ITB Scouting Report: Eagles vs. 49ers
EAGLES (0-2-1) vs. 49ERS (2-1)
The Philadelphia Eagles (0-2-1) will travel cross-country to take on the San Francisco 49ers (2-1) on Sunday night in a prime-time matchup.
The Eagles, coming off a disheartening tie with the Bengals, are heading into the contest as obvious underdogs. Their lack of offensive weaponry and lack of defensive cohesion could make for the perfect storm against a surging 49ers team.
While the 49ers prepare to welcome two prominent offensive components back into their scheme and continue to progress on defense, the Eagles must quickly get into a rhythm because points will be at a premium Sunday night.
Eagles To Watch On Offense
WR John Hightower vs. 49ers CBs: In a detailed film study, I found that Hightower created downfield separation on multiple occasions last Sunday. For whatever reason – poor field vision, trust concerns, etc – Wentz never turned it loose. That will have to change this week.
While 49ers cornerbacks offer length, they don’t run particularly well, and should be tested deep. Hightower, who could very well be the Eagles’ lone active deep threat Sunday, demonstrated his explosiveness and effectiveness as a route-runner. Wentz just needs to pull the trigger. TE Zach Ertz vs. 49ers LBs Fred Warner/Kwon Alexander: With Dallas Goedert on the mend, Wentz will look to Ertz early as a security blanket. The Pro Bowl tight end has been relatively quiet thus far, but came alive late against the Bengals came with a terrific downfield reception. Although Wentz will undoubtedly strive to find success over the middle with Ertz and Greg Ward, his throwing windows will be tight thanks to Warner and Alexander patrolling the second level. The athletic linebackers move exceptionally well laterally and boast tremendous closing speed. If the Eagles are to get Ertz into a rhythm, they might have to split him out wide more.
Eagles To Watch On Defense
Nathan Gerry vs. George Kittle: That’s right, one of the most maligned linebackers in football is expected to spend much of the game matched against the game’s premier tight end.
Upon further review, Gerry’s eyes often get him in trouble before the play even begins. He frequently gets caught looking into the backfield and is easily fooled by fakes and misdirections. In coverage, his lack of instincts and reactiveness is most apparent, as he's often a step late in closing on the football. When he’s found himself in position to make a tackle, Gerry has typically taken poor angles in pursuit or struggled to disengage from blockers.
Look for Kyle Shanahan to exploit this matchup early and often, isolating Gerry on his All-World tight end until the Eagles find a way to mitigate the impact.
Cre’Von LeBlanc/Nickell Robey-Coleman vs. Mohamed Sanu/Trent Taylor: Sanu, who was just added two weeks ago, played 20 snaps against the Giants. But he should now be up to speed and primed to undertake a more significant role. If so, expect Sanu to draw LeBlanc in coverage. Last week, LeBlanc played 33 more snaps than Robey-Coleman due to matchups. Though Strap had his moments, he didn't offer much resistance to Tyler Boyd over the middle of the Eagles’ defense.
Taylor, 5-foot-8, is more comparable in size to Robey-Coleman. He played 30 snaps last week against the Giants, logging one reception for 20 yards. Taylor is a vastly different receiver from Sanu. His short-area quickness and shiftiness pairs best with Robey-Coleman.
Jake Elliott’s booming leg continues to silence opposing kick returners and the punt coverage has been relatively sufficient, aside of a handful of missed tackles against the Bengals’ Alex Erickson.
The 49ers utilize running back Jerrick McKinnon and wide receiver Trent Taylor on kick return and punt return, respectively. McKinnon, who averages 21.8 yards on four returns, will likely be a non-factor. However, the punt team must remain diligent in their assignments against the shifty Taylor, who possesses a similar return style as Erickson.
The 5-foot-8 wide receiver has returned two punts for 21 yards on the season.
Marcus Epps, who has taken on more of a leadership role on special teams in lieu of injuries, must continue to swarm opposing returners. The reserve safety currently ranks second on the Eagles in third phase snaps (74).
Since 2005, the Eagles have won 6 of their last 8 games against San Francisco. Additionally, the team has won four of its previous five road games against San Francisco since 2002.
The Eagles' defense is tied for the third-most sacks (12.0) in the NFL, behind Pittsburgh (15.0) and Washington (13.0).
Eagles RB Boston Scott: Scott’s late-December emergence sparked optimism heading into 2020, but the diminutive running back has looked rather pedestrian through three games. The third-year running back has just 16 carries for 59 yards and five receptions for 43 yards thus far.
I believed Scott’s skill set would have been beneficial in previous matchups, though largely he remained a non-entity. However, the Eagles won’t have that luxury this week in San Francisco. With the offense missing several prominent fixtures, Scott’s ability as a pass-catcher and playmaker in space should finally come into focus this week. Look for the Eagles to move Scott around in formations and scheme up ways to isolate him on linebackers.
49ers RB Jerrick McKinnon: Jeff Wilson is the 49ers’ early-down running back, but the North Texas product averaged just 1.3 yards per carry last week against the Giants and has a career 3.6 average. Where Wilson isn’t likely to break off a long run, McKinnon specializes in those. Expect a heavy dose of motion and misdirection runs from McKinnon, who has the speed and explosive traits to capitalize on small creases and poor gap discipline from opponents. McKinnon struggled to find his footing last week on the ground but proved to be an asset to the passing attack, registering three receptions for 39 yards. Last week, the Bengals failed to capitalize on the receiving prowess of Giovani Benard – aside from one, crucial play – but Kyle Shanahan won’t have that problem.
Nick Bosa, Dee Ford, and Solomon Thomas are out of commission. However, while the stat column might suggest otherwise, the 49ers boast enough talent in the trenches to reset the line of scrimmage.
Veteran Kerry Hyder leads the unit, notching 2.0 sacks from his RDE spot. While the 29-year-old doesn’t possess any unique traits, he wins off pad leverage, get-off, and an unrelenting motor. Arik Armstead, who serves as Hyder’s bookend, will be the player most likely to make an impact.
The 6-foot-7, 292-pound edge rusher uses size and athleticism to generate penetration, and his length often narrows throwing windows in passing lanes. He is a versatile player who can manufacture from the interior or the edge. At defensive tackle, D.J. Jones and rookie Javon Kinlaw are interior maulers who often force ball carriers into bouncing outside. Kinlaw, in particular, offers an intriguing skill-set as a pass rusher. The South Carolina product boasts superhuman strength, a lightning-quick get-off, and violent hands.
Kevin Givens, Kentavius Street, Dion Jordan, and Ezekiel Ansah will all play double-digit snaps as reserves.
Eagles LT Jason Peters struggled mightily last week with the athleticism and burst of Carl Lawson, though his matchup this week with Hyder is less daunting. All-Pro Center Jason Kelce, the unit’s most impressive member through three games, might have to provide extra help to the two inexperienced guys playing alongside him against an ascending defensive tackle tandem.
However, the matchup to watch Sunday night will be RT Lane Johnson vs. Armstead, who poses a unique challenge in length and bend.
Kyle Shanahan will craft a game plan tailored around Nick Mullens’ strengths as a passer. The 49ers should come out intent on exploiting the Eagles’ woeful second level and erratic secondary to jump out to an early lead. Philadelphia’s defense will feel the burden of containing the 49ers’ array of playmakers and it's offense lacks the necessary weaponry to keep pace. 49ers 34, Eagles 17
– Andrew DiCecco (@ADiCeccoNFL) is a contributor to InsideTheBirds.com. Listen to more Eagles-49ers breakdown in the latest "Inside The Birds" podcast right here: