Anyone excited about this weekend yet?
I'm really not.
I just don't know why that Giants loss was so deflating... But combine that with the fact that the Birds play a bad and completely uncompelling team in the 49ers I'm just not feeling the fire for this weekend. Still, come gameday I'll be there watching and hopefully they'll give us something to cheer about. A big win this weekend would go a long way in making me feel better about the direction this team is headed this year.
The 49ers are a team that so far this year has lived off of big plays and pressuring the passer. Last week, they piled up 6 sacks against the Rams and put up touchdown plays of 32 and 72 yards both on the ground and through the air.
Their QB is 2nd year man and former 1st overall pick Alex Smith, who after a brutal rookie year has started to show some flashes of why he was the top player taken in the 05 draft. Still, the book on beating him is no different than beating any other young QB. Throw lots of different defensive looks at him and bring pressure.
So far the Eagles lead the NFL in sacks, but their fearsome pass rush is once again suspect with Kearse out for the season. Fortunately, the 49ers offensive line is less than intimidating especially given that former all pro guard and maybe future hall of famer Larry Allen is out.
Smith does have some weapons though. Highly touted rookie TE Vernon Davis, who has tight end size and wide receiver speed looks like he could blossom into the best TE in football... so far however, he's been off to somewhat of a slow start. He has 5 catches for 37 yard, 1 TD and 1 fumble lost so far this year. Smith's biggest weapon has been offseason acquisition WR Antonio Bryant. He has shown a ton of big play ability averaging 122 yards a game so far this year. He's another guy with decent size (6-2) that could certainly cause problems for the Eagles very beat up secondary. Lito Sheppard is out and Rod Hood is listed as doubtful to play this weekend. That likely means we'll be treated to another week of Joselio Hanson starting at CB.
My hope is Jim Johnson tries to play to the strengths of his team rather than sticking so hard and fast to his system. Typically, the Eagles have not played matchups with opposing WRs. Lito and Sheldon would basically stick
to covering a side of the field and take on whatever WR the offense would choose to throw after them. With 2 solid corners and another solid one off the bench that's a fine way to play... However, with the secondary depleted as badly as it is I think it's been proven that the philosophy does not work with any personnel. Last week we saw Sheldon Brown, clearly the best corner on the team with Lito & Hood out(maybe even with them in), sticking to the right side of the field while the Giants sent Plaxico Burress to the left to pick on Joselio Hanson. For some unknown reason Jim Johnson refused to alter his system and let our 4th corner take on the Giants top WR and we all know how we paid for that. Although admittedly, it was Brown who Burress went over the top of for the final TD. That said, Antonio Bryant is not the size of Burress but he's still clearly best WR the 49ers have. I'd like to see Sheldon on him every snap he's on the field. No matter where he lines up, Brown should follow. That's playing our strength against theirs.
Something very encouraging we've seen from the Birds this year has been their ability to stop the run. In week one they held Houston to 70 rushing yards as a team and in week 2 held Tiki Barber to just 51 yards on 21 carries. They face a decent test again this week in Frank Gore who has rushed for 214 yards and 3 TDs so far this season. Like I said earlier though, the loss of starting LG Larry Allen will hurt the 49ers in this department as well...
The Eagles offense comes in to this game ranked #1 in the NFL. McNabb leads the NFL in passing yardage, LJ Smith leads all TEs in catches and yards, Donte Stallworth is 3rd in the NFC in receiving yardage, and surprisingly the team ranks 4th in the NFC in rushing yardage.
The offense, unlike the defense, is relatively healthy. Brian Westbrook was questionable with the same knee inflammation as he had before the Giants game, but he will play this weekend. He appeared to show no ill effects against the Giants.
If the Eagles offense just plays it's game, they should have few problems against the 49ers. Their defense has shown improvement, but still lacks many playmakers if any. Rookie LB Manny Lawson has looked very good so far with 2 sacks last week, but otherwise their linebacking corps is not terribly impressive, especially since Julian Peterson left in free agency this past offseason. This should be yet another game where LJ Smith should play a huge part as he presents a serious matchup problem for the San Fran linebackers.
So far the Eagles have done a great job protecting McNabb, as he's been sacked only twice this year. The pass protection will be tested this week against the 49ers who, as I said earlier, sacked Marc Bulger 6 times last week.Ashley Fox from the Inky
got a very interesting quote from Donte Stallworth about he feels he played so far. Statistically his season has been quite good, but we all saw how he came up short in overtime last week. Refreshingly, he's actually acknowledged this.
Stallworth said, "I don't feel like I've made the plays when it's counted, when the game's on the line, especially in the fourth quarter. I dropped a ball in overtime last week. The week before, I dropped one in the fourth quarter. That game was pretty much in hand, but that doesn't matter. The fourth quarter is when you're supposed to step up and have the best part of your game, and I don't think I've done that so far. But I'm working to correct that, and hopefully I can get better at it.
An NFL WR who takes responsibility for his own play? Weird... I find the attitude very refreshing. That said, don't drop any more balls in overtime Donte...
In the end, this is still a road game which shouldn't be a complete cakewalk. Plus, this is big statement game for the Eagles. Do they come out angry and stomp the 49ers, never letting up regardless of how far ahead they are? Or do they come out flat, still seemingly shocked from last week? I honestly don't know the answer to that question. They all have said they put the Giants' debacle behind them... But I need to see it to believe it. Still, I'm going to go optimistic give their opposition this week.
Eagles 30 49ers 17