The Eagles (0-2-1) are traveling to San Francisco to face the 49ers (2-1) on Sunday Night Football.
Here are five matchups to watch:
49ers running backs vs. Eagles’ run defense
The 49ers would obviously like to run the ball. It’s a huge part of their offense and the Eagles know it. But Tevin Coleman is on IR and Raheem Mostert and now Jerick McKinnon are banged up.
No matter who the running back is, the 49ers are probably still going to run the ball. They are 10th in the NFL in rushing attempts this year, but were second in 2019 and their offense is based around the ability to run and use the play action.
“They stick to what they what they know,” Nate Gerry said. “If someone gets it stopped one time, they're going to come back and see if you can stop it again and I think that’s what makes them so good is that they're consistent with what they do. They run the same plays. They just keep hitting you with the same stuff, different formations, different personnel, but they stick to what they know what they're good at.”
After giving up 191 yards on the ground to the Rams, the Eagles’ rushing defense bounced back in a big way against the Bengals last week. They gave up just 48 yards on the ground. That’s the fewest yards the Eagles have given up on the ground since Week 1 last year. Jim Schwarz’s decision to play T.J. Edwards and Cre’Von LeBlanc and force Joe Mixon outside worked. We’ll see what his plan is this week.
49ers interior OL vs. Eagles’ defensive tackles
Despite playing with an oblique injury last week, Fletcher Cox ended up having a dominant performance in overtime. Malik Jackson and Javon Hargrave played well too. So this interior defensive line is starting to look as good as we all expected.
That’s good timing because if there’s one place the 49ers are susceptible on their line, it’s inside. Center Weston Richburg is still on PUP, which means Ben Garland is starting at center. They have Laken Tomlinson at left guard and Daniel Brunskill at right guard.
According to PFF, here’s where those three rank in the NFL at their respective positions:
- Garland: 18th
- Tomlinson: 39th
- Brunskill: 50th
So the Eagles will be hoping their impressive trio of defensive tackles can get after the quarterback on Sunday night.
George Kittle vs. Eagles defense
While the 49ers are really banged up, they are getting back one of their best players for Sunday night. After missing two games with a knee sprain, George Kittle is expected to play in Week 4.
This is just bad timing for the Eagles.
There’s no question that Kittle is one of the best — if not the best — tight ends in the NFL. His ability to be explosive as a receiver and blocker is what truly separates him. It’s why he’s the highest-paid tight end in NFL history.
So how the heck to the Eagles try to stop him?
“That’s a tough question because he gives you a lot of different things,” Jalen Mills said. “You see on film where he’s playing a finesse game and he’s catching the ball. And he see on film he’s playing a physical game and he’s catching the ball. You just got to pick and choose your battles with him. And I think the biggest thing is knowing where he is on the field. He’s their biggest threat when you’re talking about the pass game. Everybody knows that. So just kind of knowing where he is on the field — me being a safety, whether it’s a linebacker on him or a corner. You just got to know where he is when you play him.”
Mills alluded to the real question here: Who covers Kittle? Either way, it’s going to be a mismatch. The top options seem like either Mills or Gerry but I’d seriously consider putting Darius Slay on him.
Even if Deebo Samuel is back this week, Kittle is still the Niners best receiving threat. So I’d put Slay on him and try to minimize his impact.
Eagles tackles vs. 49ers edge rushers
Even without Nick Bosa and Dee Ford, the 49ers’ defensive ends are still very good and very different. Their starters right now are Arik Armstead (6-7, 292) and Kerry Hyder (6-2, 270). For the most part, Armstead stays on the left side of the line, which means he’ll see mostly Lane Johnson at right tackle. But Hyder plays on both sides, which means he’ll see some Johnson and some Peters.
Even though their styles are so different both of these edge rushers are tough and then you toss in Dion Jordan too. Though he’s started just one game, Hyder leads the team with two sacks and six QB hits. Armstead has just one sack in three games but he had double digits last year.
Carson Wentz vs. 49ers pass defense
Despite the injury to Richard Sherman, the 49ers boast the second-best pass defense in the NFL. They have given up just 187.3 yards per game through their first three games.
Meanwhile, Carson Wentz has struggled mightily through his first three games. He is statistically one of the worst quarterbacks in the NFL. To make matters worse, his group of skill position players entering the weekend is really weak. The Eagles are dealing with a ton of injuries at receiver and tight end.