Four Keys to the 49ers-Eagles Game: A 49ers Fan’s Take

The 49ers go to Philadelphia this weekend to play the Eagles. A win in Philly did not seem likely before the season started but three weeks into the season things have changed and the Niners have a good opportunity to take a solid 3-1 record back home after a two-game road trip. Several key factors will play a role in determining the outcome of the game.

Key #1 – The Mental Game. The 49ers come off a hard-fought victory over the Bengals in their first road game of the season following a tough overtime loss the previous week against Dallas. The victory was a gut-check win that gives the 49ers confidence they can handle adversity and win on the road. More importantly, the win takes pressure off of the Philadelphia game since even with a loss in Philly, the Niners will go home with a 2-2 record and at least a tie for first place in the NFC west surpassing all early season expectations for this team. The Eagles on the other hand come into the game significantly under-performing compared to the lofty expectations that resulted from an off-season of big name free-agent signings. After a victory in week 1 over the currently winless Rams, the Eagles have lost two straight games including a bad outing last week at home against the Giants. With a loss already against the Giants in a Division that looks to be even more competitive with an improved Redskins team, this game becomes a must-win for Philadelphia. A confident and loose 49ers team could be the difference especially if the game is close down the stretch.

Key #2 – Strength vs. Strength. After three weeks in 2011, the 49ers enter the Philadelphia game the #3 ranked rushing defense allowing 63 yards per game and 2.9 yards per attempt while Philadelphia has the #2 rushing offense with 182 yards per game on the ground. LeSean McCoy leads the way for the Eagles as the #2 ranked rusher in the NFL while quarterback Michael Vick ranks #22 in rushing putting him ahead of 49ers starting running back Frank Gore who is at #23. This game will be the toughest test so far this season for each unit since neither unit has faced a top-notch opponent. Last year the Niners held McCoy to 92 yards rushing but gave up 125 yards for the game and the Eagles were without Vick. The key here is Vick and whether the Niners can keep him in check.

Key #3 – Weakness vs. Weakness. The Eagles have the #30 ranked rushing defense allowing 131 yards per game on 4.9 yards per carry while the Niners come in with the #30 rushing offense averaging 70 yards per game and a dismal 2.5 yards per attempt. Gore sprained his ankle in Cincinnati but when 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh was asked about Gore this week, Harbaugh said that Gore was “good to go” and that the Niners will plan, scheme and prepare for Philadelphia “with Frank, along with the rest of the players on this team.” The important part of that statement is “the rest of the players on this team.” Harbaugh is not one to divulge much to the media but it is clear that Gore is just not producing while rookie running back Kendal Hunter scored the only touchdown last week in Cincinnati and was an ankle-tackle away from breaking a long run. In addition, Hunter had a 43-yard kickoff return against Dallas the week before and led the preseason in rushing. Look for Hunter to get a greater share of the carries this week and break a long one as the Niners try to exploit the Eagles run defense.

Key #4 – The Red Zone. The Eagles have the #8 ranked passing defense and they are #2 overall in sacks with 12 on the season. Meanwhile, the 49ers have the #28 ranked passing offense and quarterback Alex Smith has been sacked 11 times which is tied for fifth most sacks given up in the league. The Niners would seem to be clearly over-matched here. However, the Eagles defense is #14 in opposing quarterback passing percentage while Smith ranks #4 in the league in passing percentage. In addition, Philly’s defense has given up 8 passing touchdowns this year tied for most in the league with Miami and Kansas City. This kink in the Eagles defense plays into the biggest strength for Smith who was among the league leaders in red zone passing percentage last season. Smith’s success or lack of it in the red zone may be the biggest key of all for the 49ers in this game.

Sources:, Yahoo!Sports, 95.7 The Game,

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