Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, California
Kick Off: 9.25pm GMT – Sky Sports 2
The 49ers are already sitting 1-2 for the year, trailing the 2-1 World Champion Seahawks and the undefeated Arizona Cardinals in the NFC West. It’s still early in the season but in such a competitive division they’ll already be worried about falling too far behind their rivals and will need to win their home games to avoid that. Having christened the newly-opened Levi’s Stadium with a loss against the Chicago Bears however, San Francisco must lay down a marker in Sunday’s game, and that begins with the defense. The 49ers held a 19-4-1 record in regular season matchups at Candlestick Park since Harbaugh arrived in 2011, surrendering a meagre 13.2 points per game. The will need that home field dominance to carry over to Levi’s Stadium if they want to remain competitive in the NFC West, but that dominance was predicated on a strong defense which many thought suspect before the season. Star linebacker NaVorro Bowman is injured and will be until at least week 6, having been placed on the PUP list before the season started. Pass rusher Aldon Smith is also still absent as he serves his 9-game suspension for personal conduct and substance use violations and nose tackle Glenn Dorsey won’t suit up this season after knee injury ruled him out in August. Their secondary has lost starters at cornerback and safety in the offseason and has only seen Antoine Bethea arrive to help. Even with all these problems, the 49ers still rank 6th in yards against, and it’s clear that the defense will be at least competent until they can get some of their stars back midway through the season.
The problem for Jim Harbaugh is with his offense. After an offseason where they failed to score a touchdown, many assumed that San Francisco were merely hiding their light under a bushel, waiting for the real games to start so that they could unleash an offense which began to spark down the stretch last year. In their three games so far they have averaged just 20.7pts per game, tied for 19th in the NFL with the less-than-prolific Bills and Jets. The startling thing about these stats is when these points have been scored:
49ers through 3 games. 1st Half: 59 points 2nd Half: 3 points
— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) September 23, 2014
That’s right, of the 62 total points the 49ers have scored in 2014, just 3 have come after half time. In fact, they’ve been outscored 52-3 in the second half of games this season. Colin Kaepernick has been almost flawless through two quarters, and one of the worst QBs in the league in the third and fourth. They should be able to find their way into the end zone against a porous Eagles defense on Sunday night, especially with the expected return from injury of start tight end Vernon Davis, but having lost from winning positions at the half twice in the last two weeks, Kaepernick and co. can’t afford to take their foot off the gas or lose focus against Philly, especially at home. Given these spectacular capitulations, the Eagles might just be the worst possible visitors for San Francisco to host this week. Not only are Philadelphia undefeated, but they are also the first team in NFL history to have a 3-0 record having trailed by more than 10 points in each game. As good as the 49ers have been in the first half of games, the Eagles have been even better in the second half of them, averaging 24.7 points in these periods alone.
Eagles are outscoring teams by 50 points in the 2nd half this year (74-24) — Jeff Skversky (@JeffSkversky) September 25, 2014
Nick Foles has been erratic to say the least, dispatching the Jaguars, Colts and Redskins in spite of inconsistent play, but he is still touching nearly 1,000 passing yards already and on course for a 5,000-yard season. These gaudy numbers through the air must be tempered by the less impressive rushing totals. With LeSean McCoy they boasted the best rushing offense in the league in 2013, the Eagles were brought back down to earth with a bang last week against a rejuvinated Redskins defensive front, managing just 2.2 yards per attempt. Similar numbers should be forecast against the 49ers, who have been solid against the run since Harbaugh took over.
While their attack has been excellent through the air, the same can’t be said of the Eagles’ passing defense. Last year they were the worst unit in football, and in 2013 they are again among the softest secondaries, ranking third behind the hapless duo of the Jags and Bucs. With the return of Vernon Davis, the emergence of Stevie Johnson after he broke the 100-yard receiving mark against the Cardinals and the constant threat of Michael Crabtree, who already has two TD receptions this season, there is hope for the 49ers offense against the Eagles. Although this isn’t their style, preferring as they do to use a ground attack to wear down teams before picking them off with read option and play action passes, they might be forced into passing should they fall far behind Chip Kelly’s quarterback-proof offense, and with both teams throwing relentlessly this could well be a high-scoring shootout.
A game of two halves? Definitely, and with offenses throwing and defenses sputtering there should be plenty of entertainment to keep you up late on Sunday!
Philadelphia Eagles 34
San Francisco 49ers 28