Week 8 is going to be a telling week for the San Francisco 49ers. In all likelihood, they are going to lose to the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles outmatch the 49ers at the skill positions, the defensive line, and has a quarterback ready to shred one of the worst secondaries in the NFL.
This game is less about individual match-ups or the 49ers notching their first victory of 2017. This Sunday is going to test the 49ers' mettle and their simmering frustrations.
Here are five match-ups to watch on Sunday.
Rashard Robinson vs. the Side/Field/Back Judge
Coach Wayne Hinds, the wide receivers and secondary coach during my sophomore year at Turlock High, had a fantastic philosophy about pass interference. He didn't give a hoot in Hell about flags.
Here's the G-rated version: “If you punish 'em early, they’ll never want to come in the secondary again. So, take the 15 yards. I don’t care."
Well, Coach Hinds has never met 49ers' cornerback Rashard Robinson. It’s hard to tell if Robinson is a poor football player, unskilled, overmatched or utterly unlucky.Whatever the reasons, Robinson must limit his fouls this Sunday.
Every football player tries to get an edge over his opponent; they all hold, grab and pull. And if you can get away with it, then nobody is the wiser.
Every secondary referee is well-aware of Robinson’s tendency to cheat, and they’ll be throwing the yellow flag his way on any hint of an infraction. The only way Robinson can limit drive-extending fouls is to play sound, fundamental football, which may be a tall order for the second-year player.
Kyle Shanahan vs. the Running Game
The 49ers have 158 rushing attempts as they enter Week 8, running the ball just over 5.6 times per quarter. That's good enough to rank them 23rd overall in the NFL.
On the other side, the offense has attempted 279 passes, placing them second overall in pass attempts. Through seven weeks of football, the 49ers throw the ball 9.96 times per quarter.
With rookie quarterback C.J. Beathard making his second career start, it’s time Shanahan crafted a more balanced game plan, and ask running back Carlos Hyde to take on more of a workload.
A balanced offensive attack, or a call sheet that’s run-heavy, is going to help Beathard more than asking him to throw 38 times a game. If Hyde and rookie running Matt Breida become a genuine threat to run, the Eagles will have to play honest defense, drawing the linebackers into the line of scrimmage on play-action. With fewer players in the way, it clears the lane for Beathard to complete intermediate passes in the middle of the field.
49ers Linebackers vs. Injuries
Remember a few weeks ago the 49ers released linebacker NaVorro Bowman, ushering in the Brock Coyle Era? That may end up going down as one of the dumbest moves in the NFL this season, but we’ll have to see how the next few weeks play out.
Today, the 49ers are down to 9 linebackers; one is a rookie who plays with the power of a million exploding suns, another is a seasoned veteran with over 100 quarterback sacks on his resume. The remaining linebackers are on the 49ers' roster because the team is desperate. That’s why defensive coordinator Robert Saleh has been forced to play safety Eric Reid at linebacker.
This Sunday, the team cannot afford a linebacker to suffer an injury that sidelines him for the game. Foster is the only real talent at the position, and if the rib or hip injury limits his snap count, the Eagles are going to dissect the 49ers' defense.
Defensive Line vs. Consistency
Against Dallas, the 49ers’ defense had three tackles for a total loss of four yards and did not register a sack of quarterback Dak Prescott, which rubs a bit of Himalayan pink salt in the wound.
Not all that is the fault of the defensive line, but throughout the season, the front four has been the anchor of the unit.
Dallas’ offensive line dominated the 49ers’ front, except for defensive lineman DeForest Buckner. Rookie defensive lineman Solomon Thomas registered one tackle against Dallas, which was his worst showing in the last few weeks. Another rookie, D.J. Jones, had a solid game and finished with four tackles.
However, the 49ers cannot continue to rely on Buckner to do the work of four men. When he’s double-teamed, another player needs to take advantage and make a big stop or a sack. A more consistent line is going to help the hurting linebacker unit and the weak secondary.
The 49ers vs. The 49ers
A few 49ers’ beat reporters noted some of the team’s frustration was boiling over on the sidelines, leading to thrown helmets and heated discussions. At this point in the season, without a win and then melting down against Dallas, a team implosion was waiting to happen.
The 49ers are going to face quarterback Carson Wentz, who received an 86.5 grade from Pro Football Focus this week. Wentz’s play made 49ers' fans long for someone who could operate from a pocket and sling the ball downfield. In fact, Wentz had a 151.5 quarterback rating from the pocket on Monday night.
On the other side of the ball, the 49ers’ offense has had the consistency of a 1967 Mustang in cold weather. They take at least a quarter or more to warm up and then sputter down the field with limited success. They haven’t put together consistent drives that chew clock and tack points on the board.
These are flammable factors that will explode if provided enough heat. The team needs to stay focused on what they can do to win the game. They cannot afford emotional outbursts if things get out of hand, or if Wentz completes a deep ball on Robinson for a score.
What matchups do you plan to keep an eye on on Sunday? Let us know on twitter and stay tuned to 49ersHUB for more great content!