SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The 49ers are a tough-tested football team, one that has been to three straight NFC Championship Games. They are 1-2 this season, a desperate football team. Are the Eagles ready to step up in class on the road today?
It isn't a matter of whether the Eagles are talented enough to beat San Francisco. They are. They have the talent and they have the chemistry and the coaching and, despite so many early-season injuries, the depth to beat the 49ers. In an instance like this, in the second year of the Chip Kelly Era, the question is if the Eagles can play beyond their years in a hostile environment against a team that knows it's going to be there at the end of the season.
Strategically, the storylines are pretty clear. The Eagles have their fourth version of a starting offensive line for this game, opening with Matt Tobin at left guard and David Molk at center and Dennis Kelly at right guard. Todd Herremans slides to right tackle. Jason Peters is the rock at left tackle.
How do the Eagles play it with a newly formed offensive line? Where are the 49ers vulnerable defensively? Can the Eagles get the offense rolling early and sustain it for 60 minutes?
It's truly a chess match as the Eagles match X's and O's wits with a San Francisco defense that is missing key parts and that has been very poor on third downs. Who is go-to option for the Eagles today? Does LeSean McCoy find some running room? Is Darren Sproles able to get open in space and make some big plays? Where does tight end Zach Ertz factor into the equation in his return to the Bay Area, where he starred at Stanford in college?
Defensively, the Eagles know that Colin Kaepernick is perhaps the ultimate multi-dimensional threat at quarterback. He has put up solid numbers in two of the three 49ers games, but those 3 interceptions a couple of weeks ago against Chicago stand out. Can the Eagles harness him as he looks to create with his legs and take advantage of any inaccurate throws? Will the Eagles employ a spy to keep Kaepernick under control and in the pocket?
At 3-0, it's asking a lot for the Eagles to head across the country after an emotional and physical game against NFC East rival Washington and beat a veteran team that has been 1-2 before and that has Super Bowl aspirations.
But the teams that are building toward greatness, as the Eagles are, prove something to themselves in games like these. They overcome the obstacles and find a way to win. And so that is the challenge the Eagles face today. And that is why the play of quarterback Nick Foles comes into focus as he continues his early season, one that has been so strong thus far.
The Eagles need Foles to be great today. They need him to make the right reads and make his progressions quickly and deliver the football accurately playing behind an offensive line that is new. Foles is missing his best partner here, center Jason Kelce. Theirs is a special bond that cannot be overstated. Can Foles and Molk get on and stay on the same page with the fans howling and the 49ers defense dialing up blitzes and crashing the middle of the offensive line and pressuring the pocket?
"I have total confidence in these guys. They've worked hard," said Foles during the week. "They're going to play a great game."
It's really on Foles and the coaches, of course. Chip Kelly has been outstanding at adapting to the circumstances up front during the first three games and finding holes in defenses. There are holes in a 49ers D that won't have outstanding linebackers Aldon Smith and Navorro Bowman, and likely won't have cornerback Tramaine Brock. The 49ers can be had with tempo, with everyone playing on the same page and with great execution.
It's a perfect day for football here. Eagles fans are here in huge, huge numbers. A good start will frustrate a San Francisco team that has played undisciplined football in a 1-2 start to the season.
A win today stamps the Eagles as legitimate contenders in the NFC, if they aren't already. Getting to 4-0 would be a massive boost in the big picture, and would reward a roster that has gotten contributions from every corner.