With the Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers scheduled to kick off on Sunday, I reached out to our friends/enemies over at Niners Nation. The great David Fucillo kindly took the time to answer my questions.
Let's take a look at the answers.
1) I feel like a lot of people expected the 49ers to fall off a little bit this year due to an offseason filled with distractions. Do you think the 49ers 1-2 start is a sign of larger struggles to come or will San Francisco end up being fine?
I do think the 49ers will be fine in spite of the distractions and the early start. The off-field stuff is distracting as fans, but that is not my biggest concern in this team turning it around. The key for them is getting healthy and getting Aldon Smith back from suspension. NaVorro Bowman is out until midseason, and his absence is as big as any. Additionally, the team is getting Anthony Davis back soon (hopefully this weekend), and awaits the return of Tramaine Brock. Vernon Davis and Vance McDonald missed last week's game, and the 49ers are now 0-4 when Vernon is absent.
This is a team that could be a rising team as the season progresses. They will get healthier, and they will ideally get a better handle on what this offense will be. The wide receiver corps is the deepest it has been in over a decade, and that has opened the door for potentially spreading out the offense a bit. We saw it last week against Arizona, but really the team needs to try and figure out some kind of consistent offensive identity.
2. Speaking of offseason distractions, there seems to be a stark contrast between the way the 49ers and Eagles value players. Perhaps this is just anecdotal, but I get the sense the 49ers are more willing to ignore character concerns and prioritize talent at all costs whereas the Eagles aren't afraid to sacrifice talent at the cost of character (see: DeSean Jackson). Do you think there's anything to this observation?
It would be interesting to go back and see draft reports and scouting reports on free agents to assess this idea beyond just arrest records. I do see GM Trent Baalke potentially being willing to roll the dice more with guys who have gotten in trouble. I have nothing sufficient to compare it to from other teams, but yes, it does seem like if you can help the 49ers win, you'll get an extra chance or two. But it's also worth noting that guys like NaVorro Bowman and Tarell Brown had some character concerns coming out of college. Brown is now with the Raiders, but he was a model citizen in San Francisco, and Bowman has been just about perfect. That being said, the 49ers do seem to be willing to take more chances on guys viewed as "character risks".
3. To what extent is Colin Kaepernick a better quarterback than Nick Foles?
It's interesting that various advanced stats have them pretty close (we can always pick and choose!). But just in terms of physical skills, Kap's combination of speed and strength is unmatched in the NFL. There are fast quarterbacks, and there are strong quarterbacks, but Kap has the best combination of the two. You've seen him run wild when he gets out in the open field, but if you look back at the Cardinals game last week, there were two or three instances where defensive players had him in their grasp, and Kap jerked himself away. And this was not the defenders just losing their grip, but rather Kap having the power to force his way out. It adds to his escapability.
Kap can struggle with touch and accuracy at times, but he has an absolute cannon for an arm. He rarely throws it particularly deep, but his fastball is unbelievable. He's made 20-30 yard throws to his receivers that were absolutely on a line. I haven't watched a ton of tape on Foles, so feel free to correct me, but I don't think he's got quite that fastball.
4. What is the biggest strength and weakness of this 49ers team?
The biggest strength is the run defense. After DeMarco Murray lit up the defense in Week 1, there were some concerns. Of course, we've since seen that Murray is for real. The 49ers have since done good work against Matt Forte and Andre Ellington. Of course, the Bears and Cardinals lit up San Francisco through the air, so we'll see if Philadelphia follows suit. McCoy will be a strong challenge for the 49ers run D, but I am still more concerned about how the defensive front handles the pass game.
5. Jim Harbaugh versus Chip Kelly. This should be a good one. Let's hear a score prediction. Who wins this game and why?
Of course I'll go with the 49ers. I'm a big, fat homer, but I do think the 49ers can bounce back with a win this week. The 49ers are a 5.5 point favorite, and I think we see them clear that with a 34-24 win. I think we see the most complete 49ers effort to date, with San Francisco actually figuring out that second half scoring is a plus. They are expecting Anthony Davis back, which would be a huge boon for the offensive line. That could be the key for the 49ers finding a way to close this out.
Bonus: A number of BGN readers knew I was a big fan of fringe tight end Derek Carrier in Eagles training camp last season. How's he been for the 49ers?
Derek Carrier has been solid in a limited role. He's made some solid catches, and was actually the 49ers starting tight end last week when Vernon Davis and Vance McDonald were both inactive. Davis returned to practice Wednesday, and McDonald returned Thursday, so Carrier likely moves back to the No. 3 tight end role. He is reportedly improved as a blocker, but the 49ers use him primarily in more of a pass catching role. I would not expect to see a ton of him on Sunday if Davis and McDonald are back, but you'll get him in spurts.
[Ed. note: Long live Derek Carrier.]
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