The Eagles head out to San Francisco to face the 49ers on Sunday night. Since the Niners are 0-4 that's a good thing, right? How good can an 0-4 team be? The fact they are winless actually scares the heck out of me. I don't see that as a sign that the Niners are bad. I see that as a sign they're due to win. We know that the Niners are too good to remain winless much longer.
I do feel confident in the matchup. San Francisco is 31st in the league in scoring. Last week they lost at Atlanta. They scored 14 points in the first quarter and were shut out the rest of the way. One touchdown came on offense. The other score came when a punt was recovered in the end zone. Their defense is also struggling. They gave up 25 or more points in each of the first three games. Last week they held Atlanta to 16 points, but still allowed 357 yards.
This isn't a question of talent. The Niners have some big-time weapons on offense. Frank Gore, Vernon Davis, and Michael Crabtree are players that any team in the league would love to have. There are a few problems. Quarterback Alex Smith isn't playing well. He's already thrown seven interceptions this year. The line is inconsistent. The Niners have two rookies starting and injuries have also caused some shuffling. Coaching has been an issue as well. They fired offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye last week and promoted Mike Johnson to his spot. Johnson is trying to adjust to his new job and get the offense back on track.
The Niners defense is a mystery. They have most of the key pieces from last year when they finished fourth in the league in points allowed. I've watched several of San Francisco's games. It looks like the biggest issue is that the role players just aren't getting the job done. They don't have one elite pass rusher. Last year they had five different players with at least four sacks. This year they have only six sacks as a team in the first month of action. Turnovers aren't coming as frequently and that isn't helping matters either. The defense just isn't making plays.
Kevin Kolb will get the start for us. I'm really interested to see what the Niners do on defense. They don't have a good enough pass rush to be passive, but their blitz isn't very effective right now. I tend to think a coach like Mike Singletary will have the attitude that the best plan is to attack and live with the results. After all, Singletary did learn defense from Buddy Ryan.
Our pass protection has been improved in the last two weeks. That bodes well for us if the Niners do try to blitz heavily. Max Jean-Gilles will start at right guard and that gives us our five best blockers on the field. Kolb should have time to find the open receiver on a regular basis.
Kolb and the coaches know that all eyes will be on our ability to throw the ball to receivers on intermediate and/or deep routes. Something tells me that one of the first plays of the game will be a designed pass play for DeSean Jackson. He didn't get enough touches last week and that fact isn't lost on Kolb or the playcallers. Kolb watched the game tape from last week a few times. He needs to show us that he learned from the mistakes in that game. He's got to throw the ball more vertically. I'm sure Kolb will want to be aggressive early in the game. My only concern is that he doesn't force the ball into coverage as he tries to show everyone that he can get the ball downfield. He needs to be smart, as well as aggressive.
Last year, we had a lot of success against the Niners with crossing routes. That is a high percentage way to get the ball to Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. They can still deliver big plays with their ability to run after the catch. We do need to stretch the defense, but getting the ball to our key players needs to be the primary focus.
Our defense struggled with the run last week. Now we face Frank Gore, whom I consider to be the most physical runner in the whole league. This is going to be a tough challenge, but it is one that I'm sure Sean McDermott and the defense are looking forward to. They want a chance to get back on the field and show what they can do.
McDermott made two personnel changes, inserting Juqua Parker as the base 4-3 left defensive end and Moise Fokou as the SAM linebacker. Fokou takes the place of Akeem Jordan. Fokou is physical and athletic. The one concern with him is penalties. Last year he was too aggressive at times. If he's calmed down, Fokou could help out the defense. One interesting note, Fokou started last season against the Niners so he has seen these players and this scheme before.
Most of last week's problems on defense weren't due to a lack of talent. We simply had guys making mistakes. McDermott has challenged them to play better and also to be tougher. Early in the game our guys were getting blocked too easily and also struggled to tackle runners. We don't want a repeat of that. We gave up 14 quick points to Washington and that allowed them to play conservatively the rest of the game. The Niners struggle on offense. We cannot give them an easy touchdown. We must make them have long drives and hold them to field goals if they do get in the red zone.
We didn't sell out to stop the run last week because of the threat of Santana Moss as a deep receiver. We don't have that situation this week. The Niners best vertical threat is tight end Vernon Davis. He is a player to worry about, but I think we'll play eight guys in the box and really try to shut down Frank Gore and the run game. Quintin Mikell could be our most important defender in the game.
Our pass rush wasn't very effective last week because of the way the Skins threw the ball. They used a lot of rollouts and play-action fakes. The Niners have more of a standard passing game. Trent Cole and the defense will have a chance to get to Alex Smith on Sunday night. Parker and Brandon Graham will take turns against rookie right tackle Anthony Davis. That matchup could help us.
Asante Samuel will miss the game due to a concussion. That means playing time for Joselio Hanson and Dimitri Patterson. While they don't have his cover skills, both guys are better tacklers and could be a better fit for this game. The Niners throw a lot of short passes and let their players get yards after the catch. Good tackling is critical.
I am interested to see how we defend Davis. All three linebackers will be needed at times. I think Nate Allen could be used on him. Davis is too athletic to be consistently covered by just linebackers. Allen is bigger and faster than Mikell so he should be a better matchup for Davis.
The Eagles are 2-2 right now. Last week was a frustrating loss. I'm sure Andy Reid and the coaches have been tough on the players this week. This is a young Eagles team. They need to know that sloppy performances like last week are unacceptable. You can live with a loss if your team goes down to a better team or if the opponent plays a terrific game. That's not what happened. We must be smarter and tougher this week. We need to control the line of scrimmage, on both sides of the ball. I think Reid will be aggressive in the team's approach to this week. It is only Week 5, but this doesn't feel like just another game. Sunday night should be pretty interesting.