Are you ready for the Mud Bowl? We've had Snow Bowl (2013) when the Eagles mashed up the visiting Detroit Lions in eight inches of snow at Lincoln Financial Field. The weather forecast for Sunday is scary, with a confluence of storms about to soak the East Coast.
At this point, it's not about "if" the rains come, but "when." So the Eagles have to be prepared (as do all the fans in attendance!) It's going to be ugly, wet, and muddy, but it's not going to change the purpose of the game: The Eagles need to keep things rolling. To win their sixth game in a row, the Eagles need to win these matchups ...
49ers DEs Solomon Thomas/Elvis Dumervil vs. Eagles T Halapoulivaati Vaitai
This is the first start at left tackle for Halapoulivaati Vaitai as he steps into the spot opened by the Jason Peters injury. Vaitai is seasoned enough at the position to play well. On Sunday, he sees two players at the opposite end of the NFL experience spectrum. Dumervil is in his 12th NFL season and is a low-to-the-ground, ball-of-energy speed rusher. Thomas is a rookie, the third overall pick in last spring's draft, and he's 6-3, 275 pounds and he's made an impact early in his career.
Thomas plays on the weak side, away from the tight end, so he'll have a chance to see either Vaitai or right tackle Lane Johnson in one-on-one situations. He's going to be a handful.
For Vaitai, he has to maintain his technique and use his natural ability. He's got the athletic ability and the strength to match up with anyone the 49ers use against him.
49ers MLB Reuben Foster vs. Eagles C Jason Kelce
A shoulder injury has limited Foster in his rookie season, but he's healthy now and is tasked with slowing the Eagles' running game and applying pressure up the middle in the passing game. Foster isn't experienced, but he's certainly a high-level talent. Jason Kelce has had a very fine season and he's going to have to handle San Francisco's interior defensive linemen and Foster on the second level.
If this game turns into a mudfest, establishing the running game will be of utmost importance. That and, of course, the exchange from center to quarterback will be so vital. Kelce is going to be in the middle of all the action, as usual.
49ers RB Carlos Hyde vs. Eagles LB Nigel Bradham
Carlos Hyde has 428 yards and four rushing touchdowns. He is averaging 4.3 yards per carry. He's really good on a team that struggles to score offensively, so Hyde doesn't get a lot of recognition. But the Eagles know all about him. Hyde is a physical and relentless runner.
Philadelphia must replace starter Jordan Hicks (Achilles injury) at middle linebacker, so Nigel Bradham has some new job challenges. He might see some time at middle linebacker – although Joe Walker and Najee Goode are expected to take the majority of the reps there – and Bradham has to make sure the front is aligned and everyone is on the same page defensively. Bradham has been terrific this season. He's got to take his game to a new level now.
49ers QB C.J. Beathard vs. Eagles QB Carson Wentz
We all know how Carson Wentz is playing – lights out. He'll have to handle football and keep the mistakes to a minimum here going against a tough San Francisco front.
Let's talk about C.J. Beathard, the rookie quarterback who is the starter for the 49ers the rest of the season. He's 6-2 and 215 pounds and has played in three games with one touchdown and one interception. The third-round pick is auditioning for the future, so he's got nothing to lose.
Beathard is scrappy and he moves well. Not a huge arm, but a smart football guy. The Eagles want to pressure him into mistakes.
The Eagles and 49ers vs. The Elements
Boy, that Snow Bowl in 2013 sure was a lot of fun. The Eagles stunk in the first half and then blitzed Detroit in the second half for the victory. The weather, a sudden snowstorm, was a surprise. Sunday's weather won't be a surprise. It's going to be wet, as two storms converge on the East Coast. Just how wet and when the rain strikes are the questions.
Combined with the rain, winds of up to 25 MPH could make for a crazy scene at Lincoln Financial Field. So the teams have to play smart football. The Eagles have their game plan in place, subject to change because of the weather.
That whole idea that bad weather "evens out the playing field" isn't necessarily true. Both teams have to overcome the elements. That means being smart with the football, buttoning up in the kicking game and having the best footing possible.