Week 8 of the NFL season is officially underway. A short week sees the Eagles play host to the winless San Francisco 49ers on Sunday and while the odds are heavily in favor of the Birds, this is the NFL and there’s no such thing as an easy win. Here are five things to watch out for on Sunday.
Stopping the run:
Between Brian Hoyer and rookie C.J Beathard, the Niners have struggled to find any kind of quarterback continuity. Many assume that Kirk Cousins would be the long-term answer for Kyle Shanahan, but as of right now he’s placed his chips on the rookie out of Iowa. The imbalance has meant that there has naturally been a bigger emphasis on running the ball…and when you have Carlos Hyde in the backfield, that’s not hard to do.
Hyde has 428 yards and 4 touchdowns to his name this season along with 162 receiving yards. While the Niners offensive line has leaked pressure all season, they have done a great job in opening up the running game. In fact, San Fran’s 6 rushing touchdowns tie them for 6th most in the league this season.
Without Jordan Hicks, the Eagles will face a tough task in stopping a running game that has the ability to wreak havoc if it reaches the second level. With corners sitting so deeply, it’s not hard to imagine the zonal efforts causing a few problems this weekend.
Igniting the run:
On the opposite side of the field, we all know how dangerous the Eagles running attack can be. The Niners are one of the worst ranked teams against the run this year and have already allowed 948 yards on the ground along with five touchdowns. With Wendell Smallwood back into the mix, the Eagles should have more than enough firepower to draw attention away from Halapoulivaati Vaitai and reestablish it on those in the backfield.
Torrey Smith faces a familiar foe
The Eagles signed Smith after a disappointing stint in San Francisco. So far, his impact on the Eagles Offense has been nothing but positive, with 210 yards and a touchdown on his resume this season. Smith spent two years practicing against the Niners secondary and Dontae Johnson is quietly having himself a big year. Rashard Robinson has an interception to his name and the secondary is hitting as hard as ever.
With a sense of familiarity, Smith has to keep his head focused on the task at hand. The visit of his former teammates will be an interesting narrative to watch, but if Smith can put on a clinic and have the kind of game that makes Niners fans cringe and wonder why that scenario couldn’t occur one year ago, then it will go a long way into further igniting his season.
Vaitai’s moment in the sun
It’s not yet known whether or not Halapoulivaati Vaitai will start on the right hand side of the field or replace Jason Peters on the left. But for this game at least, it makes sense to give him the easier matchup. While Lane Johnson handles DeForet Buckner, Vaitai will be lined up against Soloman Thomas, this year’s third overall pick in the NFL Draft.
Thomas has 24 tackles and 2 sacks to his name and even though he has been impressive, this at least gives Vaitai a fighting chance at surviving his first start this year and help paint a picture of just how much the TCU product has…or hasn’t developed.
Shanahan has a plan
Aside from the ‘Zeke Elliott led’ blowout last week, the Niners have been a team who can take it all the way to the end but never put the cherry on the cake. Their last five games prior to the loss to Dallas all ended in a one possession score. The Niners may be 0-7, but at this point, pride is going to come into play. With a rookie QB to rally around, pride is going to be on the line.
Shanahan spent four years as offensive coordinator of the Washington Redskins and had his fair share of ups and downs against the Eagles. If there’s anybody who can come into Philadelphia and at least keep things close against an Eagles team that are doing all they can to stay grounded and treat every game as a ‘must win’, it’s a Head Coach with much more at stake than just a win.
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports