49ers Week 4 primer: Eagles fly in as Niners approach a crossroads

It’s not just the fact that the San Francisco 49ers have dropped two games in a row that has people wondering exactly what this team is made of, but the way the games have been lost that has the sharks circling.

The losses on defense are definitely hurting, as the unit has struggled to get any kind of pressure on opposing quarterbacks, and haven’t covered well either.

On offense, the team misses tackle Anthony Davis more and more with each passing week, and Alex Boone may not be quite up to form yet after holding out through the preseason. In turn, the running game has struggled to take off (when Greg Roman actually decides to call a run play that is).

As if all of that wasn’t enough, sloppy play has led to a slew of crushing penalties, that one could argue have been the main reason for losing the last two.

Despite the early season malaise, the 49ers now have to put the past behind them. The team is still supremely talented, and can run off a winning streak just as they did after a slow start a year ago. They’ll have to get it together quickly though, as the 3-0 Philadelphia Eagles will visit Levi’s Stadium in Week 4.

Recent history

In Week 4 2011, the 49ers came into Philadelphia as heavy underdogs to an Eagles squad that had dubbed themselves “The Dream Team.”  While the 49ers came into the game 2-1, they were winning ugly and many still had questions about just how good they could be.

The lopsided lines looked right early on, as San Francisco was in a 23-3 hole by the 9:30 mark of the third quarter. Then, something clicked in the 49ers, and they didn’t look back for most of the season.

Touchdown passes from Alex Smith to Josh Morgan and Vernon Davis cut the lead to 23-17 by the end of third, and Frank Gore put the 49ers ahead with a 12-yard touchdown run with three minutes remaining.

The game wasn’t sealed though until Justin Smith made a hustle play and chased down Jeremy Maclin in the flat. Smith punched the ball out, and San Francisco recovered to seal the game as the 49ers’ sideline exploded. 

The 49ers would go 13-3 on the season and reach the NFC Championship game, while the Eagles would disappoint at 8-8.

Players to watch

Last season when the 49ers struggled early on, they responded by putting the ball into the hands of their best player, Gore.

Similar to what happened early in 2013, Gore hasn’t been given enough touches so far, and only has 35 carries through three games. Last year, Gore responded with 153 yards and a touchdown on 20 totes in a Week 4 victory over the Rams. It will be interesting to see if he is once again the focal point come Sunday.

For the Eagles, their up-tempo offense has given teams fits, as they are averaging just under 34 points a game. Quarterback Nick Foles has done an excellent job spreading the ball around, as six players already have nine or more receptions. If Foles finds himself up against a 49ers’ defense that is still struggling to get pressure, he will easily add to his league-leading total in passing yards (978).

Game changing factor

Last season, the Eagles relied heavily on LeSean McCoy to carry the load for them on the ground. In the offseason, they went out and acquired Darren Sproles from the New Orleans Saints to not only give McCoy a breather, but also add another dimension to an already dangerous attack. 

As expected, Sproles has been a nightmare for defenders in Chip Kelley’ system. Sproles is averaging 6.9 yards a carry and has added 196 yards through the air.

The 49ers still have playmakers on defense that can bottle up anyone, but as a unit there may not be enough there to slow the Eagles. They rank in the bottom 10 in the NFL with only four sacks so far, and are tied for the second-most passing touchdowns allowed with seven.

Stats to know

The 49ers have started fast this season, going into halftime with commanding leads in all three games. In fact, they’ve outscored their  opponents 59-16 in the first half this season. However, due to self-inflicted wounds and a possible lack of adjustments, the tables have been flipped on them in the second half. San Francisco has given up 52 points in the third and fourth quarter this season, while only scoring three.

Life couldn’t be more different in Philadelphia, as the Eagles have started slow, but finished in a flurry. They’ve found themselves down big in two of their first three games, only to come back and win. For the year, the Eagles have outscored teams 74-24 in the second half.

Bottom line

The 49ers have problems on both sides of the ball right now, and need to play calmer, more disciplined football for 60 minutes. With the Eagles coming to San Francisco on a role, they may have too much fire power for the Niners to handle right now. The 49ers will right their ship eventually, but it won’t be this week.

Photo: Rob Carr, Getty Images


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Al Sacco

Al Sacco is sports expert who knows football, baseball, basketball and hockey. He has spent his time as a sports journalist covering the San Francisco 49ers as a contributor to 49erswebzone.com and Ninerfans.com. He's been a guest on numerous podcasts and has had his work used on ESPN NFL Insiders and USA TODAY.


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