By Pete Baxter
The Philadelphia Eagles stormed out of the gates in week one with a dominant upset victory over the Atlanta Falcons. The Eagles entered the game as three-point underdogs but they ultimately laid a smack down on the Falcons in Atlanta by a score of 32-6.
Entering week 2, the Eagles’ home opener, they are a 3.5-point underdog to the visiting 49ers. Last season, the Eagles took down the 49ers in San Francisco by a score of 25-20. They entered that game as 8.5-point underdogs. Both teams are improved this season, though the injury bug is already moving into the Bay Area once again.
The Eagles have a great opportunity to make it back-to-back upset victories to start the season. I believe they will. Let’s take a closer look at how the Eagles can take down Kyle Shanahan and company this Sunday:
Pressuring Jimmy G.
There is no doubt going to be a game where Jimmy Garoppolo hands over the reins to Trey Lance. It is entirely possible that this Eagles pass rush forces the issue.
The Philadelphia front four terrorized Matt Ryan in week 1. This unit finished with 10 quarterback hits and three sacks on Ryan. Jason Hargrave led the way with two sacks while Hassan Ridgeway had one as well.
The 49ers offensive line is marginally better than the Falcons, but they are still a middling group with weakness particularly on the right side. Jimmy Garoppolo is no better at escaping pressure than Matt Ryan. This Eagles pass rush could be in for another big game. If Garoppolo struggles and takes a series of hits, it may very well make sense for Kyle Shanahan to put in the more mobile Lance. Lance has far superior speed, evasiveness, and improvisational skill at the position. Not a likely switch at this point in the season, but possible.
Regardless, I expect the Eagles to keep the 49ers passing attack under control. Along with the great play of their defensive line, Darius Slay and the Eagles’ defensive backfield played well in week 1 and effectively shut down Calvin Ridley and lottery pick Kyle Pitts. Expect them to play similarly well against Deebo Samuel and George Kittle.
Slowing the Run Game
The Eagles were so-so against the run in week 1, allowing several long runs to Corradelle Patterson. Patterson finished with 54 yards on just 7 carries. They did, however, shut down Mike Davis. Davis finished with just 49 yards on 15 carries as the primary ball carrier.
As noted, the 49ers have a better offensive line than the Falcons, and a better offensive mind in coach Kyle Shanahan. What they don’t have is their starting running back. Raheem Mostert will be out for the remainder of the season with a knee injury.
Fortunately for San Francisco, they found lightning in a bottle during week one in the form of rookie rusher Eli Mitchell. Mitchell is a sixth-round pick out of Louisiana. He looked great with 104 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries. However, this was against a pitiful Detroit Lions defense.
There is no reason to expect Mitchell to have this repeat performance against a considerably better Eagles defense. Expect Mitchell to come back down to Earth in Philadelphia.
With the 49ers short-handed rushing game held in check, and Jimmy Garoppolo facing pressure, the Eagles should have no problem keeping the 49ers scoring to a minimum, most likely in the 20 to 24-point range.
Taking Advantage of a Short-handed Defense
Raheem Mostert was not the only costly injury faced by the 49ers in week one. Cornerback Jason Verrett also went down with a torn ACL. There were already signs that this may not be the same dominant defense we became accustomed to seeing in the late 2010s. They nearly allowed a mediocre Lion’s offense to complete a massive week 1 comeback. Allowing 33 points to Jared Goff in his Lions debut was not a good look. And that was with their top cornerback, Verrett, active for most of the game.
DeVonta Smith has a great opportunity to put up big numbers against a questionable defensive backfield. While missing Zach Ertz is unfortunate, Dallas Goedert is the clear go-to tight end, so it shouldn’t have a huge impact. The attention of Smith and Goedert could also free up speedster Quez Watkins, Hurts’ favorite target early in week one, to sneakily put up a solid game.
With a depleted secondary to attack, and the mobility to neutralize the 49er pass rush, Jalen Hurts has a chance to put up another strong performance. While I wouldn’t anticipate the near-perfect performance he put up in week one against a bad Falcons defense, there is no reason to believe he can’t produce another multiple touchdown, turnover-free performance against what appears to be a fringe top-10 49ers unit.
This will not be a blow out like the Eagles’ week one thrashing of the Falcons. However, the Eagles should be able to squeak out a victory at home. The 49ers are battling early season injuries once again. They are coming off narrowly escaping an epic comeback attempt by a bad Lions team.
The Eagles, meanwhile, played their best football in years in week one. Their young quarterback and first-year coach seem confident, competent, and poised for a surprisingly successful campaign.
I expect the Eagles to win their second straight upset by a score of 27-24.
Fly Eagles, Fly!
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