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An Insider's first look at the 49ers

Michael Clay 1920 091421
Special Teams Coordinator Michael Clay

Tuesday is coordinators' day at the NovaCare Complex and all three of them met the media to comb through the details from Sunday's win in Atlanta and look forward to the home opener against San Francisco. Here are some of the topics the coordinators discussed:

Michael Clay knows the 49ers well from his time in San Fran

With a punter (Arryn Siposs) who had never been in a regular-season NFL game and a gunner in kick coverage (Andre Chachere) on the team for only a few days and knowing the Eagles would have to gird to slow down one of the all-time great kickoff return men in Cordarrelle Patterson along with rookie punt returner Avery Williams, a star in college, Special Teams Coordinator Michael Clay had his coverage units ready to go in the opener.

And they delivered – Patterson had a single kickoff return for 25 yards and Williams averaged a paltry 5.5 yards per return.

Clay was thrilled. His former team, San Francisco, is next, with another set of challenges.

"Atlanta, the coverage was outstanding. We had a tall task. Cordarrelle Patterson being a kick returner that has eight career touchdowns, we knew what was against us right there. The guys were running fast, playing hard. Being able to string them out and stop them inside the 20 was a huge thing for us. With Avery Williams, he is a rookie from Boise State, kind of a later-round draft pick, but we all knew what he was. He had a pretty prestigious career at Boise State (nine returns for touchdowns, including six on punts) returning. So, we all know what we had to do there," said Clay, who was the assistant special teams coordinator for the 49ers before rejoining the Eagles as part of Nick Sirianni's staff.

"The guys did a heck of a job. With A.C. going out there, trying to make a tackle, then Alex (Singleton) getting down there. J.J. (Arcega-Whiteside) did a heck of a job coming from his wing spot with T.J. (Edwards) to get on a combined tackle. So the coverage units – we always want to be one of the better coverage units to help flip the field for our defense. So, we were really proud of the way they came out and played.

"For this week, the message is the same. We've got to help our defense give a long field with our coverage. We're going to keep on doing that. We have all the respect – coming from San Francisco, they still got some very good returners, Brandon Aiyuk, Mohamed Sanu, Ambry Thomas. They have some guys that have some speed that we need to get ready for. We're doing our best as coaches to get these guys ready for coverage units to get them going and to have a good game plan for them."

Siposs averaged 47.3 gross yards punting, 44.5 yards net, with three inside the 10-yard line – a great debut for him. Jake Elliott made three PATs and a 43-yard field goal.

Jonathan Gannon: Eye discipline critical vs. 49ers

Atlanta's offense racked up 144 total yards and 12 first downs on its first two drives on Sunday, landing in the red zone both times. The Eagles held on each of those trips and then dominated the rest of the way, limiting the Falcons to 59 total net yards and six first downs in the entire second half. Jonathan Gannon credited the players with improving the technical parts of their game.

"I think the main two things that changed were we cleaned some technique issues up after the first couple series there. I think guys settled in a little bit better and started trusting their keys. We talk about alignment, assignment, key, technique. If you don't have those, if one of those four things is wrong, it's hard to play good team defense," he said. "I think really it's a credit to our players, they settled down and just started getting back to the basics of that. That's really pre-snap that we can control everything. The technique part is post-snap. But alignment, assignment, where they put their eyes, that's all pre-snap. I think we kind of settled down and did a better job of that. We got to some different things we had in our back pocket that we knew we were going to run and got to some of those calls. They executed well."

Sunday's challenge is significant. San Francisco thrives off of its wide-zone running game and if the ground game gets cranked up, the play-action passing game is devastating with tight end George Kittle and wide receiver Deebo Samuel leading the way. Gannon has some messages for his players in the week ahead knowing that the 49ers will present a lot of pre-snap looks designed to take defenders' eyes off what is truly important.

"The reasoning behind what they do – all the motions, adjustments, all these people moving around, looks are different – is to get your eyes in the wrong spot, then they take advantage of that," he said. "We have to be in a phone booth of what we're looking at because this is my guy that is going to tell me what I have to do. From there you have to practice it the right way and keep reiterating to our guys shrink your world and lens. You don't have to see everything. You don't have to see the big picture. Some guys do, but not a lot of them. If you're a guy that just needs to look right here, look right here. Don't worry about where 44 (49ers fullback Kyle Juszczyk) is going, what the quarterback is doing, don't worry about Deebo running across the formation. You just look at this guy right there. That's how you're going to win your individual matchup.

"I think a lot of it's just shrinking it down for our guys, 'This is where you put your eyes, this is how you play.' From there it's football. There's no call that we're going to call that's the perfect magic call versus Kyle Shanahan. It's our guys executing at a high level, destroying blocks, tackling, covering. That's what the game comes down to."

The Eagles are also preparing for the 49ers to potentially use two quarterbacks – starter Jimmy Garoppolo and rookie No. 1 draft pick Trey Lance, who saw action on four snaps in Sunday's win over Detroit. He threw a touchdown pass on one of his reps.

"Yeah, the challenges with San Francisco, we've got to be ready for everything. They present a lot of different challenges," Gannon said. "They obviously have two quarterbacks that can possibly play, that have been playing.

"I think the greatest challenge of playing them is this is a very well-coached, physical football team. We're going to have to match that intensity. They do a really good job of blocking. They do a really good job of running with the ball in their hands, creating RAC (run after the catch) after contact from everybody, from all the backs that touch the ball to the tight ends, to the receivers. They catch and run with the ball extremely well. We just got to have a good plan with what we're doing with everything that they could throw at us. I would go probably playing New Orleans a couple years ago right when they kind of started with the Hill (Saints QB Taysom Hill) kid, you had to have a different plan for that. That's the first one off the top of my head that you go back to.

"There are teams that by which tailback is in the game, you have a different thought process. Which receivers are aligned where, there's a different process to how you want to play. We've got to have a plan for everything and execute at a high level to give us a chance to win on Sunday."

Shane Steichen: Bosa and Warner are a formidable duo

Pretty much everything went the way the Eagles hoped it would on Sunday in Atlanta – Jalen Hurts completed 77 percent of his passes for 264 yards and three touchdown passes, the Eagles rolled up 173 yards on the ground and scored touchdowns on three trips inside the red zone and handled the Falcons' blitz all afternoon.

San Francisco presents a different test with a great front seven led by end Nick Bosa and middle linebacker Fred Warner.

"Obviously, Bosa is a very explosive player. I was with his brother (Joey) for a while (with the Chargers), so I've seen the Bosa up front and personal. I know his brother is a really good football player. He's explosive off the line of scrimmage. He plays the run well," Steichen said. "And then inside, Warner, he can fly around. He can cover, right? He can cover, he makes tackles, he can do it all. Two really good football players that we have to know where they're at on the field Sunday at all times."

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