You never know what’s going to happen in the NFL, but the Eagles don’t seem to match up well at all against the San Francisco 49ers.
Add to that a cross-country flight, a mountain of injuries, and Carson Wentz’s continued struggles, and The Inquirer Eagles beat writers aren’t high on the Birds’ chances.
There are all sorts of things you can analyze about this matchup, you can talk about the Eagles' desperation and all the injuries affecting both teams, but to me, it comes down to the 49ers getting their All-Pro tight end back this week, and the Eagles trying to cover him with the likes of Nate Gerry.
I don’t see that as a real good matchup for the Birds.
Then there is the way the 49ers offense is a lot like the Rams unit that embarrassed the Eagles two weeks back — misdirection, wide receivers that play like running backs. The Rams probably have a better offensive line, maybe San Francisco won’t score 37 points. But with Carson Wentz playing like a scattershot rookie, throwing to a Greg Ward-led wideout corps, the 49ers almost certainly won’t need 37.
Is there a way the Eagles can come up with their first victory of the season this week, before playing the Steelers and the Ravens? Sure, there’s almost always a way. San Francisco was in the Super Bowl last year, that doesn’t mean the 49ers are that same team this year. Eagles fans ought to remember how that works, from 2018. The 49ers opened this season by losing to the Cardinals, then they beat up on the Jets and the Giants. Yeah, they overcame a massive injury list last week, but they weren’t exactly playing the Chiefs.
I’m pretty sure the 49ers, even without Nick Bosa, Dee Ford, Jimmy Garoppolo and a bunch of other guys,, are better than the Washington Football Team or the Bengals, though, and the Eagles have gone 0-1-1 against those guys, so I’m not predicting an upset in Santa Clara.
Prediction: 49ers 26, Eagles 16
For the third week in a row, the Eagles are going to have to deal with an offensive scheme built around pre-snap motion and backfield misdirection. The Birds' linebacking corps has struggled with it to this point, and the 49ers use pre-snap motion more than anyone and arguably do it the best.
49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan is one of the best offensive minds in the NFL. I’d bet he watched the Eagles linebackers frenetically searching for ballcarriers and receivers against the Rams with great excitement. Expect him to test the Eagles' weakest group relentlessly.
Sure, the 49ers are banged up on both sides of the ball, but they still have weapons. George Kittle, one of the best tight ends in the NFL, is expect to play. Brandon Aiyuk, the team’s first-round wide receiver, just had a solid outing and the team’s offensive line is mostly intact. Albeit against the New York Giants, the 49ers offense was still explosive last week, which can’t be said about the Eagles' offense at any point this year.
As has been the case most of the season, Carson Wentz could prove all of this irrelevant if he snaps out of what can only be described as a slump at this point. The Eagles have given him opportunities with players open down the field, but his accuracy and decision-making this season have been alarmingly bad. If he starts hitting on those shots, as he insists he will soon, the Eagles offensive outlook changes completely. I’m just reluctant to continue predicting when that progression to the mean will take place.
If Wentz isn’t his old self this week, the Eagles would do well to lean on Miles Sanders. Only one problem: He’s back on the injury report with a glute issue, which is a bit concerning considering he missed most of training camp and Week 1 with a hamstring injury and struggled with conditioning once he returned. There’s a chance he’s not in line for the workload of a featured back in this game.
The Eagles defensive line was dominant against the Bengals last Sunday. The Bengals offensive front is terrible, but eight sacks is still eight sacks, it was the type of game that could set the highly paid group up for a string of solid games. I’m just too suspicious of the Birds' linebacking corps holding up against another offensive scheme to exploit them.
Prediction: 49ers 31, Eagles 21
Both the Eagles and 49ers have been hit hard by injuries. But the Niners seem to be a little bit more resilient than the lads from Philadelphia.
San Francisco has been missing two of their top defensive linemen and a laundry list of cornerbacks and yet have only given up 46 points in their first three games. OK, OK, it’s helped that 2 of their first 3 opponents have been the 0-3 Giants and the 0-4 Jets. But still.
And they’ve put up 67 points in the last two games with a backup quarterback (Nick Mullens) and without their best running back (Raheem Mostert) and All-Pro tight end (George Kittle).
But they’ll be getting Kittle back this week, which is bad news for an Eagles defense that already has given up four touchdown passes to tight ends.
Kyle Shanahan’s offense is going to give the Eagles a lot of pre-snap eye candy — motion, shifts, et al. Jim Schwartz’s back seven needs to communicate and be where they’re supposed to be, which has been a problem early on.
More than anything, the Eagles need Carson Wentz to come out of his funk, which could be a problem given the Eagles' injury woes at wide receiver, and they need to win the turnover battle, which is something they haven’t done in any of their first three games.
Amazingly, a win could put them in first place in the NFC East. But I just don’t see it happening.
Prediction: 49ers 31, Eagles 20
The 49ers' run scheme is one of, if not the, best in the NFL. They have good backs and a good offensive line, but it’s Kyle Shanahan’s designs that create so many running lanes. San Fran has its share of eye candy at the snap — motions and play actions that are meant to distract defenders — but I think it’s the 49ers’ zone blocking schemes that make the whole thing go. The Eagles will need to be disciplined, of course. The Rams took full advantage of the linebackers and safeties with misdirection. Jim Schwartz will likely go with a more complex plan to narrow the focus for his players. The more simple one, he said, actually complicated assignments two weeks ago.
I think the ends will do a better job of containing the edges, but I still worry about the Nate Gerrys of the defense. George Kittle is healthy and will be a handful, but I don’t foresee Schwartz having Gerry on him much, as least in man coverage. The Eagles have been more of a man-coverage defense, partly because of Darius Slay, and that has allowed offenses to attack them more in the middle of the field where they are weak. Schwartz may just need to play more zone. The 49ers don’t exactly have a receiver that warrants Slay following his every move with Deebo Samuel out. Maybe Slay could trail Kittle, but I’d be worried about the physical matchup.
The 49ers have overcome a rash of injuries to win their last two games, albeit vs. the lowly New York teams. But they did so in convincing fashion. Quarterback Nick Mullens isn’t really that much of a downgrade from Jimmy Garoppolo. Shanahan seems to be able to plug any tailback into his scheme and be productive. Nick Bosa is done for the season, but the 49ers may be deepest on their D-line. The Eagles, meanwhile, are nearly as injured and have looked it. They’ll be missing Dallas Goedert on offense, and could be without four of their receivers. That’s not exactly a recipe to get Carson Wentz back on track, although he played his best last season when the Eagles were severely shorthanded at the skill positions.
Nevertheless, I just don’t see a path to victory. I think the Eagles can keep it close through three quarters, but I like the 49ers to pull away in the last frame.