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How Kyle Shanahan will put the Eagles defense under the microscope today

The Niners are in a great spot to take down the Eagles today

NFC Championship - San Francisco 49ers v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

Some things in football will never change. To be successful, you must stop the run and run the ball. The Eagles and San Francisco 49ers are both top-10 in rushing defense and top-3 in running the ball offensively.

The Philadelphia Eagles resume would confuse the College Football playoff committee. They’re 5-0 this season when trailing at halftime. They’ve trailed after two quarters in each of the past four victories.

The Eagles have accomplished impressive feats during the past month. They’re only the fourth team in NFL history to win four straight games after trailing at halftime. They’re the first team to win the first four games when trailing by 10+ points.

Earlier in the week, Kyle Shanahan said, “it doesn’t make any sense” why the 49ers would be favorites on the road against the big bad Eagles. Philly is +64 in point differential on the season. The 49ers are +140. Philadelphia’s point differential is the second-worst point differential by a team 10-1 or better through 11 games since the Raiders back in the 1960s.

That should help clear up any confuse, Kyle.

Today will be the third game for the Eagles in 13 days. Oh, and they play their rivals in a week.

The Niners aren’t without blemishes, but if you’re inclined to think that the 3-game losing streak was more of a figment of your imagination than anything, you’re not alone. The reality was a flurry of injuries to three of your most critical offensive starters and your defensive line playing with the gas tank on E.

That’s not to minimize turnovers, missed tackles, kicks, and anything else that went wrong. But there are unicorns on this roster. There isn’t another Deebo Samuel, Trent Williams, or Christian McCaffrey in the league. And we’ve already seen what a replenished Arik Armstead and Javon Hargrave look like.

The 49ers offense hasn’t been stopped all season. Even during the losing streak, they remained among the best in the league in success rate at 57 percent. Brock Purdy was still in the top-10 at generating explosive plays.

Post bye, the turnovers have subsided. And, would ya look at that? The Kyle Shanahan-led offense with an aggressive quarterback under center who gets to throw to arguably the best supporting cast in the NFL is back to posting absurd numbers and efficiency now that they’re healthy again.

Putting the Eagles defense under the microscope

Every week, we see the 49ers march down the field and put points on the scoreboard during the opening drive. Most of that damage takes place over the middle of the field.

Where are the Eagles susceptible defensively? You guessed it, smack dab in the middle. Philadelphia is 26th in DVOA at defending passes over the middle of the field. That’s a season-long metric, so that includes linebackers Zack Cunningham — who may not play today, and Nakobe Dean, who is on the injured reserve.

The Eagles are looking for help at linebacker to the point where they’re hosting Shaquille Leonard, who was released by the Colts last week.

Philadelphia has allowed the third-highest EPA to tight ends this season. This is not an offense that you want to play where that’s the case. So we’re looking at Nicholas Morrow, who has only been targeted four times all season, or a pair of backup linebackers. Or, a safety against Kittle.

Reed Blankenship is not a bad player by any means. But he’s 24 and not a player you want 1-on-1 going against George Kittle. The Eagles went out and got Kevin Byard. The Bills went at him. Byard gave up 61 yards and a touchdown and allowed all five of his targets to be completed. The week prior, he gave up another touchdown and six of his eight targets were completed. In Dallas, the week prior, Byard gave up three receptions on four targets for 71 yards.

Knowing what he wasn’t able to do or call against the Eagles a season ago, and how his players feel about this Week 13 matchup, Shanahan will dig deep in his bag to take full advantages of the mismatches the 49ers have in between the hashes.

Brandon Aiyuk’s season has been a bit of a rollercoaster in the sense that one game he’ll have over 100 yards and the next he’ll have a modest 50 receiving yards. Here’s Aiyuk’s stat line from the previous five games. It’ll be listed by receptions, then yards, and the third number is a touchdown:

Week 7: 5/57
Week 8: 5/109
Week 10: 3/55/1
Week 11: 5/156/1
Week 12: 2/50/1

The Eagles are dead last in the NFL in EPA allowed to outside receivers. They’re 27th in DVOA at defending WR2s.

Bills receiver Gabe Davis had more receptions in yards last week against Philadelphia than he did in the three previous games combined. A month ago, Jahan Dotson from the Commanders had 108 yards on eight receptions. Two weeks ago, CeeDee Lamb was nine yards shy of 200!

As a quarterback, when you get 1-on-1’s, your eyes will naturally gravitate toward your best receiver. Aiyuk should also receive plenty of volume as the Eagles run man coverage at the sixth-highest rate in the NFL, per Sports Info Solutions.

James Bradberry has allowed the ninth-highest passer rating against this year, which would explain why Philadelphia struggles against the WR2. His teammate, Darius Slay, has the 12th highest passer rating allowed. EPA is a stat that explains giving up big plays or plays that directly lead to points. Slay has allowed the 11-th highest EPA per target this season. Bradberry is 26th.

Now, it’s still a Shanahan offense and he’s going to run the ball. How could you not with No. 23 in the backfield? You’re not going to confuse the Bills or Cowboys as “run first teams.” Nor would you the team with Patrick Mahomes.

Trending metrics paint the best picture of who a team is today. And since Week 8, Philadelphia ranks 23rd in EPA per rush. They’re ninth on a down-to-down basis, but that tells us McCaffrey should be in store for a big gain, or three. It won’t hurt that the Eagles have three defensive tackles that are battling injuries.

OK, so we’ve established that the 49ers offense, based on the matchup, the coach, and the players, should have relative success going against a team fresh off playing 95 snaps in the rain a week ago and five quarters.

Let’s turn the page and give a quick summation of the other side of the ball. The Eagles were out gained by Dallas at home by one yard per play.

Trailing 17-7 to Kansas City in the third quarter, Philadelphia was out gained 222 to 70.

When the Bills took a 24-14 lead in the third quarter last week, they out gained Philly 315 to 90.

They’ve been getting their butts kicked everywhere besides the scoreboard during the past month. But when you have one of the best offensive lines, the top receiving duo, and a quarterback who is a playmaker, you’re never out of the game.

The addition of Chase Young has turned Nick Bosa back into Thor. With Young in the lineup, the 49ers defense has yet to allow a touchdown through the air. San Francisco must prevent Hurts’ from getting going on the ground, and do a much better job against the run than they did a season ago in Philadelphia.

Since Week 8, the 49ers are 27th in rushing EPA per play allowed and 25th in success rate. They have to be better. That’ll be a big challenge, as the Steve Wilks’ has dialed his blitzing back substantially since the blunder against the Vikings. They’re 30th in blitz rate since then.

That means more bodies to help stop the pass, but fewer to take away the run. And the last thing you want is Hurts ahead of the chains where they can continue to run RPOs, quick passes, and Hurts.

The Eagles will score. Probably a couple of times. Maybe even a few. But the spot, the matchup, and playing from behind will eventually catch up to you as a team. That happens today to the home squad.

The Eagles recent winning streak feels a lot like the 49ers three-game losing streak: Phony. That’ll show on the scoreboard today.