Niners rushing attack provides unique and dangerous challenge for ruthless Eagles Defense


With the division sweep against Washington in the books, it will be important for the Eagles to be focused heading into week eight. The Eagles (6-1) and the 49ers (0-7) couldn’t be trending anymore in the opposite direction. Although winless, this is the NFL after all, and anything can happen from week to week. The Eagles have already faced a couple of teams with poor records, a la the Giants and the Chargers, so here’s to hoping that they come out just as motivated against San Francisco.

Last week against the Cowboys, the 49ers got down early, which led to the game being quickly out of reach. They ended up running 65 offensive snaps (30.8% Run, 69.2% Pass). With a rookie quarterback, and a subpar group of skill players around him, that isn’t necessarily a formula for success. However, the 49ers often find themselves down in games, leading to their third-highest, 63.3% pass rate.

With that in mind, for the 49ers to win games, they need to keep games close by playing good defense and control the clock with their running game. Against the Eagles vaunted, number one rush defense, this won’t be an easy task.

Even then, the 49ers’ running game does present a unique matchup against the Eagles defensive front:

This season under Kyle Shanahan, the 49ers have called the fourth-highest percentage of zone runs in the NFL (74.5% of their carries). According to PFF, San Fran is averaging nearly 4.5 yards per carry on their zone-running attempts – one of the best marks in the league.

Despite their success on these types of plays, the overall play of their offensive line has been mediocre to say the least. Against the Eagles’ dominant defensive line, this could be a big issue as far as establishing the run goes. It’s a longshot, but if San Fan’s offensive line can hold up at the point of attack, Carlos Hyde might be able to find holes and knock off a couple of big gains. The Eagles are yet to face a team that runs as much zone run as the 49ers.

However, it would be silly to bet on the 49ers’ struggling offensive line, and even more silly to bet against the Eagles’ dominant defensive line. With Cox, Jernigan, Curry and Graham, the Eagles’ simply have the best run-stopping defensive line in the league. They should feast on this matchup.

While there is a lot of information here, it goes to show that the interior of San Fran’s offensive line has not played particularly well this season. Pairing that with a matchup against Fletcher Cox and Timmy Jernigan, I can’t imagine this is the week they turn things around.

Let’s take a closer look at just the run-blocking grades for the 49ers’ offensive line:

While the 49ers have had success with their zone-run scheme, how much of that success can be attributed to the offensive line? Is it simply Carlos Hyde’s ability to find holes and create something out of nothing? Maybe they have taken advantage of mismatches on opposing defensive lines?

Whatever the case, things aren’t getting any easier against the Eagles’ defensive front. If San Fran does manage to fall behind early, which, let’s be honest, is likely the case, at least for their sake they do boast a pair of the better pass-protecting tackles in the league. To complement their zone-running game, it wouldn’t be surprising if the 49ers sprinkled in some RPOs, and some no-huddle to wear out the Eagles’ defensive front and keep them honest.

All in all, while the 49ers may want to run the ball and control the clock, this might be the hardest matchup of the year for them to do so. It’s safe to chalk this one up as another game that San Francisco follows suit; throwing the ball on nearly 65% of their offensive snaps, while finding themselves 0-8 leaving Lincoln Financial Field.


Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports