Eagles

Eagles-49ers thoughts: A loss to winless Niners would be crushing

Eagles-49ers thoughts: A loss to winless Niners would be crushing

Eagles-49ers
1 p.m. on FOX
Eagles favored by 13.5

The Eagles look to increase their NFL-best winning streak to six games against a winless 49ers squad at Lincoln Financial Field in Week 8.

Even when the schedule came out in April, before anybody realized how good the Eagles are, this looked like a lopsided matchup. Not only are the 49ers 0-7 in 2017, but they’re 2-21 dating back to last season. This is a franchise that’s still very much in the early stages of a full-on rebuild.

Don’t expect the Eagles to show any sympathy Sunday, either. At 6-1, this team isn’t just trying to win the division or sneak into the playoffs. They’re gunning for a bye and home-field advantage in the playoffs. The 49ers are just the latest opponent standing in the way.

Which team shows up?
For a while there, the 49ers looked like one of the tougher winless teams in recent memory. They had become the first team in NFL history to lose five consecutive games by three points or less, two of those going to overtime.

Then the Cowboys came to town. Dallas smoked the 49ers last week by a final score of 40-10 in an outcome that never appeared to be in much doubt from the opening snap.

The 49ers absolutely have more talent than their record would indicate. They’ve given the likes of the Seahawks and the Rams problems this season and could be motivated to play the role of spoiler at the Linc.

Or the 49ers could get blown out, as has happened on two occasions this season as well. It’s hard to say which version will show up.

Man on Fire
It doesn’t help the 49ers any that they are running into one of the hottest players in the NFL Sunday. Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz has been spectacular all season long, but over the course of the last three weeks, the 24-year-old has been playing the best football of his brief pro career.

In the Eagles’ last three games, Wentz is completing 54 of 85 pass attempts (63.5 percent) for 794 yards (9.3 average) with 11 touchdowns to only one interception. That’s good for a 128.6 passer rating, and he has an additional 99 yards rushing, too.

Wentz is playing like one of the top five or certainly top 10 quarterbacks in the entire league right now. He’s connecting with his receivers down the field, converting in the red zone and on third and fourth downs, using his legs when necessary and keeping turnovers to a minimum.

It’s difficult to imagine the 49ers’ 28th-ranked defense slowing Wentz down right now.

Ball control is key
What’s making the Eagles so difficult to beat this season? Well, a lot of things, actually. But right at the top of the list is a masterful ability to move the sticks and possess the football.

The Eagles’ offense ranks among the top five in the NFL in both rushing and passing, though by now everybody knows pure yardage totals can be deceiving. However, numbers can also measure this team’s expertise in ball control.

Second in average time of possession at 33 minutes and 43 seconds. First in third-down conversions at 50.5 percent, and tied for second on fourth downs at 80.0 percent. Third in the red zone, crossing the goal line for a touchdown 65.2 percent of the time. And tied for sixth with a plus-four turnover differential, showing not only the offense’s ability to take care of the football but the defense’s ability to take it away.

Not surprisingly, with 53 net points for the seasons, the Eagles are second in that category as well. They’re not just winning — they’re winning in convincing fashion.

As long as the Eagles continue to take care of the football Sunday, the 49ers shouldn’t stand a chance.

Key matchup: Eagles D-line vs. 49ers O-line
49ers quarterback C.J. Beathard is making the second start of his NFL career. A third-round draft pick out of Iowa, Beathard is showing a propensity for holding on to the football too long in limited action. And if he does the same against the Eagles, he should be in for a long day.

Aside from Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Staley, the 49ers’ offensive line is a bit of a mess. Right tackle Trent Brown is likely out with a concussion, while right guard is questionable as well with a biceps injury. Left guard Laken Tomlinson and center Daniel Kilgore simply aren’t very good.

The Cowboys were able to sack Beathard five times last week, forcing two fumbles. The opportunities will be there for an Eagles front against a patchwork O-line, and a young quarterback who will be hesitant to pull the trigger. Dominate the 49ers up front, and everything will go according to plan.

They can’t lose
This is definitely a game where an Eagles loss would be far more significant than an Eagles win.

An Eagles win is expected, and would almost be taken for granted. The 49ers are a vastly inferior team, and nothing more than a speedbump on the path to the playoffs.

An Eagles loss, on the other hand, would feel devastating. It would raise nothing but questions. Is this squad as good as we thought? Are injuries beginning to take their toll? Are they still shoe-ins to win the NFC East and reach the postseason? The narrative will be complete panic.

So you see, the Eagles have to win. Not just because of how it will impact them in the standings. They need to win for the public safety of the fans, who are going to lose their minds otherwise.

Doug Pederson's preseason comparison doesn't look so ridiculous now

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USA Today Images

Doug Pederson's preseason comparison doesn't look so ridiculous now

When Doug Pederson said back in July that the 2017 Eagles "probably have more talent" than the Super Bowl Packers teams of the 1990s that Pederson played on, more than a few eyebrows were raised.

Millions of eyebrows maybe.
 
The Eagles? Who hadn't won a playoff game since 2008 and were coming off a 7-9 record in Pederson's first season?
 
More talented than a team that went to the playoffs virtually every year from the early 1990s through the mid-2000s behind Hall of Famers Brett Favre and Reggie White and reached back-to-back Super Bowls in 1996 and 1997, winning one?
 
"I look back on my time in Green Bay as a player when we were making those playoff runs, those Super Bowl runs there," Pederson said on July 17.
 
"And do we have as much talent on this team than we did then? We probably have more talent, right?"
 
Seriously, Doug?
 
Six months later, Pederson's comments — which seemed so ridiculous at the time — don't seem so ridiculous, do they?
 
Because here are those 2017 Eagles, sitting 13-3 with a playoff win over the Falcons in the books and a berth Sunday in the NFC Championship Game against the Vikings despite a rash of injuries to some of their best players.
 
The Eagles haven't lost a game with postseason implications since Carson Wentz was lost for the season, and they're one home win from reaching their third Super Bowl.
 
Pederson, who had two stints backing up Brett Favre with the Packers — from 1996 through 1998 and 2001 through 2004 — was reminded of his comments Friday before practice.
 
"I don't have a crystal ball, obviously, and it's hard to predict," he said. "You'd love to sit here and go, 'Yeah, in the summer, (I thought we were) going to be 13-3 and win the NFC East.' You'd love to be in that situation, or 16-0, or whatever it might be.
 
"I did have a feeling back then when I made that statement that we could be, we had the potential to be a good football team because of the way we've practiced and the talent that we brought to the roster and the progression of Carson in his second year.
 
"And then defensively, the front, the way they performed, and the back end, I saw a lot of the same similarities. So you just have that gut feeling when I made that statement."
 
Back in July, when Pederson made those comments comparing the Eagles to the Packers, he tempered them by saying talent isn't always enough. It takes much more for a team to have success.
 
"I (said) it takes great coaching, teaching, mentoring to also have our guys prepared each week to be in this position," Pederson said. "So all of that has kind of culminated. I think you look back on it and you go, 'Wow, maybe it was a true type of thing.'
 
"But we just keep doing our jobs, keep doing what we've been coached to do. Players play what they can do and what's in their control, and we're here today."

Only 1 Eagle questionable for Sunday

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NBC Sports Philadelphia

Only 1 Eagle questionable for Sunday

Veteran linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (hamstring) is the only Eagles player listed as questionable for this week's game. Everyone else on the 53-man roster is expected to be available. 

Ellerbe, 32, missed practice on Wednesday and was limited on Thursday and Friday. 

The Eagles' starting MIKE linebacker was also listed as questionable last week and was able to play, so expect him to be good to go. After all, this is the NFC Championship Game. There's no resting for anything else. 

In Minnesota, wide receiver Adam Thielen (lower back) and safety Andrew Sendejo (concussion) are both listed as questionable. 

Thielen, the Vikings' top receiver, missed Wednesday's practice and was limited on Thursday and Friday. Just like Ellerbe, there's no saving him for next week. 

Sendejo was limited on Wednesday and Thursday, was a full participant on Friday, but is still technically in the NFL's concussion protocol. He'll need to clear that before he's able to play, but Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer said he's optimistic Sendejo will be able to play. 

Meanwhile, third defensive tackle, Shamar Stephen (knee/ankle), missed practice all week and has been ruled out. While Stephen isn't a starter, he played just under 40 percent of the Vikings' snaps this season, so missing him is still a loss.

After practicing indoors on Wednesday and Thursday, the Eagles loaded up on buses and spent their Friday practice outside at Lincoln Financial Field. Head coach Doug Pederson likes to get his guys outside for at least one day per week. 

The Eagles will have a walkthrough on Saturday before they'll be back at the Linc for Sunday's 6:40 p.m. kickoff in the NFC Championship Game.