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Eagles-49ers Game Preview

After what was certainly a disappointing home opener, the Eagles, sitting at 1-2 on the season, are left to lick their wounds and prepare for their Week 4 test against the San Francisco 49ers. Those wounds, literally, begin with the non-throwing hand of quarterback Michael Vick. Originally diagnosed as a break, the injury to Vick's right hand is actually a bone bruise, causing significant swelling that will have to go down if the Pro Bowl quarterback is able to play this Sunday. If Vick is unable to go, the Eagles have two options at quarterback in the second-year Northwestern product Mike Kafka and former Pro Bowler Vince Young, who is still working his way back to 100 percent health from a hamstring strain. The Eagles, though, have plenty of problems aside from the quarterback position as they find themselves below .500 only three games into the season.  The team has squandered fourth-quarter leads in each of the last two games, thanks in part to failures in the red zone on both offense and defense, as well as a recent penchant for turnovers.

The 49ers, meanwhile, come to town as a team in sole possession of first place in the NFC West. At 2-1, the Niners hold a one-game lead on the Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals, while the St. Louis Rams are at the bottom of the division at 0-3. The 49ers, though, will not be preparing for Sunday's contest at home in San Francisco. Instead, coming off their 13-6 victory last week in Cincinnati, new head coach Jim Harbaugh chose to set up shop this week in Youngstown, OH, rather than make two extra cross-country flights. Harbaugh brings with him a defense that is allowing only 17.3 points per game, good for fourth in the league through three games. Sunday afternoon will also mark a homecoming for the best kicker in Eagles history, David Akers, who has made his first seven field goal this season, including two from at least 50 yards out. But the focus Sunday remains on the home team, who enters what is a statement game. A win brings the Eagles back to .500 and on course to right the ship heading into the Week 7 bye. A loss would send the team back to the drawing board, with some serious reflection needed.

When The Eagles Have The Ball:
The explosive Eagles offense has been stalled in the red zone of late, especially during last week's loss to the New York Giants when they turned five trips beyond the opponent's 20-yard-line into only one touchdown. In order for that success rate to improve this week, the Eagles will have to step up their game as the 49ers feature the league's best red-zone defense through three games, having allowed only two red-zone touchdown on seven trips by the opposition. Regardless of who is under center for the Eagles come Sunday, a higher degree of precision will be required, especially up front, where the offensive line was unable to provide a significant push at the goal line last week. Perhaps the biggest positive for the Eagles thus far this season has been the play of third-year running back LeSean McCoy, who leads the NFC with 345 yards rushing through three games on an impressive 6.1 yards per carry. McCoy also leads the entire league with four rushing touchdowns. If Vick is to be either limited or unavailable, expect the Eagles to give McCoy plenty of chances to make a game-changing play.

For their part, though, the 49ers appear well-equipped to stand up to the Eagles' rushing attack. The 49ers have allowed a paltry 62.7 yards per game on the ground thus far, third-best in the league, while surrendering only 2.94 yards per carry, the league's second-best mark. A lot of that credit goes to middle linebacker Patrick Willis, one of the league's best at his position, as well as the three-man defensive line of Justin Smith, Isaac Sopoaga and Ray McDonald. In fact, after lining up against 4-3 defenses in each of the first three weeks, this will mark the Eagles' first 3-4 test of 2011, notable because 10 of the final 13 games will feature 3-4 defenses. Finally, the Eagles will be tested by the 49ers when it comes to taking care of the football. After giving the ball away seven times through three games, the Eagles must limit mistakes against a 49ers team that is tied for third with eight takeaways and sports a plus-6 turnover differential.

To read the full game preview ahead of the upcoming game, click here.

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