Eagles-49ers: Five Things to Look For

With a win, the Eagles would bury the Redskins by three games in the East. Here's some expectations for their battle by the Bay with the 49ers.


Nick Foles has thrown the most passes of 20+ yards this season (26), and is the only quarterback to throw more than 20 such balls. Foles also has the second-most completions out of play-action (25), often the prelude to the deep throw. From play-action, Foles has only completed about 54 percent of his throws (25 of 46), but counters that with three touchdowns and no picks, for a 102.0 rating out of the fake hand-off.

After the unlikely duo of Drew Stanton and rookie receiver John Brown tag-teamed the 49ers frazzled secondary, there's no stop sign for Foles to stop going vertical. Jimmie Ward, Chris Culliver, Eric Reid, and Antoine Bethea have all had poor starts to 2014, with Ward and Reid on the hook for six of the seven touchdown passes allowed. Unless he's corraled by turnovers or the pass rush, this is a game where Foles could have 200 passing yards by halftime.


In spite of the troubles of the defensive backs listed above, they're all San Francisco has at the moment, and they have to account for not only vertical threats like Jeremy Maclin, Zach Ertz, and Riley Cooper, but checkdowns like Jordan Matthews and Darren Sproles. It's a lot of ground to cover, especially with a quarterback that has plenty of range.

Because of the circumstances involving the up-tempo offense, I fully expect the 49ers to play as much nickel as possible when the Eagles are hurrying to the line. The coverage numbers don't look good for any secondary players outside of Perrish Cox, but being caught unaware with two corners is far worse than with three, even if it's not a strong trio. If you can't substitute, take your chances with the horde.


With a ten-point lead in the fourth quarter against the Redskins, the Eagles were bitten hard by Roy Helu. With five and a half minutes remaining, Helu took a screen pass 55 yards into the Eagles red zone, where Helu would score on a run three plays later. The toss was Kirk Cousins' only throw to a halfback on Sunday, and it paid off big.

Between Helu's big play, and Ahmad Bradshaw's screen game in Week Two, the Eagles' overpursuit in the pass rush can easily be used against them. If Colin Kaepernick can use play fakes and dump off to Frank Gore or Carlos Hyde, that's the easiest way to cut swaths against the Eagles defense. Trouble is, the duo has combined for a mere five catches and 15 yards. Hyde has three catches for three yards, and his longest is five. Looks like the blocking doesn't match the intent.


Three wins, and still three opportunities for Eagles fans to question some of the decision-making of the team. Sunday's gripe: why the lack of Sproles? After a career night in Indianapolis, the multi-purpose back was relegated to five offensive touches against the Redskins, including a mere two hand-offs as LeSean McCoy struggled. Sproles did lose a fumble, but still, two is too few.

The 49ers, like the Colts, are much thinner at linebacker thanks to injuries and suspensions. Even with Patrick Willis active, he can't make every single play for the defense. If he's pass-rushing, that leaves Sproles and Ertz open. If he's in coverage, he can only pick one. Sproles may not pick up 152 receiving yards once again, but employing him in the flat will create the usual match-up problems.


Willis may be the only linebacker of the big three (Aldon Smith and NaVorro Bowman) available on Sunday, but that doesn't mean the corps won't attack the Eagles' thinner offensive line. Patrick Willis and Ahmad Brooks will still bring pressure through the middle and around the edges. Corey Lemonier will test Todd Herremans, who's likely being moved to right tackle for a game.

The interior will be most likely comprised of three intended back-ups: Matt Tobin (season debut following a high-ankle sprain suffered at the end of August), David Molk, and Dennis Kelly. Molk and Kelly have allowed their share of pressures, but Foles has gamely avoided sacks by some small miracle. It's only a week until Lane Johnson returns, so look for Brent Celek to aid the line with additional pass protection, as they hold down the fort for another week.

Statistics from Pro Football Focus were used to write this story.

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