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Crunching The Numbers: San Francisco 49ers

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Will the Eagles keep rolling against the Niners? (Spoiler: The answer is yes they should.)

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at San Francisco 49ers Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to another edition of Crunching The Numbers! In these posts, I compare the Eagles against their upcoming opponent in a few key areas and use that to make some high-level predictions about the game plan for that week. If you’d like to read up on why I chose the statistics I use, or see an archive of this series, check out this hub.

Going into the Redskins game, I was nervous, but I told myself if the Eagles emerged victorious I would be 100% on board the hype train (I’ve been on the Wentz Wagon for a while now). I was totally prepared to hop on full-stop, ready to dream about angling for that elusive #1 seed. The Eagles have burned us so much in the past with these hot starts, but I was ready to cast history aside and believe.

And so now I do. Almost. Because life can never be 100% fun, the Birds lost Jason Peters and Jordan Hicks for the season. I’m impressed by the team’s resiliency so far with injuries this year, but losing someone like Peters is a big hang-up for me. Once I’m satisfied that they can weather this latest round of injuries, I’ll have my foot fully on the gas all the way to Minneapolis. The fact that Big V played pretty well in Peters’ absence is an encouraging sign. In any case, the Eagles could not have really asked for a better opponent this week to try and re-settle the offensive line.

But I digress. How did my predictions from last week hold up? Overall, my two main points were:

  1. The Eagles should be aggressive early, testing the Redskins weak secondary deep and going for it on fourth downs.
  2. On defense, the corners should play press with a Cover-2 shell while using linebackers to contain Thompson

Wentz did indeed go deep early, and although the first one was an arm punt interception, his perfect tosses to Mack Hollins and Zach Ertz and the end of the first half really put the Eagles in the driver’s seat for the rest of the game. As for the fourth downs, these have really been a non-factor recently because Wentz is simply too good at converting third downs and the team has often found themselves with double-digit leads, making fourth down calls an unnecessary risk.

As for the defense, I don’t have access to All-22 so it’s hard for me to assess the defensive alignments properly. However, from what I saw the Eagles kept two safeties deep quite a bit during the game. It must have been somewhat integral to the game plan, because when Hicks went out Schwartz opted for the “big nickel” package (three safeties) to bring Jenkins down near the line of scrimmage instead of simply playing McLeod single high. Additionally, while Thompson had a touchdown, he had a quiet night otherwise. He only had 38 yards on 7 carries as Gruden all but abandoned the run, and his 5.2 yards per catch is a far cry from his ridiculous season average of over 18. All that being said, I was way off with the press-man play with the corners. Schwartz seemed to give a nice cushion to the receivers all game long, and although it sometimes burned them it also invited long-developing pass play calls that the Eagles defensive line feasted on consistently. They played more than good enough to win with so many injuries, so I’ll happily take the ‘L’ on that call.

But enough about the Redskins. What can we say about the Eagles next opponent? (Numbers in bold-face indicate that team has the advantage. Numbers in parenthesis represent league rank.)

Matt Takes

Er... not much. The 49ers are 29th or worse in every statistic except one, and even then they’re still only 21st. I was curious as to what these numbers would be like since only two weeks ago people were commenting on how close all of San Francisco’s games have been. But the numbers we see here are what you’d expect of an 0-7 team: bad. In fact, there’s such a disparity between the Eagles’ numbers (three of which are top-ten) and the 49ers that I’m going to forgo the traditional format of offering insight based on who possesses the football. I just don’t think there’s enough to say to fill a space like that without film study, and we have several excellent film students that post here often.

Instead, I’m going to go into how the Eagles can lose this game, since “any given Sunday” is a real thing that exists. Given the Niners’ play on defense, I don’t think there’s any way they keep Wentz and Company from scoring without Philadelphia having a bad day at the office. And since “bad play” is not really great analysis, I’ll discount that possibility, even though it technically exists.

This means that the 49ers are going to have to win on offense behind rookie quarterback CJ Beathard. There’s an old saying that goes, “If you let a bad team hang around long and let them believe they can win, they probably will.” This is San Francisco’s best shot at pulling off the upset. They need to play as if they are the worst team in the league playing the best team in the league, and that this game is the Super Bowl. Pull out all the stops here: trick plays that aren’t on tape yet, making fourth down calls in your own territory, onside kicks, the whole nine yards. If the 49ers can somehow turn this into a shootout, then they’ll have a chance. It almost worked against Washington. If the Eagles aren’t on top of their game it will work against them too.

But the question is... Is this worth it? To go through such an effort when your team is clearly in rebuilding mode, the team you’re playing has such a commanding lead of their division that it makes no sense to play “spoiler,” and that there is no real rivalry between these two teams. I’m sure Kyle Shanahan is desperate for a win, but I’d also hedge my bets he gets somewhere in the neighborhood of three years to right the ship. It wouldn’t be fair to put him on the hot seat now given the dearth of talent on the roster, especially when the coach and GM were hired together.

So really, that what it boils down to. Yes, handing the best team in the league their second loss of the season would be satisfying I’m sure, but for a team like the 49ers my guess would be they’d feel much MORE satisfied going all-out to beat the Seahawks in Seattle. In short, a loss is possible here for the Birds (as it always is), but I’m having a hard time feeling nervous about this one.

Of course, it’s always games like this that the Eagles found ways to lose. Bucs (and Titans) in 2006. Bengals in 2008 (okay yeah that was a tie, whatever). Raiders in 2009. Vikings in 2010 (and 2013... ugh).

Now’s the time for Philly to show they’re not like those past teams. That they’ll win the games they’re supposed to win and surprise in the games they’re supposed to lose. That nobody is going to catch them napping. That they’ll overcome injuries and keep flying high.

That this year is the start of something special.

Go Birds.