Despite all of the damage to the offensive line, Nick Foles hasn't been deterred from throwing deep. Tied 27-27 against the Redskins, Foles had to shake off the cheapshot from Chris Baker, and drive downfield with one true starter on the line (right guard Todd Herremans). On the drive following the wild brawl, Foles went five of six for 68 yards, concluding with the 27-yard go-ahead touchdown pass to a stretching Jeremy Maclin.
Foles is the only quarterback thus far to have thrown more than 20 passes of 20+ yards. Of those 26 attempts, Foles has completed a mere nine of them, with three going for touchdowns (two for Maclin, one for Zach Ertz). For his career, Foles has thrown 16 of his 39 regular season TD passes from beyond 20 yards out.
It's a risk that Foles, and coach Chip Kelly, feel inclined to take. The downfield darts serve to weaken defenses already spent from three quarters of combating the up-tempo charge (the Colts will attest to this), and making those corners run a track meet, even on an incompletion, benefits an offense whose fragmented line could stand to battle an exhausted front seven.
Foles has been under pressure on 43 of his 133 dropbacks, but has not been sacked since the second quarter of Week One. Incredibly, he's managed to complete 19 of the 36 under-pressure attempts, and has not thrown an interception under duress (Foles' two picks came on a bad red zone throw, and a great Greg Toler play on a nice deep pass).
After Darren Sproles and Zach Ertz did the damage against the Colts, criticism clouded the Eagles' receiving corps for their lack of production. In the win over the Redskins, Jeremy Maclin, Riley Cooper, and rookie Jordan Matthews combined for 20 receptions, 247 yards, and three touchdowns. Matthews emerged as capable red zone threat, while Maclin is proving quite the downfield presence with DeSean Jackson out of town.
If the thinning offensive line (which regains right tackle Lane Johnson early next week) can mostly keep the aggressive Redskins front at bay, they may actually be getting a lighter task in the 49ers current attack. San Francisco has been vaunted for their front seven, but feature holes of their own. Linebackers Aldon Smith (suspended) and NaVorro Bowman (on PUP list) deplete the core of Vic Fangio's defense.
The 49ers only allowed 19 passing touchdowns all last season, but have given up seven already this year. Justin Smith has three of the team's four sacks coming off the edge, with Patrick Willis as the only other defender that consistently brings good pressure.
The secondary has been a bit of a disaster. Veteran safety pickup Antoine Bethea has allowed five catches for 68 yards on eight targets, while Eric Reid is accountable for two touchdowns thrown against him. Corner Jimmie Ward, the team's first-round pick, is responsible for four of the seven passing touchdowns.
Ward, Perrish Cox, and Chris Culliver are all corners that have given up 100 yards receiving apiece over three games. Quarterbacks throwing Ward's way come out with a passer rating of 144.4, and he's not even a regular starter.
LeSean McCoy, Darren Sproles vs. 49ers Run Defense
Of all of the perplexing things that took place in Sunday's win over the Redskins, McCoy's continued use after passing a concussion test left you feeling most quizzical. It was clear that the typically fleet-footed McCoy had lost a step, and was hesitant to make his traditionally-sharp cuts.
Making it more confusing was the lack of Darren Sproles in Sunday's game. The micro-back that carved up the Colts to the tune of 152 receiving yards and a hard-fought touchdown, received just five touches, including two carries for 20 yards, against the Redskins. Sproles did lose a fumble, but he was easily healthier than 'Shady' was.
There's no telling what direction the running game will take with Jason Kelce out for upwards of two months with a sports hernia. In addition to making line calls, Kelce is the team's strongest second-level run blocker. Dennis Kelly has been a pleasant surprise at left guard, while David Molk played mistake free at center, particularly in pass coverage. It's up to such players to try and get McCoy rolling once more.
In spite of all of the defensive holes the 49ers have struggled to plug, their run defense is holding up rather well. Opponents are averaging only 3.84 yards a carry against them on the year, although Dallas and Chicago each ran for 127 yards in their respective games.
Smith and troubled defensive end Ray McDonald have combined for six stops in the running game, while Patrick Willis and Michael Wilhoite have expertly jammed the middle with five tackles for losses apiece.
Wilhoite and Willis, however, are susceptible to giving up yards in the pass (combined 87 YAC given up between them), and that would be a good spot for Sproles in the flat. Even without Kelce to lead the blocking brigade, balance among the running backs provides a favorable match-up for an Eagles running game that was too stuck in its ways Sunday.
Statistics from Pro Football Focus were used to write this story.
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