Eagles

5 key matchups Eagles need to win to beat 49ers

5 key matchups Eagles need to win to beat 49ers

We'll get to see just how focused this Eagles team is on Sunday. 

It can be hard to get up for games like this. The Eagles head into Sunday's game at the Linc with the best record in football at 6-1 and they'll face a team that is 0-7. The Eagles opened up as huge favorites (12.5 to 14 points). 

On Thursday, Carson Wentz said the 49ers don't look like an 0-7 team when looking at the film. It just depends on which games you watch. Five of the 49ers' seven losses have come by three or fewer points. The other two have been 20- and 30-point losses. That includes a 40-10 loss to the Cowboys last week. 

Here are five important matchups for the Eagles on Sunday: 

Carlos Hyde vs. Eagles' run D
Through seven games, Hyde is eighth in the NFL with 428 yards on 100 carries (an average of 4.3 yards per attempt). He has also caught 27 passes for 162 yards. But his ability in the run game is what the Eagles have to be ready for. 

The Eagles have been incredible as a run-stuffing unit this season. They've allowed just 67 rushing yards per game, the lowest average in the NFL. But they'll have to stop Hyde without their middle linebacker after Jordan Hicks was lost for the season to a torn Achilles. The last time the Eagles faced a really good running back was against the Chiefs when Kareem Hunt went for 81 yards and two scores in September.

RT Trent Brown vs. DE Brandon Graham 
With four sacks, Graham has been the Eagles' best pass rusher and he's been even better than that number suggests. Graham has, at times this season, been a complete game-wrecker. 

Brown, a seventh-rounder in 2015, isn't bad. He's started every game this season and has given up just one sack. But he's a middle-of-the-road type player who might have trouble with Graham, who is built like a bowling ball. Brown is around 6-8/6-9 and 350 to 360 pounds. If he gets his hands on Graham, he'll be able to handle him. If he can't, Graham could have a big day. 

Big V vs. DE Solomon Thomas 
All eyes are going to be on Halapoulivaati Vaitai as he makes his first career start at left tackle. This will be the first time in Wentz's career he won't have Jason Peters protecting his blindside. 

Vaitai actually played pretty well after coming into Monday's game against Washington and there are some good reasons for letting him play left tackle instead of moving Lane Johnson (see story). He'll have a good test on Sunday against Thomas, the third overall pick in the spring out of Stanford. He has two sacks and 24 tackles so far this year. 

WR Pierre Garcon​ vs. CB Jalen Mills
The Eagles will get to say hello to an old enemy this Sunday. Garcon​ was a tough matchup for the Eagles during his years in Washington. Now, he's on a bad team but still having a good year. He leads the 49ers with 38 catches for 483 yards. He's a physical matchup, so that seems to fit the way Mills plays. 

How good has Garcon​ been against the Eagles? Well, he's been better against the Birds than just about any other team. In 11 games against the Eagles, he has 65 catches for 711 yards and four touchdowns. The last eight times he's faced the Eagles, he's averaged five catches for 60 yards.

QB C.J. Beathard vs. Jim Schwartz 
This week on a conference call with Philly reporters, 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan was asked how defenses attack a rookie quarterback like Beathard. He said some teams like to blitz and bring pressure to fluster a young quarterback, while others like to sit back and wait for the rookie to make mistakes. So it'll be up to Schwartz to see how he wants to handle this. 

Beathard took the job from Brian Hoyer two weeks ago during the Washington game. The rookie has completed 55 percent of his passes for 480 yards, one touchdown and one interception in two weeks. The third-rounder from Iowa has some talent, but Schwartz has to be pretty excited to get a crack at a rookie with just one start under his belt. 

Eagles Stay or Go — The Joneses

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AP/USA Today Images

Eagles Stay or Go — The Joneses

Reuben Frank and Dave Zangaro continue our series examining the future of the world champion Eagles.

Donnie Jones
Roob: Jones turns 38 before camp starts and goes into his 15th NFL season out of LSU next year. Jones, who hasn't missed a game since 2004, is as reliable as ever. Including the postseason, he had 26 punts inside the 20-yard line and just six touchbacks. In five years here, he's established himself as the greatest punter in Eagles history. His 45.3 average and 40.6 this past year were very good. They'll drag a guy in to compete, but Jones is still terrific.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: Jones is 37 now but he's a punter and he doesn't show any signs of slowing down. Before the 2016 season, Jones said he wasn't interested in retiring any time soon and there doesn't seem to be much of a reason to stop yet. He had another good season in 2017. Of course, the Eagles proved that no one is immune from the business of the NFL when they decided to go with Rick Lovato over Jon Dorenbos in 2017, but Jones is still a really good punter. During Super Bowl week, Jones got a kick out of hearing he was the only Eagles player who was able to have a legal drink when Tom Brady won his first Super Bowl. Jones joked that's probably what he was doing. 

Verdict: STAYS

Sidney Jones
Roob: 
It'll be fun to see what Jones can do with a full healthy offseason and training camp. Along with Jalen Mills, Rasul Douglas and Ronald Darby, he's a big part of the most talented young stable of cornerbacks the Eagles have ever had. Where does everybody fit in next year? We'll see. But I expect Jones to be here and playing at a high level for years to come.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: It was probably a pretty good thing for the young corner to get some experience toward the end of his rookie season. Fans should be excited about Jones if he really is back to being the player he was before his injury. Because before he tore his Achilles at the Washington pro day, Jones might have been the very best cornerback in a deep cornerback draft. The Eagles have a little logjam at the cornerback position; what a great problem to have. 

Verdict: STAYS

Eagles Stay or Go —2 big contracts and a fringe player

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USA Today/AP Images

Eagles Stay or Go —2 big contracts and a fringe player

Reuben Frank and Dave Zangaro continue our series examining the future of the world champion Eagles.

Tim Jernigan
Roob:
 Jernigan had a very good first half, an OK second half of the season and really didn't do a lot in the postseason, and there's no doubt the Eagles would like to see him maintain his level of consistency throughout the season. But he's certainly not going anywhere, not with $11 million in dead money vs. a $5 million cap hit. Jernigan's talent is undeniable. He just needs to find a way to keep it going through the year.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: I was a little surprised about how little Jernigan played in 2017. He played just 48 percent of the Eagles' snaps and in the playoffs, he played about as much as Beau Allen. Now, I know Jernigan dealt with an ankle injury throughout most of the year, so maybe that played a role. But for a guy who signed a four-year extension worth $48 million during the year, I really didn't see enough. He started off the season really strong, but then seemed to level off some. Maybe the ankle had something to do with that. In any case, he's now signed through 2021. The Eagles need more out of him. 

Verdict: STAYS

Lane Johnson 
Roob:
 We finally saw what Lane Johnson could do with a full season, and it was impressive. Johnson was named first-team All-Pro and made his first Pro Bowl team, and he deserved all of it. Johnson, suspended two of the last three seasons for testing positive for banned substances, was a beast at right tackle. He's not going anywhere for a long time.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: That was the season we've all been waiting for from Johnson. He was a dominant right tackle in 2017 and finally made it to his first Pro Bowl roster. He deserved it. For a long time, there's been a stigma about playing right tackle and that makes sense on its face. Protecting the quarterback's blindside has historically been more important, but defenses have adjusted. That's why guys like Von Miller, DeMarcus Lawrence, Justin Houston and Joey Bosa generally rush against right tackles. Johnson shut down those guys and more last season. It's a big reason why the Eagles didn't move him to left tackle when Jason Peters went down. That was the right call. 

Verdict: STAYS

Marcus Johnson
Roob: Johnson stuck on the active roster all year and got into 10 games, catching five passes for 45 yards. But wide receiver depth is certainly one area the Eagles will try to upgrade this offseason. Johnson will get a long look with the other young receivers in camp, but he faces an uphill battle. He's got good speed, size and athleticism, but can he put it all together and catch the ball consistently enough to stick around another year? We'll see.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: The young wide receiver had a great spring and summer a year ago to earn his spot on the roster. He really worked his tail off to get better and the Eagles rewarded him with a roster spot. From there, he carved out a role on offense. He was the Eagles' receiver in their 13 personnel (three tight ends) package for much of the early season. But then in late November, Johnson lost his active spot to Shelton Gibson, who didn't play as big a role on offense but was a better special teamer. That was a shock to Johnson at the time. He'll have a shot to make the roster this year, but losing his job on Sundays in 2017 isn't a good sign. 

Verdict: GOES