By Jerrell Richardson
Philadelphia Eagles (3-0)
Head Coach: Chip Kelly
Players To Watch: LeSean McCoy, Darren Sproles, Nick Foles
After failing in week 2 to get the first win at Levi’s Stadium, the 49ers will try again in week 4. Coming to town are the undefeated Philadelphia Eagles, which at first glance figures to be a major problem for the home team. However, despite their undefeated record, the NFL is all about matchups, and the 49ers match up relatively well against the Eagles. Or at least when compared to the first team that ruined the opening of Levi’s Stadium; the Chicago Bears. The Eagles are far from a favorable opponent however, and San Francisco will need everyone to show up and play disciplined to stay within striking distance in the NFC West.
When Philadelphia Has The Ball: Advantage Eagles
The Eagles will move the ball, and will certainly put points on the board, but it won’t be an onslaught. Despite a less than spectacular 2014, the 49ers defense has actually held up well. If not for a complete meltdown in the home opener and the disappearance of the offense in the second half last week, San Francisco would be undefeated.
This week the defense again faces yet another explosive offense. What’s unique about Philadelphia’s offense is that it’s centered around their running backs. LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles are easily the deadliest running back duo in the league, but the 49ers best defensive player on the field is their Pro Bowler Patrick Willis. He, along with Michael Wilhoite, who has stepped in due to the absence on NaVorro Bowman and gets more comfortable each week, are both talented enough to match up with Philly when they want to run the ball. Where the talented 49er linebackers are going to have issues is in the passing game.
Nobody, not even Willis can really cover McCoy and Sproles when they are coming out of the backfield to catch passes. Both backs are nightmares in the open field and will catch some balls, so it will than take the entire defense flying to the ball and sure tackling to keep the Eagles offense grounded.
Quarterback Nick Foles is better than average, but far from an elite passer. He is more than capable of a big day (threw for 325 yards last week), even when his running game struggles, but Foles is the one the 49ers want beating them. When dropping back to pass Foles will look primarily to wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, but fellow wide outs, rookie Jordan Matthews who has proven to be a solid red zone threat and Riley Cooper who is good for a few catches will both need to be accounted for. The much maligned, under manned San Francisco secondary for the fourth consecutive week will have to play better than they should.
When San Francisco Has the Ball: Advantage 49ers
Colin Kaepernick has to be licking his chops at the chance to face an Eagle defense that allowed 34 points last week to the Redskins and 27 the week before to the Colts. As good as they are on the offensive side of the ball, Chip Kelly has yet to figure out defenses in the NFL, and San Francisco should be able to do what they want with the ball.
Last week Kirk Cousins passed for 427 yards against this defense, so there are certainly some holes in the Eagle secondary. Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin should be able to win their matchups and while a 400-yard day doesn’t appear in the cards for Kaepernick, as sharp as he looked when the offense was clicking last week, there is nothing to indicate that he will have an off week against a suspect defense.
When they want to run the ball, the 49ers shouldn’t have any real issues. Last week Philly’s defense kept the Redskins under 100 yards as a team (84), but that was due in large part to them getting gashed through the air. The 49ers in 3 games, haven’t been the same running team that has been their staple the past two seasons, but that seems to be by design. It’s clear that this is now a pass first team. The 49ers will look to pass early and run late, so the score will have a lot to do with the amount of touches Frank Gore and Carlos Hyde will see. Either way, when they need to run the ball whether on their opening drive or late in the 4th, the 49ers should be able to rely on a consistent running threat.
The Eagles have no real stand out defensively so will need to rely on their entire unit to play better than they did last week. This team is undefeated in spite of its defense, not because of it.
49ers Pull Away Late
The Eagles are a dangerous team, but only on one side of the ball. Their offense is good enough to keep them in and win this game, but not if San Francisco plays a solid game. The last time they played at Levi’s Stadium this was not the case as mistakes spelled disaster in San Francisco’s loss to the Bears. The same applies this week. As good as their opponent is, a 49ers defeat will be because of something they do, or don’t do, not because they are playing a better team.
After their embarrassing performance in front of their home fans the last time around, and the disaster against the Cardinals, look for San Francisco to bounce back with a much better performance this week. They will need to, as Chip Kelly will have his team ready to play, and the Eagles will do everything they can to keep the 49ers winless at home in 2014. There are a lot of ways this game could play out, but in the end it will be a close 49er victory, and the first ever at Levi’s Stadium.
For more 49ers news and updates, visit 49ers Central.
Jerrell Richardson is a Bay Area native who due to a college career at San Diego State University has grown an appreciation for all things sports related in California. His heart will always remain in San Francisco though where he currently resides and covers everything from the San Francisco 49ers and Giants to the San Jose Sharks and California Bears Baseball team. Jerrell is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. His work can be found on Examiner.com.