10 things: Eagles vs. 49ers
Here are 10 things to know about the Eagles-49ers matchup after having watched San Francisco's Week 2 win against the Bengals:
1. Eli Manning averaged 11.0 yards per attempt the Eagles last week. I'd be surprised if Alex Smith comes anywhere close to that number on Sunday. On the season, Smith is averaging 6.8 yards per attempt (22nd), and his career average (6.2 YPA) is even worse. It's not an offense that is going to hit on a lot of big plays or throw the ball downfield. Smith has attempted only three passes (out of 74) that have traveled more than 20 yards from the line of scrimmage.
2. So will the Eagles blitz? They probably don't need to. Last week against the Giants, the Eagles blitzed about 26.9 percent of the time on passing plays. They got burned by Victor Cruz and Ahmad Bradshaw for touchdowns on two of those occasions. According to STATS.com, Smith has a QB rating of 143.1 against the blitz through three games. Meanwhile, he's been sacked a total of 11 times, fourth-most in the league. Last week, the Bengals sacked Smith five times and hit him a total of eight times. That tells me the Eagles will likely hold off on blitzing and rely on their front four. Ten of the Birds' 12 sacks on the season have come when they didn't blitz. The one exception could be Brian Rolle, who will get the start at weakside linebacker and has been called on to blitz quite a bit in the first three games when he's been on the field.
3. The 49ers' passing game starts and ends with tight end Vernon Davis. He had a great game in Week 2, catching eight balls on nine targets for 114 yards. On one play, Davis ran a wheel route, similar to the one Brandon Jacobs beat the Eagles with in Week 2. Davis got matched up with a safety and beat him for a 22-yard gain down the far sideline. On another play, he lined up out wide to the right side and beat safety Reggie Nelson for a 39-yard gain. Davis has four catches of 20+ yards through three games. He had 16 of them last year, tops among tight ends. According to Football Outsiders, Davis was the first tight end since 1978 to have 50+ catches and average at least 16 yards per reception last season. He leads the team in targets (17), catches (15) and receiving yards (179). No other 49ers player has more than 80 receiving yards on the season. We'll see if Nnamdi Asomugha is charged with covering him this week. Normally, I'd be against using Asomugha against a tight end because he's more valuable on a No. 1 receiver, but this week is an exception. Davis is a special player, and the 49ers don't have a lot of talent at receiver.
4. Frank Gore has yet to get going this year. He's averaging 2.5 yards per carry and has three runs of 10+ yards in 59 carries. Gore's longest run of the season has been a 16-yarder. He missed a blitz pickup that led to a sack last week and also lost a fumble. Gore has been suffering from an ankle injury, but Jim Harbaugh said he expects Gore to play. Behind him, though, the Niners have rookie Kendall Hunter, a running back the Eagles reportedly checked out before the draft. Hunter has just 30 yards on 11 carries on the season, but he had a nice 7-yard touchdown run last week. He also had a pair of catches for 12 yards. According to Football Outsiders, no team threw to the running back more than the Niners last year, so Rolle will be tested in coverage right away.
5. Right guard Chilo Rachal had a rough go last week and was pulled at one point. It's unclear whether he or Adam Snyder will start on Sunday. Rachal and right tackle Anthony Davis gave up a sack in the first quarter against Cincinnati. Rachal got beat badly in the third as Smith escaped the pocket and threw the ball away. The offensive line was called for four false start penalties last week. Left tackle Joe Staley was beat for a sack. In 2010, according to Football Outsiders, Davis had 13 blown blocks that led to sacks or holding calls. That was the highest total in five years. Reading media coverage in San Francisco this week, it's clear that the offensive line is sick of being blamed for all of the 49ers' problems, but the matchup should favor Trent Cole, Jason Babin, Cullen Jenkins and the Eagles' defensive line.
6. The 49ers' defense has played well, but that's based on its performance against the Bengals and Seahawks in two of three games. Up front, Ray McDonald will go opposite Todd Herremans. McDonald has a pair of sacks on the season and was very active last week against the run and the pass. The 49ers also like to line up linebacker Ahmad Brooks on the left side with his hand on the ground. Brooks had five sacks last year and six in 2009.
7. Opponents are averaging just 2.9 yards per carry against the Niners this year. That's the best mark in the NFL. They are one of three teams that has not allowed a run of 20+ yards through three games. San Francisco lines up 330-pound Isaac Sopoaga at nose tackle. Don't be surprised if you see him on offense also. The 49ers will line up Sopoaga at fullback in short yardage.
8. You will see good linebacker play this week, even if it's not on the Eagles' side of the ball. The 49ers have one of the league's best in Patrick Willis. But Willis isn't even their leading tackler this year. That distinction goes to 2010 third-round pick and former Nittany Lion Navorro Bowman, who was all over the place last week with 13 tackles (8 solo) and a quarterback hit.
9. Opposing quarterbacks have a QB rating of 75.2 against the Niners, but again, keep in mind that two of those QBs have been Tarvaris Jackson and Andy Dalton, who has looked good at times, but is still a rookie. San Francisco added cornerback Carlos Rogers in the offseason, a player Eagles fans are familiar with from this time with the Redskins. Rogers played well last week, as did right cornerback Tarell Brown.
10. And finally, how's Mr. Akers doing? He's 7-for-7 on field goal attempts, including a pair of 50-yarders. Nine of his 18 kickoffs have gone for touchbacks, which ranks tied for 15th. Ted Ginn, meanwhile has a pair of return touchdowns - one on a punt and one on a kickoff. He has three punt returns of 20+ yards, tied for most in the league.
Extra Point: One area to keep an eye on is the red zone. Eagles opponents have scored touchdowns on six of seven red zone trips. That's 85.7 percent of the time, dead-last in the league and worse than last year's historically bad mark of 78.26 percent. The 49ers, meanwhile, have allowed touchdowns just 28.57 percent of the time, tied for tops in the NFL.