Looking at the enemy’s biggest concerns.
Bleeding Green Nation already took some time to chat with Niners Nation in order to preview this Week 2 Philadelphia Eagles versus San Francisco 49ers matchup and you can read that here. Today, we’re back with three reasons why each team might lose. This exchange allows us to show what the other side is concerned about.
1 – THE EAGLES DEFENSIVE LINE
The 49ers have faced off against Philly twice in the Shanahan era, and both times the recipe for a bad loss was exactly the same. The Eagles created and sustained pressure on the quarterback with their front four, disrupting any kind of offensive flow.
Back in 2017, in an utterly demoralizing loss, C.J. Beathard had to fight through twenty (20!) pressures, and four sacks, even, noting afterwards, “…Tomorrow I’ll be awfully sore.”
The first time around it was Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, and Vinny Curry collecting those sacks, and, clearly, they made quite an impression. The very next day the Niners pulled the trigger on the Jimmy Garoppolo trade.
Last year, the next wave of talented linemen stepped up and consistently harassed Nick Mullens, who started for an injured Garoppolo. Javon Hargrave, Josh Sweat, and Derek Barnett chipped in for a team total of seventeen pressures, and five sacks on the day, leading to a pick-six, and eventually chasing Mullens out of the game.
Now, this fully stocked unit, featuring a mix of young athletic pieces and a couple veteran leaders, has already wreaked havoc in Week 1 against Matt Ryan and the Falcons. Under defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon, they appear poised to continue their tradition of terrorizing Niner quarterbacks.
Against the Lions, the San Francisco offensive line acquitted themselves well, allowing only two pressures over the game – one each for Mike McGlinchey and Dan Brunskill on the right side – but let us not forget this was against the Detroit Lions.
McGlinchey and Brunskill were downright liabilities in this phase of the game in 2020, and the Eagles will be their first real test in pass protection. If they flounder when squaring off with the superior level of talent, anything is on the table for Sunday.
2 – INJURIES ON DEFENSE
Surprising to no 49er fans anywhere, it only took one game for the defense to get pretty dinged up. Jason Verrett, the best cornerback on the roster, went down late in the 4th quarter with a torn ACL, and will miss the remainder of the season, leaving a pretty big hole on the depth chart at what had already been the thinnest position group.
How thin? Well, Verrett was starting across from a rookie selected in the fifth round because Emmanuel Moseley, the other presumptive starter, has been dealing with a knee injury of his own. Reports indicate that Moseley returned to practice as of Friday, but is listed as doubtful on the injury report.
Meanwhile, Dre Greenlaw, the starting Will LB, tweaked a groin that required surgery, sidelining him for four to six weeks. This weakens what had been a strong point on the defense, considering Marcell Harris, another depth piece, is dealing with an oblique issue.
Perhaps, there’s no bigger question mark than the 6’5” 320 pound Javon Kinlaw, literally. Last year’s first round pick sat out against the Lions with knee tendinitis, which seems to be an issue that flares at the exact worst times.
His physically-imposing presence was missed dearly, as the Lions took advantage of his vacated spot in the middle for big chunk gains on the ground. Something the Eagles would love to emulate. He’s listed as questionable as of Friday.
3 – CONTAINING MOBILE QUARTERBACKS
The San Francisco defense was constructed with one goal: Getting to the QB. Much like the Eagles, the idea is to achieve that with the defensive line, and it is, by far, the deepest, and most talented group on that side of the ball for the 49ers.
To accentuate that aim, the team converted to a Wide 9 alignment before the 2019 season, which led to phenomenal results, like a Super Bowl appearance. The theory behind the scheme is to, as the name suggests, line your defensive ends out wider than usual.
This starting position gives them a better angle and a few extra yards to build up momentum to create pressure and sacks. However, it’s greatest benefit has proven to be its Achilles’ Heal when facing mobile signal callers.
The overtly-aggressive style can leave wide open running lanes, if defensive ends over pursue their rush up the field. Over the last two seasons, the defense has faced quarterbacks who average twenty rushing yards a game on fourteen occasions, and they’ve allowed an average of nearly fifty rushing yards per game.
Don’t expect this trend to just stop cold, especially when facing Jalen Hurts, who just last week ran wild on the Falcons. If the Niners fall into the same traps as before you can expect Hurts to make this one hurt. Sorry, couldn’t help myself.