Six X-Factors That Will Help 49ers Win Against Philly
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After an impressive outing in Week 1 against the Atlanta Falcons, the Eagles will host the 49ers in Philadelphia.
Already dealing with significant injuries, San Francisco stayed on the East Coast to better prepare against an opponent that was deemed an easy road trip win before the season began, but that now looks like a colossal challenge.
With a revived offense and a top-tier defensive line that refuses to age, Philadelphia is set to give the 49ers some trouble in a hostile environment.
Below we look at six considerable X factors ahead of Sunday’s game:
1. 49ers Offensive Line
The Eagles are built to win in the trenches. Philadelphia has spent a high amount of first draft picks to bolster the defensive line over the years and it has paid off. More impressive that their play itself, it’s the continuity and longevity of now-veteran players, that continue to produce at a very high level.
Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, Josh Sweat and Derek Barnett are dominant players and they showed it last week, dominating and confusing a young and inexperienced Falcons offensive line on their way to an impressive 32-6 rout in Atlanta.
This vaunted group limited Matt Ryan and his weapons to just 136 passing yards and 124 rushing yards. No turnovers needed.
One of the most interesting fits of Jonathan Gannon’s defense is that they will give their opponents different looks during the game.
The defense will interchange between 3-4 and a 4-3 base sets depending on situational downs. This technique allowed them to throw various combinations and helped confuse the Falcons’ offensive line.
The result? Philadelphia was able to crush the Falcons on third down, limiting them to an abysmal 21.4 percent conversion rate.
Chris Foerster’s unit performed well against a lesser opponent in the Lions in Week 1, but the 49ers’ offensive line will have to step up its game to match the physicality the Eagles showed in their season opener.
Thankfully, San Francisco will be able to rely on the experience and expertise of Trent Williams, Laken Tomlinson, Alex Mack, Aaron Donald’s dad, Daniel Brunskill; and Mike McGlinchey. The 49ers will likely need to pass for more than 136 yards to secure the victory and it all starts with the big boys up front and their ability to contain the damage from the Eagles’ defensive linemen.
2. Trey Lance
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With the increased difficulty of this week’s game, it remains to be seen how often Trey Lance will be used in sub-packages. Where Lance might be more relied upon this week, however, will be at practice.
Despite playing in a division with two of the most elusive quarterbacks in the league in Russell Wilson and Kyler Murray, San Francisco’s defense is still learning to find ways to deal with its Kryptonite (as is most of the league).
During Kyle Shanahan’s tenure the 49ers had always been lacking a mobile QB to help the defense get valuable reps against the scout team. Trey Lance finally gives them a better chance to prepare.
Nick Bosa said that unlike Murray, Hurts doesn’t look to run. Very efficient last week, albeit against the Falcons’ 31st-ranked defense in 2020, Hurts looked as comfortable as ever, completing 77 percent of his passes for 264 yards and three touchdowns, and rushing for 62 yards.
Expect the Eagles to move Hurts around with bootlegs, rollouts, read-option and designed runs to neutralize San Francisco’s pass rush. The 49ers will need to be prepared against all possible looks, an area where Trey Lance should be able to help.
3. Deommodore Lenoir
With Verrett out for the year and Moseley questionable, the hopes of the secondary rest on the shoulders of Los Angeles native Deommodore Lenoir, who has showed great things since he was drafted in the fifth round this year.
The rookie cornerback fared well against the Lions in his first NFL game, albeit against mostly inexperienced wide receivers. The Eagles will be a different animal (literally).
Devonta Smith is as slippery as they come, Jalen Reagor is starting to figure this pro football thing out and Philadelphia can also rely on their tight ends, Dallas Goedert, Zach Ertz, and the speed of Myles Sanders coming out of the backfield.
K’Waun Williams has fully practiced this week and is expected lock into his shutdown slot cornerback role. It remains to be seen who will start opposite Lenoir, but the rookie will essentially start Sunday’s game as CB1.
Philadelphia will undoubtably test the Oregon alumni throughout the game and another strong performance will be needed for the 49ers to come out on top.
4. Azeez Al-Shaair
Azeez Al-Shaair was all over the field in Detroit. After a strong season last year, the third-year linebacker continues to show prowess against both the run and the pass on his way to becoming a reliable starter.
Against the Lions, Al-Shaair showed great speed in coverage, instinctive reactions in pursuit of the ball carrier and hard-hitting tackling. With Dre Greenlaw sidelined for at least six to eight weeks, Al-Shaair’s emergence could not have come at a better time.
Covering Goedert and Ertz inside while having to account for the speed of Sanders on the outside and containing Hurts’ scramble plays will challenge San Francisco’s linebackers to remain disciplined and react quickly in pursuit.
San Francisco will need Al-Shaair to continue his good form on Sunday.
5. George Kittle
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George Kittle had, by his standards, a pedestrian game on Sunday. The tight end hauled in four catches for 78 yards and spent most of the game blocking on running plays and on several passing plays.
Kittle is recognized as one of – if not the – best blocking tight end in the NFL and is a key contributor to San Francisco’s highly efficient running game. Against the Eagles, we should expect Shanahan to unleash the All Pro in the passing game to exploit the Philadelphia linebackers’ coverage deficiencies.
Obviously, most teams would be shooting themselves in the foot if they assigned Kittle-coverage duties to a linebacker (not everyone has a Fred Warner), but Philadelphia will be missing their starting strong safety in Rodney McLeod and free safety Anthony Harris has yet to settle in his new role coming off three good seasons with the Vikings.
With good playmakers at cornerback to cover San Francisco’s receivers, Kittle should be relieved from his heavy blocking workload to find soft spots in the Eagles’ secondary.
6. DeMeco Ryans
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After a difficult first quarter in Detroit, the 49ers’ defense settled down and found a rhythm reminiscent of its glorious 2019 form. San Francisco stifled the Lions and looked like it had put the game away from contention going into the fourth quarter.
An emotional season-ending injury to Jason Verrett made the team take their foot off the gas pedal and leave enough room for the Lions to make it a one-possession game in the 2-minute drill before the end of the game.
San Francisco was able to escape what would have likely been the most polarizing story of Week 1 but ended up giving up 430 total yards and 33 points to a Lions offense that is still trying to figure things out under a new regime.
Despite the injuries suffered last week, the 49ers should be able to count on Javon Kinlaw and potentially Emmanuel Moseley to reprise their roles on the defensive line and secondary respectively.
The pressure is now on DeMeco Ryans, a former Eagles player, to show the kind of defense he intended on building upon taking over as San Francisco’s defensive coordinator during the offseason. At the top of his list will be scheming the secondary to hide potential flaws and inexperience, while fixing a middle of the defense that allowed significant running lanes to the Lions last week.
By all accounts, the 49ers’ defense will be looking to bounce back against a more lethal opponent on the road and show that the Lions game was just a small bug in the Matrix.
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