We're creeping closer to a prime-time game on Sunday night (8:20 PM, NBC; 7:35 The Kickoff Show presented by Axalta on our app, site, and social media channels) against a quality opponent in the 49ers and Optimism Week continues for me. I have 10 reasons for you to understand why the Eagles are going to play their best game of the year in San Francisco.
Let these sink in and believe along with me ...
1. Carson Wentz finished last Sunday playing well
No doubt it was a struggle for much of Sunday's game against Cincinnati, but quarterback Carson Wentz battled, played tough, physical football, and willed the Eagles into overtime as he engineered an 11-play, 75-yard touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter, ending the drive with a terrific 7-yard scoring run. In overtime, the offense twice reached scoring territory before penalties ruined both drives. Wentz's statistics aren't necessarily going to be pretty, but he can have success being resourceful and patient and taking what the defense gives him. He has to resist the urge to get greedy. With all of these injuries, the entire offense is relying on Wentz to make the right reads and make good decisions. He connected with wide receiver Greg Ward on a touchdown Sunday, noticing a look the Bengals gave him and he took advantage. That's the kind of mental game he needs to win on Sunday night.
2. Javon Hargrave is rounding into form
With no Training Camp and only a couple of practices under his belt, Javon Hargrave played against Los Angeles and was, predictably, rusty. Hargrave was much better against the Bengals and he should be right about where he wants to be in this one. Having Hargrave in top form helps the defensive tackle rotation immeasurably and his presence gives the Eagles another matchup win against a good 49ers interior. The entire San Francisco offensive line plays in concert and is solid, but the Eagles have a strength at the line of scrimmage. More on that later.
3. Offense can run the ball in a lot of ways
Week 1 will prove to be the anomaly. The Eagles ran the ball for only 57 yards on 17 carries against Washington and it was a poor performance. Missing Miles Sanders didn't help the situation at all. With Sanders on the field, the Eagles ran for 121 yards against Los Angeles and then had 175 on the ground against the Bengals. Sanders has a glute injury and was limited in Thursday's practice, so there is concern with his situation. With or without Sanders, the Eagles are built to be creative running the football. They can get Boston Scott going and give him some shots on the edges. Wentz was a weapon against Cincinnati with 65 yards scrambling and on design runs. Jalen Hurts had a nice 8-yard gain on a sweep left. This is what the Eagles need to do to consolidate the offense and keep the chains moving.
4. Doug Pederson knows he has to pull out all the stops
The Eagles are desperate for a win and they're entering this nationally televised game as underdogs. Decidedly so, in fact. San Francisco is a quality team, the defending NFC Champions. So what is Doug Pederson's approach going to be? He knows he has to be aggressive. What that means, exactly, remains to be seen. But Pederson has to pull out some stops not only on Sunday but moving forward this season. He has to keep the offense ahead of the chains, maximize the use of his personnel, and give the 49ers things they haven't seen from Philadelphia through three games. Expect, perhaps, more pre-snap movement, an up-tempo offense, and a lot of personnel packages. Anything to win with so many key players missing.
5. Run defense is an Eagles strength
That Los Angeles game aside when the Eagles gave up 191 ghastly yards on the ground, stopping the run is what this defense does. Washington averaged 2.2 yards per carry in Week 1 and the Bengals averaged 2.8 yards per carry last Sunday. San Francisco is a terrific running team, varied, and the 49ers stick with it. They aren't going to panic away from the running game. In a lot of ways, this is going to be strength on strength, and I'm always going with the Eagles in that battle. Jim Schwartz understands what his defense is going against in this one, and he knows the first priority is to stop the running game. So, let's see the defense do it and set the tone for the night.
6. Zach Ertz is a multipronged weapon
Tight end Zach Ertz, only 50 receptions away from breaking Harold Carmichael's franchise record for career receptions, has 15 of them this season and is heating up. The Eagles know that San Francisco is going to double him, bracket him, devise some way to limit the damage Ertz can do. The Eagles must counter that by moving Ertz around the formation and by sending him in motion and giving him chances to get into space and into favorable matchups. The Eagles are limited here, let's be honest. Injuries are decimating the receiving corps, and Ertz stands heads and shoulders above the rest in terms of being a receiving threat. So, whatever Pederson can do to feed him the ball, he has to do.
7. Takeaways are bound to come
This just a hunch, OK? After three games of zero takeaways by the defense, the Eagles are due to bust out. It's just the law of averages and it fits into what Jim Schwartz has accomplished in his time as the Eagles' defensive coordinator. The prediction here: Eagles take the football away three times on Sunday night. It's my Optimistic Week. Why not? Get to the football and take it away. That's the message this week from Schwartz.
8. Offensive line is raising its game
Nate Herbig is making a bit of a name for himself at guard – he played on the right side for two games and is starting his second game now at left guard – and his big body and power are coming together. His presence has helped solidify the offensive line. Lane Johnson is in a good place with his ankle and has managed that well. Matt Pryor makes his second consecutive start at right guard and Jason Kelce, while he will have his hands full with rookie tackle Javon Kinlaw, is playing fine football. Jason Peters has been sick this week and missed Wednesday and Thursday, but that just means more reps for Jordan Mailata and Jack Driscoll. Left tackle is something to keep an eye out for, however. San Francisco is missing Nick Bosa and Solomon Thomas, significant losses that will be exposed at some point. It starts on Sunday night.
9. Going 'turbo' might just be what the offense needs
Wentz likes it. The offense responds to it. And as Pederson indicated earlier in the week, he just might dial up the no-huddle approach quite a bit here to energize the depleted offense. Whatever it takes, right? Going up tempo gives the Eagles a personality on offense, an identity they've been searching for. Maybe we see a lot of it against the 49ers.
10. The pass rush is heating up
The Eagles aren't going to record eight quarterback sacks every week. But, boy, did the guys get after it on Sunday, sending wave after wave of pressure on quarterback Joe Burrow. It wasn't just the front four, as the blitz game worked well. The defense had some key stops and started to feel it, and that is the kind of contagious carryover that can mean something big on Sunday night. The Eagles are going to play with an edge at the line of scrimmage here. You can believe that. They have to play on the other side of the line of scrimmage and create havoc in San Francisco's backfield.