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5 things to watch for this Sunday against the 49ers

28 October 2017 Opinion

1. The Obvious:
The losses of Jason Peters and Jordan Hicks. With their win on Monday night against the Redskins, the Eagles lost two of their most important players to season-ending injuries. All-pro offensive tackle Jason Peters went down with a torn acl and mcl and star-linebacker Jordan Hicks went out with a ruptured achilles. The birds will rely on Halapoulivaati Vaitai at left tackle as they have decided to keep Lane Johnson at the right tackle spot. Nobody can really fill the shoes of the 9x pro bowl left tackle known as “The Bodyguard”, but “Big V” will have to step up to protect Carson Wentz if the NFL’s fifth-ranked total offense is going to continue to produce at a high level. Big V’s first task is no small one. He will be matched up against Solomon Thomas, who is a freak-athlete defensive end, playing in his first season in the NFL after being taken third overall out of Stanford. Expect to see more of Trey Burton and Brent Celek in the coming weeks with extra tight ends in to help line protection on the edge. In my opinion, the loss of Hicks may actually be a bigger shock to the system in the first couple of games. Hicks is not only a rising star in his third year in the league and a constant playmaker, but he is also the quarterback and play caller for the D.The inside-linebacker is the best pass-coverage backer on the team along with being great in run support but just as important, he is constantly communicating with Jim Schwartz, calling plays, adjusting scheme fits, and relaying his teammates duties to them on the field. With the loss of Hicks, Nigel Bradham will now have the role of “qb” of the defense and have the headset for play calls and adjustments. Mychal Kendricks, who has been playing fantastic this season but missed last weeks game with a tweaked hamstring, will be seeing more snaps and will be looked upon to carry a much bigger role in the defense.

2. The Weather:

The weather channels are all calling for heavy rain for the majority of Sunday including throughout the game. Weather is a part of football, and games with inclimate weather are always entertaining but they can also be challenging. This is Carson Wentz’ second year as quarterback and he has looked every bit of the “franchise” quarterback the Eagles saw him as when they selected him 2nd in the 2016 NFL draft. Carson has played in 23 games so far but we have yet to see him play in a game with a heavy rain. The run game paired with smart decision-making from the 2nd year QB will be paramount for the offense on Sunday. As a big favorite in the game (12.5 points according to Las Vegas), the 6-1 Eagles must take care of the ball and not give a lesser opponent like the 49ers extra chances with turnovers to hang around in a game that they have no business winning in. The 49ers have been doing just that this season, “hanging around”. As they have lost 5 games by just 3 points or less, so the Eagles will try to get ahead, and keep extending their lead to avoid having this winless team stay with them into the 4th quarter.

3. The Ground Attack:
Establishing the run is crucial in every game. This sunday as mentioned with the steady rainfall coming, the ground and pound attack will be extra critical. With a strong dose of rushing from Legarrette Blount, Wendell Smallwood and Corey Clement, the third highest rushing offense in the NFL (132 ypg) the birds will look to exploit a weak rush defense in the 49ers who rank 29th in stopping the run. The Eagles will be able to sustain their high powered rushing attack while also limiting drop backs from Carson Wentz in his first game without Jason Peters and a game that passing will most likely be difficult given the wet conditions. On the other side of the coin, the 49ers will most likely rely on the run as well as rookie QB C.J Beathard who just took over the starting job in San Fran, is no franchise quarterback at this time. The 9ers rush attack centered around Carlos Hyde ranks in the bottom third of the NFL with 96 yards per game and they will be up against a monumental task vs the eagles rush defense. This Eagles rush d is one of the best not just in the league this year, but one of the best in recent memory, holding opponents ground attack to an astounding low of just 67 yards per game. All signs point to a hefty advantage in the trenches for the birds when it comes to the ground game.

4.The Trap Game:

The infamous trap game. Everyone loves to talk about trap games and try to predict them. Well it isn’t too hard or far fetched to think this could be one. The Eagles at 6-1 have the best record in football and are at home facing a winless San Fran team that has nothing to lose. The Eagles are being praised by the national media for their play and are even getting pegged for a possible trip to the 52nd Super Bowl in Minneapolis. Are the Eagles getting cocky and starting to read their own newspaper clippings? Are the players becoming relaxed and too comfortable? Is it a possibility that Philadelphia could be looking ahead to next week vs the Broncos or even further ahead to the bye week which comes after Denver? Probably not. Doug Pederson needs to have his team focused and ready for a grind-it-out, ugly, sloppy football game in South Philadelphia sunday. The team has got to be just as prepared and eager to fight in this game as they were on the national stage last Monday night versus an NFC East foe. The last thing you want to do come December in the playoff hunt and jockeying for home field is look back at games like these and say “we should have never lost that game” because of a lack of effort or desire. I think Doug Pederson and Jim Schwartz understand that and have the “1-0 this week” mentality that many football coaches have adopted. In fact, Pederson was quoted this week as saying “We have to be 1-0 each week.That was our challenge this past week and for going into this game. We don’t talk about those types of things outside of the building.” I expect the birds to come out ready for a battle because in this league any team can knock you down on any given Sunday.

5. Questionables:
The Eagles are without some core players for the season as discussed earlier losing Peters and Hicks last week. Those two players are major hits to the team plus already being without Darren Sproles, who was lost for the season in week 3 against the Giants, suffering an ugly combo injury with a broken arm and torn acl. Ronald Darby is listed as “questionable” for sundays matchup. After an offseason trade of their primary receiver Jordan Matthews to acquire the speedy cornerback, Darby suffered a gruesome dislocated ankle in week 1 and has yet to see game action since. To be honest, I’d rather the Eagles take their time with Darby and not rush him back from that injury. Philly’s defense has been very good even without him on the field and with the play of Jalen Mills, Patrick Robinson and Rasul Douglas right now, I would be surprised to see Darby playing vs the 49ers who don’t have a scary passing attack anyway.
San Francisco has a few “questionable” players for this week. After suffering a rib injury last week in their 40-10 loss to the Cowboys, linebacker Reuben Foster should be “good to go” according to head coach Kyle Shanahan. Big and I mean big (6’8 360 lbs), right tackle Trent Brown is unlikely to play Sunday as he missed practice this week and is still in the concussion protocol. Right guard Brandon Fusco is also questionable with a biceps injury although he returned to practice Friday and is seen as more likely to play than not. With the right side of the offensive line not playing or “dinged up” to say the least, look for the eagles pass rushers to try to take advantage and wreak havoc. It does not look like it will be a fun day for quarterback C.J Beathard who will be making just his second NFL start this week.

You can follow Matt Purcell on twitter @Case_of_matty