Three-And-Out: Eagles-49ers Predictions
Player I’ll be watching
Kapadia: David Molk
The Eagles have suffered several injuries so far this season, but the loss of Jason Kelce is one that could prove to be devastating. Kelce set the protections, was very good in the run game, solid in pass pro and one of the most athletic offensive lineman in the league on screens.
Those are big shoes to fill for Molk, who was out of the league last year and will be making his first career start. Against Washington, Molk struggled, but he’s now had a chance to practice with the first team all week long. The Eagles don’t need him to Kelce, but they need him to be adequate.
Mistakes are going to happen, and guys are going to get beaten, but can Molk and this offensive line do enough to give Nick Foles, LeSean McCoy and company a chance? That’s what we’ll find out Sunday.
This could go one of two ways. If Molk is adequate, all of a sudden the offensive line situation doesn’t look so bad. Lane Johnson is set to return in Week 5, and the feeling here is that Matt Tobin (assuming health) will be solid at left guard.
If, however, Molk is a disaster, the Eagles don’t have a lot of options. They could try to plug Wade Smith in there, but that’s not ideal either. There’s a lot riding on Molk to be good enough until Kelce returns in the second half of the season.
McManus: LeSean McCoy.
It hasn’t been easy for McCoy, granted. As both he and Chip Kelly mentioned this week, defenses have been keying on the ground game more than ever this year. Combine that with the instability along the offensive line, and you can understand why there has been a dropoff in production.
That said, McCoy is one of the best running backs in football and the star of this team. Stars find a way to get it done even when the deck is stacked against them. That’s what makes them stars.
McCoy has rushed 60 times for 175 yards (2.9 avg.) and one touchdown. Darren Sproles has 117 yards on 17 carries (6.9 avg.) and two scores on the ground. Even if you allow for the fact that defenses may be treating the two backs differently, Sproles’ stats show that there is opportunity amidst less than ideal conditions.
This is going to be a very difficult game for the Eagles to pull out. A big-time performance from their big-time player could help get it done.
Over/under: 65 rushing yards for Colin Kaepernick — Whaddya got?
Kapadia: I’ll take the over.
Ironically enough, Kelly was involved in advising Jim Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman on some of the zone read elements the 49ers are using with Kaepernick. In Week 2, the Eagles struggled when the Colts went with an unbalanced line and ran to the weak side often in the first half.
They’ll be more prepared for San Francisco’s attack, given what the 49ers have shown on film. But I think losing Mychal Kendricks is huge in a game like this. The Eagles aren’t very athletic at linebacker, and if the wrong guy is out of position, Kaepernick can pick up chunks of yardage with his legs. I think that’ll be a big factor on Sunday.
McManus: I’ll go under.
I agree with your point, Sheil, and believe that the 65-plus yards will be there if he really wants it. But I think the Eagles will be committed to limiting the damage Kaepernick does with his feet first and foremost, which will open things up for the rest of the San Francisco attack. That might mean a little more space for running backs Frank Gore and Carlos Hyde to operate in, or opportunities in the intermediate passing game with defenders being sucked towards the line of scrimmage.
The other thing to consider is that the Eagles’ pass rush hasn’t gotten home very much, so how much will Kaepernick really be forced to scramble out of the pocket? I’m not sure that the Eagles’ secondary matches up very well with the likes of Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin, Stevie Johnson and Vernon Davis (assuming he plays). Kaepernick can probably find success through the air, and I’m guessing the Eagles will push him in that direction in the hopes that he’ll make a couple mistakes.
Kapadia: 49ers 28, Eagles 24
This is the first time all year I’m going against the Birds. I know many are predicting a potential 49ers collapse here, and that could happen. But I think it’s a bit premature. This is a squad that’s played in the NFC title game three years in a row. They are still well-coached with a good offensive line, a dynamic quarterback and reliable players at the other skill positions.
As for the Eagles, they’re a very good team, but last week’s defensive performance against Washington was worrisome. There were too many issues in the secondary, and their pass-rush needs to get better.
Combine those things with the banged-up offensive line, and I think the 49ers hand the Birds their first loss on Sunday.
McManus: 49ers 35, Eagles 24
There are rumblings that Harbaugh could be on his way out at the end of the year despite his high level of success as head coach of the Niners. There seems to be some discord within that organization, and the injury to NaVorro Bowman and suspension of Aldon Smith took some of the bite out of this defense. Still, they are a formidable opponent that will be in a nasty mood as they try to avoid falling into a 1-3 hole.
The Eagles are coming off an emotional and physically taxing win over Washington, and now must fly cross-country and match San Francisco punch-for-punch. Not sure they can do it, especially considering the issues on defense and along the offensive front.