In order to preview the Eagles’ Week 8 game against the 49ers, I reached out to our enemies over at Niners Nation. The legendary David Fucillo kindly took the time to answer my questions about the upcoming game. Let's take a look at the answers. (Also don't forget to check out my Q&A exchanges over at Niners Nation.)
1. The 49ers are 0-7 but they had that recent run where they became the first team to lose five games in a row by three points or fewer. Is it fair to say this San Francisco team is a little tougher than their record indicates?
I think a lot of 49ers fans thought that, and then they went and got pummeled by the Dallas Cowboys. I don't think the 49ers are 40-10 loss to the Cowboys bad, but that game might have firmly encapsulated the worst case scenario for this team right now.
Their margin of error is fairly slim, so when they make mistakes, it is likely to cost them more than better teams. After forcing a three-and-out to open the game, the 49ers fumbled the punt return. That was followed by a touchdown. The 49ers then went three and out, and that was followed by another Cowboys touchdown. Less than halfway into the first quarter, the 49ers were down 14-0. They were down 20-3 late in the first half, but had driven into the Cowboys red zone. They had a chance to cut the lead to 10, and would get the ball back to open the second half. Instead, C.J. Beathard was strip-sacked on a play where he had a wide open receiver in the end zone, but the somewhat reliable tackles couldn't contain the Cowboys pass rushers. It was all but over at that point.
The 49ers had played those previous five games incredibly close. They had chances to win all five of them, and while Arizona and Indianapolis are not good teams, Seattle, LA, and Washington are all in the playoff hunt. In each of those games, something notable went against the 49ers. For example, against LA and Washington, they were flagged for questionable offensive pass interference calls on end of game drives that moved them out of game-winning field goal position. You never want to put the game in the hands of the referees, but also, good teams often overcome crappy calls. The 49ers are not a good team, and so calls like that are more difficult to overcome.
A couple changes here and there, and the 49ers very well could be 3-4 or 4-3. But they say you are what your record is. In this case, the 49ers could have won games, but simply could not get enough done to do it. They fell behind or they made a dumb mistake, or they couldn't overcome something out of their control. The 49ers have some talented players, but not nearly enough. As more in-house talent develops, and they add more players next offseason, I think we start to see some of these close games change.
2 - So what's the deal with the quarterback situation? Was benching Brian Hoyer for C.J. Beathard the right move? Is playing Beathard worse for the short-term but potentially better with the long-term in mind?
The decision to switch to rookie QB CJ Beathard was the right move. Once the 49ers were 0-5 and looking bad again on offense against Washington, I can see why the switch was made. Brian Hoyer had a nice little run in Cleveland with Kyle Shanahan in 2014, and then had some solid performances in Chicago last year before he got hurt. The hope was that he could be just competent enough to squeeze out some wins this year. Instead, nothing really went consistently right for Hoyer and the offense. His accuracy has been an issue, and he has struggled with happy feet in the pocket. At the same time, the offensive line has been inconsistent, and his receivers have dropped way too many passes. Not everything is on him, but for a rebuilding team, there was not much else they could expect to get from Hoyer this season.
I don't actually know if playing Beathard is worse for the short term. He can make most of the same throws as Hoyer, and I think he offers a little bit more mobility. Beathard has to work on his internal play-clock, but I don't think he has the same happy feet issues as Hoyer. Let's be honest, the bar was pretty low with Hoyer. Releasing NaVorro Bowman was an example of getting worse in the short term but better in the long term. The QB change does not strike me as quite the same.
As for the long term, I think it is almost guaranteed to be better because of this. Whether Beathard emerges as a clear option or not, the 49ers are going to get some kind of idea about what he can do over the final half of the season. Next offseason is a huge one for the 49ers for two reasons: 1) Kirk Cousins could come available, and we all know his history with Kyle Shanahan, and 2) the 2018 draft class features quite a few potential quarterback options, and the 49ers will have a high first round pick. The 49ers need to know what Beathard offers so they can make a properly informed decision next offseason. Beathard has not shown anything to suggest he is the clear future, but with nine games left, we can get more of an idea about that. If he is, I still think they draft a quarterback, but maybe they wait until the second or third round (or move up into the back of the first round with their four picks between the second and third rounds). If he is not, maybe Kirk Cousins or one of the high profile college quarterbacks is their guy.
3 - Some Eagles fans have expressed interest in trading for Carlos Hyde and/or Joe Staley. What do you think it would take to get those players? And do you think the 49ers will re-sign Hyde or let him hit free agency after this season?
The trade deadline will be an interesting one for the 49ers. They have proven they have no qualms unloading veterans they don't see as part of their future. I actually think safety Eric Reid is the most likely candidate to be traded given the depth at safety. The 49ers lack depth at running back and offensive line. But, given the rebuilding process, I imagine they are listening to offers on anybody.
Carlos Hyde: I am inclined to think the 49ers will not extend Hyde at this point. He's finding success in the 49ers run and pass game, but we have also started to see 2017 UDFA Matt Breida getting more work on offense. I don't know that Breida is an every down back, but with plenty of draft picks next year, I could see the 49ers looking to add another middle or late round pick. Past performance is not indicative of future returns, but Kyle Shanahan and Bobby Turner have done well with under-the-radar players at running back. If they think Saquon Barkley can be a true stud running back, maybe they invest their top pick in him. But if not, I could see them going a lot of other directions.
As far as doing a Hyde deal, if they were comfortable with it, I could see them dealing him for a day three pick. Adrian Peterson netted the Saints a conditional sixth round pick, and right now Hyde is better than Peterson. Maybe a fourth for him? I would like more, but given that he is in his walk year, could the 49ers really expect more than a day three pick? Given the lack of trades in the NFL, it is hard to real offer a draft pick valuation for a player. But given the AP trade, we at least have something to base a valuation on.
Joe Staley: The 49ers are rebuilding, but with a young QB now, and potentially either Kirk Cousins or a young QB next year, I can't see them dealing away a left tackle who remains a rock on the offensive line. He has his miscues from time to time, but I think he is still one of the five or six best left tackles in the NFL. That being said, if the price is right, I could see them dealing Staley. However, given that Staley is showing no signs of slowing down, and is signed through 2019 at reasonable prices, I can't imagine that price is lower than a first or second round pick. Again, it's hard to put a firm valuation on this, so I could be way off. But given his performance and contract, I just can't see them settling for much less.
4 - Which one Eagles player would you steal if you could have them on the 49ers? Which 49ers player would you put on the Eagles if you were trying to help Philly?
I would steal back Ricky Watters! The 49ers eventually found Garrison Hearst, but having to put up with back-to-back years of Derek Loville and Terry Kirby still has me salty.
But seriously, the obvious choice would be Carson Wentz. The 49ers don't know if CJ Beathard is a guy they can build around, and while he might prove decent, I'd happily take Wentz off your hands. The 49ers QB situation has been a mess for some time. Alex Smith started to develop into something in 2011 and 2012, then got hurt and was replaced by Colin Kaepernick. He looked like the next big thing in 2012 and 2013, struggled in 2014, got hurt in 2015, bounced back a little in 2016, and is out of the league now. So yea, the 49ers would take Carson Wentz.
On the other side of the ball, cornerback Patrick Robinson would be my choice. He seems to be playing well at cornerback, and the 49ers have struggled with consistency there. Rashard Robinson and Dontae Johnson can do strong work in coverage, but the inconsistency is maddening. I don't follow the Eagles defense well enough to say this with certainty, but I feel like he would be an upgrade to the 49ers pass defense.
As for helping the Eagles? On offense, Joe Staley is the easy answer after Jason Peters' unfortunate injury. He would solidify the left side, and allow the Eagles to leave Lane Johnson on the right side. It's too obvious. On defense, I would say defensive tackle DeForest Buckner. Fletcher Cox and Tim Jernigan seem solid enough, but in spite of a low sack total, Buckner is among the NFL leaders in pressures by non-edge rushers. He consistently gets into the backfield, and as only a second year player, has an enormous ceiling. He would be an immediate upgrade to the Eagles defense.
5 - What’s one matchup that really favors the Eagles? And one that really favors the 49ers?
When you're a 13 point favorite, it's safe to say most matchups are in your favor! While I suggested the Eagles add DeForest Buckner to their defensive interior, I think the current guys should be able to do some damage against the 49ers interior offensive line. The 49ers three interior linemen have been the primary reason for offensive line struggles. Tackles Joe Staley and Trent Brown have given up some bad plays at times, but guards Brandon Fusco and Laken Tomlinson, and center Daniel Kilgore have been inconsistent at best. Add in Fusco dealing with an injury that has him questionable, and we might see the return of the immortally awful Zane Beadles in there. I could see the Eagles getting pressure on C.J. Beathard up the middle, and giving the 49ers interior run game problems.
The 49ers pass rush has been a question mark, but they've gotten some good work from Elvis Dumervil off the edge. With the loss of Jason Peters and the shake-up that will result, I could see Dumervil having a shot at making some noise off the edge. The 49ers need to figure out ways to disrupt Carson Wentz's timing where they can, and Dumervil might be their best option at this point.
Bonus: Who wins this game and why? What's your score prediction? How can the 49ers pull off an upset?
I am not a fan of laying the points with a double digit favorite. And considering the line was projected at 10.5 and has since climbed to 13 (and 14 in a couple sportsbooks), it seems like a bit much. That being said, the Eagles are really good and the 49ers are not. I do think the 49ers could find some ways to keep this game close, but it's hard for me to go out on a limb with them. My heart says the 49ers lose this by 10 or less, but my brain says this is a bit more of stinker of a loss, something like 34-17, with Philadelphia generally in control.
That being said, I rest a lot of my hopes on Philadelphia having a bit of a letdown. Y'all are coming off a pair of fairly big back-to-back wins. Going into Carolina for a win and then winning a big divisional matchup against Washington probably has the team feeling really good about themselves. Maybe a little too good? I think the best hope for a real letdown would have been with a bye next week for Philadelphia, but who knows, maybe the Eagles are looking ahead a little bit.
If the 49ers are going to spring an upset, or at least cover the spread, they need to get a few things right. There are the obvious things like getting pressure on Wentz and establishing the running game against a very solid Eagles rushing defense. On defense, the 49ers need to contain the Eagles running backs in the passing game. That has been a major weakness for the 49ers. If Darren Sproles was still healthy, he would have been a big key, and the matchup I would have said really favors the Eagles. But Wendell Smallwood could have himself a day if the Eagles get him the ball out of the backfield. On offense, C.J. Beathard needs solid time in the pocket, and needs to improve his internal play-clock. He can make plays, but he will deal with a lot of pressure. The Cowboys brought more pressure than they normally do, which makes sense against a rookie quarterback. The 49ers need to game-plan accordingly, and maybe that keeps them close.