The Eagles are still undefeated but a tough task awaits them on Sunday. While the 49ers are just 1-2, the team is just one year removed from being the NFC runner-up. On top of that, while the Eagles are 3-0, they haven't necessarily looked like a dominant team. This could be a major statement game for Philadelphia as they close the first quarter of the NFL season.
Mike Kaye and Dan Klausner are excited about this matchup and believe it will be a close contest. Below are five questions that K&K feel are worth answering headed into the big game in Santa Clara, California.
1) Has your impression of Nick Foles changed at all because of the Washington win? Do you think he is finally starting to find his groove or was Sunday just a good matchup for him? How do you think he will perform against San Francisco?
Mike Kaye: This is a loaded grouping of questions but one that should be answered and/or discussed. I have not kept it a secret that I am pretty high on Foles as a quarterback. I do think he is in the top 15 starters in the league with the opportunity to be a top 10 guy with Chip Kelly's influence. That said, I have learned a ton about his resiliency and toughness over the last three weeks. You just see his leadership and mental toughness on a week in, week out basis and it's really refreshing. You can say what you want about his skills, but you really can't question his fortitude.
I am not ready to say he has found his groove, but as Kelly noted on Monday, he has proven to do better as the season goes on. I think Foles looked a lot more comfortable and decisive in the pocket and with his receivers against Washington and will say that it was probably one of the top three games of his career. His ability to bounce back after bad passes and huge hits impressed me quite a bit.
I see Foles doing well on Sunday but I really think his success will be dictated by how the running game performs. He had no running game against the Redskins, but the 49ers are seemingly more talented on both sides of the ball. This can't be a game where the team solely relies on the pass again or it will be a rough one for the Eagles offensive line. Foles needs to be a leader, not the driving force in this one.
Dan Klausner: As one of Nick's harshest critics so far, I'll say this: Sunday's game against Washington is easily the most impressed I've been by him to this point in his career -- and it might be the most impressed I've been by an Eagles quarterback since McNabb's performance against the Cardinals on a broken ankle. I don't know if any other quarterback in the league could've taken the number of repeated and punishing hits that Foles took on Sunday and simply just kept popping back up and firing. Hell, the harder he got hit, the better it seemed he played. For all the things that I've pointed to as deficiencies in Nick's game, toughness has never been one of them. That's been his top trait going back to college. Chip Kelly saw it firsthand multiple times, including:
Again, as someone who was skeptical of Nick going into the season and then all over him in the first two games, credit where it's due here -- he really showed me something against Washington. Even if you're not a fan of him as a player, you have to respect his toughness and resilience. His teammates sure as hell do, and it's obvious Foles is someone for whom they'll go to war. I'm not ready to say he's found his groove or to suddenly discard all my concerns, but it was certainly a step in the right direction and let's see how he builds on this going forward.
2) Are you concerned about the state of the offensive line or do you think the team will be able to manage over the next several weeks without Evan Mathis and Jason Kelce?
MK: I am concerned that the run game will never get on track if Andrew Gardner is on the field. I have not been impressed by him at all. However, I think Matt Tobin returns against the 49ers and is a clear upgrade. He, Dennis Kelly and David Molk will have to do moving forward but they will have Todd Herremans and Jason Peters. Lane Johnson will be back soon and I think having three starters is better than two, if my math is correct. It will likely be a game of musical chairs until Kelce and Mathis return, but hopefully nothing as drastic as 2012.
DK: Even if you think the replacements for Mathis and Kelce are adequate, I don't know how you can't be concerned about the state of the offensive line. That unit was being held together by tape an bubble gum by the end of the Washington game, especially once Jason Peters got ejected for coming to the aid of his quarterback. Luckily, Matt Tobin appears ready to return to action this week and is slated to start. He was the team's best offensive lineman in the preseason and a player the organization has been very high on since signing him as a UDFA. David Molk can't replace Kelce -- no one can. Hopefully he's able to fill in and do a good enough job that the offense can continue to run efficiently. Speaking of being able to run efficiently, the Eagles patchwork offensive line couldn't get anything resembling a push up front and was driven back a few yards off the line on seemingly every run play. I don't expect the run game to necessarily be dynamic with the injuries to Mathis and Kelce weakening the middle of the offensive line and neutering the interior's ability to pull and get out in space, but we can't have LeSean McCoy being reduced to 19 carries for 22 yards on a regular basis over the next couple months. Also, I want to see Chris Polk get some regular carries since he's a lock to go north-south instead of east-west. With three wins already in the bank, I'll accept 3-3 over the next six games to be at 6-3 when Mathis and Kelce should be ready to come back.
3) Which matchups are you most looking forward to on Sunday? Which matchups seems like trouble waiting to happen?
MK: I am looking forward to the Eagles wide receivers matching up with the 49ers cornerbacks. I haven't really been impressed by the 49ers defensive backs and I think the Eagles receivers got into a groove with Foles against Washington. I think this is another game that Maclin could have a very productive day. I also can't wait to see linebackers and safeties try to cover Darren Sproles. That should be fun.
As far as matchups I am not looking forward to at this point, I'd probably say the offensive line against the 49ers front seven. I also don't like the idea of power running backs against the Eagles front seven with Mychal Kendricks out. However, I will say there aren't any matchups that scare me.
DK: This one is easy for me: Jordan Matthews against Jimmie Ward. I loved Ward at Northern Illinois, but the rookie's been getting burned and this is a tough task for him, especially with Matthews coming off his best game as a pro. Zach Ertz against whoever the 49ers try to throw at him will be fun to watch, as well.
As for the matchup that concerns me: Justin Smith against David Molk and Dennis Kelly, depending on the former's alignment for the given snap. Yikes. Vernon Davis looks like he's ready to play -- so much for the Derek Carrier revenge game! -- and it seems like Mychal Kendricks will be out again. I wonder if we'll see Marcus Smith match up with Davis.
4) The Eagles are 3-0 but still clearly have a lot to work on. What is the one thing that has been a constant disappointment despite all three wins?
MK: The run game, outside of a few big runs from Sproles and McCoy in the first two games, has been rough. I am not sure it's all on the offensive line but it has been a weakness after being the "bread and butter" for the offense last season. The Eagles may see improvement with Matt Tobin returning and Herremans moving to right tackle. The running game needs to be the focal point of this offense in the long term or the zone read will be less effective.
DK: Ditto on the run game, but given the state of the offensive line, it's hard to be super harsh and it's not at the top of the list of things that concern me. The major constant disappointment, to me, is the pass rush, which has been virtually non-existent. I know Bill Davis says he schemes for pressure, but, uh, you don't have any dangerous pass rushers who demand extra attention and the scheming ain't working. Kirk Cousins didn't even have to wash his jersey after Sunday's game. To think this won't be something that bites the Eagles in the ass as the season goes along is the height of ignorance. It's a serious issue, just like it was last season -- one that hasn't even been fixed and is possibly getting worse. Trent Cole is about to turn 32 and has got to the quarterback once this season, while Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry have done bupkis. The Eagles are tied for second-to-last in the NFL with 3.0 sacks and, according to SportingCharts.com, have just six (6) total hurries. Opposing quarterbacks are barely even being forced to move off their spot in the pocket.
There's also the pass defense and, specifically, the two starting cornerbacks. Cary Williams was torched against the Jaguars, and Fletcher was torched against Washington. Naturally there's some recency bias here because of what happened against Washington, and it's easy to forget the pass defense played very well against Andrew Luck and the Colts. Still, I have no faith in anyone in the secondary who's not Malcolm Jenkins (he's been tremendous) and Brandon Boykin, who is lucky to get on the field for half the defensive snaps since he's "strictly" a slot corner.
5) Has your outlook on the season changed? With the 49ers, Packers and Saints struggling, where do you see the Eagles stacking up in the conference?
MK: Right now, I am probably looking at a 11-5 record. Prior to the season, I was looking at 9-7. I think the Eagles starting 3-0 without two starting lineman has been pretty impressive. The team doesn't even seem like it has everything together too, which means Philadelphia's best may be yet to come. At worst, I think the Eagles are third in the conference. Seattle is really the only team that would scare me, with the Cardinals posing an interesting threat despite not looking all that great in their three wins. I think the Saints and Packers will rebound and a win for the 49ers on Sunday may right their ship.
DK: I expected the team to be 2-1 going into this game against San Francisco. At 3-0 and against an overrated yet desperate 1-2 49ers team that is at home and needs a win in the worst way possible with Seattle and Arizona above them, I'm expecting a loss -- one of those ugly 20-17 type of games. I was down a bit on the Eagles going into training camp, but after the preseason I bumped my record projection from 8-8 or 9-7 to 10-6, but now I'm eyeing 11-5 or 12-4.