat two tight ends around the defense’s left edge on his first sack, who were assigned to block him by giving a jab step inside (not quite the power step the Bosa’s are known for) and then swatting aside the blocker’s punch.
He ends up hitting Hurts, but somehow the ball popped out and into the hands of another Eagles player. So the play ended, going for a loss of nine yards.
Later in the fourth quarter, Bosa, working against Jordan Mailata (No. 68), recorded another sack when bull-rushed Mailata straight back into the quarterback before he recorded the sack. I think it’s safe to say at this point. Bosa never looks like he missed any time last season. His rush is fluid. He cuts and plants quickly and still gives opposing blockers more than can handle.
Sideways arrow: Garoppolo struggles in the first half vs. static 2-high coverages but hits key throws
In Week 1, Jimmy Garoppolo played pretty well and moved the ball efficiently. However, this past week against the Eagles, he came out of the game misfiring on several routine throws where receivers were schemed wide open and misfired on a couple of screen passes as well. When Garoppolo missed these throws in the first half, Shanahan went into protect mode and called screen passes.
After the game, Shanahan mentioned that the Eagles were giving up some soft zones that warranted calling ten screen passes in Garoppolo’s 30 pass attempts. But the bulk of those came after the Eagles challenged Garoppolo to hit throws outside of the hash, and he misfired on several of them. As a result, Garoppolo’s average completed air yards of 2.5 and average intended air yards of 3.6 were the lowest of any quarterback in week two.
The Eagles are showing 2-high coverage that morphs into quarters coverage across the board. Receiver Mohammed Sanu (No. 6) is running a 10 yard out route from the slot, with Brandon Aiyuk running a clear-out down the sideline. Garoppolo makes the correct read but makes the throw more difficult than it needs to be. Instead of throwing Sanu open on the sideline, he tried to place the pass over the curl/flat defender sinking under the route.
Coming into the game, Brandon Aiyuk had not seen a pass target at all in week one versus the Lions in the 26 snaps he played. In week two, he had only two targets but was only able to haul one of them because the other was out of reach over his arms that encompass a nearly three-foot catch radius because Garoppolo rushed a poor throw under pressure.
The throw was a play-action pass, what Shanahan calls a “dagger” route where the receiver runs a deep in route behind a clear out route. Garoppolo has pressure in his face but is able to get the throw off anyways. McGlinchey is partially responsible for Garoppolo not being able to step into the throw, but Jimmy has made numerous off-platform throws, and he should’ve made this one. Instead, the pass sailed over Aiyuk and was nearly picked off.
Was this throw influenced by the pass rush that didn’t allow him to step into the throw and follow through? Perhaps, but he throws like this from clean pockets when he doesn’t have immediate pressure in his face.
In fact, he nearly had another pass picked off when he faded away from a throw down the left sideline to Deebo in the second quarter.
Prior to that, on a 1st-and-25 play, Garoppolo sailed another pass out of bounds against cover-2. In cover-2 against the 49ers offense, the Eagles could take away the middle of the field by allowing their linebackers to spot drop hash to hash and wall off defenders.
Here, Shanahan dialed up a mirrored smash concept designed to hit the cover-2 honey hole down the sideline. But again, he sailed the pass out of bounds and never even gave Trent Sherfield a chance to make a play on it.
He doesn’t really have the arm strength required to hit that throw with timing and precision. But these are the throws he has to make and has to make consistently if he wants to stay the starter.
However, it was not all bad, and two throws in particular show why it’s not so easy to move on outright from him. On the very next play after the one immediately above, Shanahan called a “double swirl” concept against the same 2-high coverage shell. A swirl route is commonly known as a “7-stop” (7 being the number designation for a corner route) or a “corner-stop.” It’s an effective route versus safeties who might gain too much depth to throw a corner route.
They couldn’t convert the down series, but this throw shows a good example of Garoppolo moving the second-level linebackers with his eyes to ensure the seam/hook defender doesn’t sink into the throwing lane.
As he drops back, notice how he looks to his right and gets linebacker Eric Wilson (No. 50) to open to that side of the field. Behind Wilson, Deebo is selling the corner stem before stopping to turn and look for the pass. Garoppolo throws it in there, but the safety breaks on the Deebo before he can turn and run, setting up a manageable third-and-8.
Later in the same half before halftime, Garoppolo hit what was perhaps one of his best throws on a dig route over the middle after he moved the linebacker just enough to create a small window.
Deebo is running a dig route across the middle from the #1 slot in trips. Jimmy again manipulates the underneath defenders to create a throwing lane and throws Deebo open behind the linebacker, widening with Deebo and in front of the linebacker closing the route that he just moved with his eyes a half of a second earlier. Again, windows close fast in the NFL, and Jimmy threads it in there.
Before the half ended, Garoppolo found his third read on Shanahan’s “cheetah” concept, a red zone staple, when he hit receiver Jauan Jennings on a stick china route for the game’s first touchdown.
Late in the third quarter, Jimmy displayed some good pocket mobility on a conversion and later found Deebo on a dig route from the slot again. Jimmy is already throwing when Deebo breaks, making it hard for the safety to break up the pass. The timing was excellent here, and Deebo is able to catch, secure, and break the tackle of the safety.
Garoppolo’s first-half struggles are going to be something to keep an eye on. This cannot happen versus the Packers this weekend or the Seahawks and Cardinals coming up — arguably two of the tougher teams they’ll face.
And if the Packers have figured out how to correct their offensive struggles, it could be a shootout though they will be without left tackle David Bakhtiari and their defense has not registered a sack in two games now.
It would serve Garoppolo well to start hitting some of these missed throws to take the pressure off the offense and keep them on schedule ahead of the chains and collect as many wins as possible. Shanahan will give him opportunities, and he will need to capitalize on them if the run game continues to struggle due to injuries. If not, it might make their transition to Trey Lance a bit easier to decide.