What is the Eagles reward for the big win over the Giants on Sunday night? A chance to host a tough San Francisco team that is fighting for their playoff lives. Last Sunday's win was great, but it didn't guarantee anything. The Eagles haven't won the division or clinched a playoff spot. We are atop the NFC East and boy does that make me happy. Unfortunately, we have to keep fighting to stay up there.
The Niners come to town off their biggest win of the year. They beat the Cardinals, a division rival, on Monday night. The Niners controlled the whole game and played outstanding defense. I'm glad our guys got to see them at their best. I doubt our players have watched much of the Niners during the year. After that game, I don't see us overlooking San Francisco at all.
There are two tests for every team during a given season. How do you handle adversity? How do you handle success? Since the loss to the Chargers, we have won four in a row. We handled adversity just fine. This week, we get to see how the team handles success. We're on a winning streak. We're first in the division. We're playing at home against a team that has a losing record. A truly good team should win this game.
Andy Reid does a very good job of keeping his players on an even keel during the year. Fans and the media have a lot of highs and lows, but the team is steadier than outsiders realize. This pays off late in the year when the pressure is on. The team is able to stay the same. Really emotional teams are charged with having every game be the biggest of the year. They are constantly trying to find that emotional edge. The Eagles are able to just go out and take care of business. This isn't to say there isn't emotion. It is part of the equation instead of being the key to the game.
This game with San Francisco is a good test for us. The defense had a very poor showing last week. We weren't physical enough up front and we tackled poorly, to put it mildly. Very mildly. The Niners have tough, physical offensive players. I think running back Frank Gore is the most physical runner in all of football. He pushes the pile better than any other player in the league. He keeps his legs driving after contact and rarely is brought down by the first defender. Gore ran for 101 yards last year against us.
Our defenders worked on tackling quite a bit in practice this week. For whatever reason, we've been sloppy in a couple of recent games. Tackling is all about positioning and effort. Players must see their target, get low, open their arms, make contact, wrap their arms and drive through the target. That sounds pretty simple. It gets complicated when the target runs a 4.5 and is elusive. Still, just working on some fundamentals can have a big impact.
Gore will be the biggest test for our tacklers. He gave us fits at times last year. We must rally to the ball and put him on the ground. We cannot let him break multiple tackles throughout the game or it will cost us. We almost lost to the Giants mainly due to poor tackling. When Gore has a good day, it is a huge boost to their offense.
Tight end Vernon Davis and receiver Michael Crabtree are the other two weapons that are tough to bring down. Davis has elite speed for his position. He had a 57-yard reception against us last year. Davis turned a short pass into a long gain with his running ability. Crabtree is the very talented rookie receiver. He is the real deal. He can catch a pass and make multiple guys miss. Crabtree isn't small or speedy. He's big and physical, and also elusive. Linebackers and defensive backs must get to the ball in a hurry.
Safeties Sean Jones and Quintin Mikell must improve from last week. The job of a safety is to clean up someone else's mess. They must make the stop when the initial defender has missed the tackle. That didn't happen against the Giants. Both guys had a hand in long touchdown catches. That is unacceptable. If Mikell or Jones gets burned in coverage because a receiver was faster and made a good catch, you can live with that. Those kinds of plays are acceptable because the player is getting beat due to talent and not simple execution. Missed tackles that turn into long scores cannot be tolerated. Mikell is normally an outstanding tackler so I expect him to bounce back this week. Jones is a good tackler. Hopefully he will also respond well to the tough outing.
San Francisco throws a lot of short passes. It can be tough for them to sustain drives when the opposing defense is quick to the ball and tackles well. All the quick, short passes can mean the pass rush will have a tough time getting pressure. Trent Cole and the other rushers need to pursue well when they see the ball is out. Cole has a great motor and makes a lot of downfield tackles for a defensive end.
The linebackers will be interesting to watch this week. Rookie Moise Fokou will mix in at the strongside position. He is better in coverage than Chris Gocong. That could be important against a tight end like Davis, who has big-time speed. Akeem Jordan will split time in the middle with Jeremiah Trotter. Those guys need to play well. Both have the power to tackle Gore even when got up some speed. Will Witherspoon needs to do a lot. Sometimes he will cover Davis. Sometimes he will need to tackle Gore. He also needs to do a good job of taking on fullback Moran Norris. If you can stuff the lead blocker and make Gore run sideways he's not nearly as effective.
I really want to see a crisp defensive effort. We need to win the battle up front. I want to see multiple defenders getting to the ball on runs and short passes. I also want to see a big improvement in tackling. We're not going to win in the postseason if we play like we did at New York.
I think our offense should move the ball on the Niners. They are built to shut down the run and the intermediate passing game. This is a week for us to go deep and stretch the field. DeSean Jackson will have a big impact on the game whether he catches one pass or 10. You know that San Francisco is scared of his deep speed. That should open up the middle of the field for other receivers.
I'm sure some people who watched the Niners clamp down on the Cardinals passing attack Monday night will be worried. There is a big difference. Arizona likes to throw a lot of intermediate passes. They don't stretch the defense. Jackson will run deep routes for us throughout the game. Even if we don't throw to him every time it will put pressure on their defense and affect the overall situation. We won't have Jeremy Maclin and that's too bad. His speed would help. Reggie Brown is a solid downfield receiver. He would have scored a long touchdown last week, but McNabb's pass was just a bit too far. We will get to see the return of Kevin Curtis. It will be interesting to find out what he can do. When healthy, he brings speed and quickness to the passing attack.
The Niners are only 6-7. They aren't highly ranked overall on offense or defense. They are coming on the road after playing a Monday night game, which gives them a decided disadvantage. This game still has me a bit nervous. They almost beat the Colts. They should have beaten the Vikings. Dre Bly dropped an easy interception on the final drive. A few plays later Brett Favre pulled off (with the help of Greg Lewis) the biggest miracle of the season. Both of those losses were on the road. The Niners are tough. A win by the Eagles would be impressive. A blowout win would tell me that the Eagles are really starting to peak and could be a force in the postseason.