Game breakdown: 49ers vs. Eagles

Taking a look inside Sunday's game between the 49ers and NFC East-leading Philadelphia Eagles and Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. **NOTE** The game has been changed to a 4:15 p.m. ET kickoff due to the massive snowstorm to hit the East Coast.

KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:15 p.m. ET
SITE: Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia
RECORDS: 49ers 6-7, Eagles 9-4
TV: FOX (Dick Stockton, Charles Davis, Laura Okmin)

KEYS TO THE GAME: 49ers TE Vernon Davis is of particular concern to the Eagles. He's QB Alex Smith's favorite target over the middle, and opposing tight ends have caught a combined 70 passes in Philadelphia's past 10 games. San Francisco featured more of RB Frank Gore on Monday night, and the result was far improved play overall from the offensive line. The Eagles have a quick-strike offense, but they have to be wary of the 49ers' improving pass rush after San Francisco relentlessly battered Kurt Warner. It's imperative for the Eagles to utilize RBs LeSean McCoy and Leonard Weaver on the ground and in the short passing game to avoid cosntant third-and-longs.

FAST FACTS: Smith is the first 49er to throw multiple touchdowns in four consecutive games since Jeff Garcia in 2003. ... Weaver is averaging 6.8 yards per touch over the past seven games.



--- LB Patrick Willis is making a case for NFL Defensive Player of the Year with an impressive all-around season. Willis leads the 49ers with 147 tackles, according to the coaches' film review. He has 13 tackles for loss and four sacks to go along with two interceptions and three forced fumbles.

--- LT Joe Staley is expected to return to action Sunday after missing the past six starts because of a knee injury. Barry Sims has played well since taking over for Staley on the first series of the 49ers' Nov. 1 loss to the Indianapolis Colts.

--- QB Alex Smith appears to be getting closer to winning the team's starting job for next season. "I think he will continue to improve as he gets more familiar with playing the game itself within the constraints of the offense," 49ers offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye said. "I would think, for this organization, that he would be their quarterback in 2010, yes."

--- TE Delanie Walker, who has gotten more action in recent games, did not practice Thursday because of an ankle injury. Walker has 13 catches for 163 yards this season, but has only been featured in recent games as the 49ers have gone with more two-TE sets.

--- RB Frank Gore, coming off a 167-yard performance against the Arizona Cardinals, returned to full practice after reporting a toe injury. He should be fine for Sunday's game.


--- WR Kevin Curtis was a full participant in practice for the second straight day and probably will see his first action Sunday since Week 2. He has been out with a knee injury.

--- WR Jeremy Maclin, who has a partially torn plantar fascia in his foot, didn't practice Thursday and isn't expected to play Sunday against the 49ers.

--- RB Brian Westbrook, who has missed six of the last seven games after suffering two concussions, practiced on a limited basis Thursday but isn't expected to play Sunday against the 49ers.

--- TE Brent Celek practiced on a limited basis Thursday after missing Wednesday's practice with back soreness. He played through it last week and probably will attempt to do the same on Sunday.

--- LB Akeem Jordan likely will rotate at middle linebacker with Jeremiah Trotter again on Sunday. Jordan missed four games with a hyperextended knee before returning last week. Once his knee is close to 100 percent, he'll likely return to his regular weak-side linebacker spot.



The 49ers have reason to feel good about how young defensive players Ahmad Brooks and Dashon Goldson are improving late in the season.

Brooks has risen recently to become one of the team's top pass rushers, while Goldson has shown tremendous improvement over the past month of the season.

Brooks, who did not play a snap for the 49ers last season after being claimed off waivers from the Cincinnati Bengals, recorded three sacks Monday night against the Arizona Cardinals. He now has five sacks for the season.

"Patience is a virtue, and I've been very patient," Brooks said. "It's time to let the dog loose. It's time to get the cage open and show what I'm capable of doing.

"I've been here since last year and been doing everything the coaches ask me to do, and everything is paying off because I don't complain about it."

Goldson had the best game of his professional career on Monday, as he recorded two forced fumbles and an interception. He also pried the ball loose from Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald to prevent a long touchdown pass.

Goldson is second on the 49ers with 100 tackles. He has three interceptions, three forced fumbles, a fumble recovery and a sack on the season. And the 49ers feel good about his ability to affect change during the course of a game.

"He's got some range," 49ers defensive coordinator Greg Manusky said. "That's why we drafted him where we did. He did a good job making plays on the deep ball and coming up and filling (gaps) in the run game. He's had some good games the past couple weeks."


Wide receiver Kevin Curtis is expected to see his first game action in nearly three months Sunday when the Eagles host the 49ers.

Curtis, who caught 77 passes for the Eagles in '07 after signing with them as a free agent, missed seven games last season with a sports hernia and has been out since Week 2 this year with a knee injury. He had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee in late October.

He returned to practice on a limited basis two weeks ago but has been a full participant this week. With Jeremy Maclin expected to miss the game with a torn plantar fascia, Curtis likely will be activated. How much he'll play remains to be seen.

Reggie Brown and Jason Avant will rotate at the starting wide receiver spot opposite DeSean Jackson in two-wide receiver sets.

"There's a plan for Kevin," offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said. "So we'll go about it like that with a plan. I'm sure Andy (Reid) has talked to him. I've talked to him. And so I think he'll be effective within that plan."

Curtis probably won't play more than seven or eight snaps on Sunday as the Eagles try to ease him back in.

"You know how we do that with a man that hasn't played for a period of time," Mornhinweg said. "We're going to do it in a certain way. The communication is critically important between him and the trainers and the head coach and me. So we have a plan and those plans can change depending on how he's feeling."

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