Teams headed in opposite directions will take the stage when Philadelphia pays a visit to brand-new Levi’s Stadium on Sunday afternoon to face San Francisco on FOX. The Eagles (3-0) look to stay undefeated by taking advantage of a 49ers (1-2) team that’s reeling somewhat after two consecutive losses.
Chip Kelly and Jim Harbaugh have faced each other before when they were coaching in the Pac-12 (Oregon and Stanford, respectively), but this will be their first NFL matchup. They split their two previous meetings with the home team winning both times. However, home-field advantage has not been kind to San Francisco against Philadelphia recently, as the Eagles have won the last four games these two have played on the West Coast, dating back to 2002. Then again, all of those games were at Candlestick Park whereas this will be just the second game the 49ers have played in Levi’s Stadium.
Philadelphia Eagles at San Francisco 49ers
Kickoff: 4:25 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: San Francisco -4.5
Three Things to Watch
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1. Can 49ers Stop Their Freefall?
Since the end of the third quarter of its Week 2 game, San Francisco has been outscored 44-14, a big reason why Jim Harbaugh’s team is trying to put an end to a two-game losing streak. The 49ers blew a 20-3 fourth-quarter lead two weeks ago at home to Chicago and followed that up with an uninspiring 23-14 loss to divisional foe Arizona. Two Colin Kaepernick interceptions led directly to two touchdowns to fuel the Bears’ comeback while nine penalties for 107 yards played a huge role in last week’s outcome. The end result is a team with Super Bowl aspirations currently sitting at 1-2 and already trailing NFC West-leading Arizona by two games. There’s still plenty of time for San Francisco to turn things around, but this discouraging start has only drawn more attention to Harbaugh’s unsettled contract situation and done nothing but increase the chatter related to his seemingly uncertain future with the team. On top of that, the finger pointing has also begun with the targets varying from the referees to the game plan to themselves. While turmoil may be too strong of a word to describe the 49ers with still so many games remaining, a win against an undefeated Philadelphia team would go a long ways towards righting what has the appearances of a listing ship.
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2. Philadelphia’s Patchwork Offensive Line
What started out as a bad situation up front for the Eagles has only gotten worse. After having all five offensive linemen start every game last season for the NFL’s No. 2 offense (yards per game), Chip Kelly will be digging deep into his depth chart to even put together a starting quintet this week. Starting right tackle Lane Johnson was hit with a four-game suspension before the season even started and then All-Pro left guard Evan Mathis (MCL sprain) and Allen Barbe (ankle), Johnson’s replacement, both went down with injuries before halftime of the season opener. Mathis is on the injured reserve list with a designation to return while Barbe’s season is over. Already down two starters, Kelly lost another when center Jason Kelce got hurt last week against Washington. Kelce underwent surgery to repair a sports hernia and it’s not yet known how much time he will miss. The bottom line is that this line has been decimated by injuries, as reinforcements have had to be brought in via both the free-agent market as well as the practice squad. Philadelphia is 3-0, but what was the league’s most productive rushing attack in 2013 is averaging 108.7 yards per game and just 3.8 yards per carry through three games. San Francisco’s defense isn’t at full strength either, with All-Pro linebackers NaVorro Bowman (PUP list) and Aldon Smith (suspension) as well as starting defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey (IR) all sidelined, but it pales in comparison to the attrition the Eagles have had to deal with along their offensive line. Is this the week these increasing cracks up front show up on the field?
3. How Will San Francisco Try to Gain Ground?
During Jim Harbaugh’s tenure, the 49ers have been known primarily for doing two things extremely well – running the football effectively and playing tough defense. In each of the past three seasons, San Francisco has ranked eighth or better in the NFL in rushing offense as Frank Gore has posted three consecutive 1,100-yard seasons. In the season opener, the 49ers ran the ball 30 times for 127 yards against Dallas compared to just 23 passes in a relatively easy 28-17 win. Two weeks ago the run-pass distribution flipped to 27 rushing attempts and 34 passes in a game in which San Francisco blew a 17-0 halftime lead in large part due to three interceptions thrown by Colin Kaepernick. The pass-heavy theme continued last week with 37 throws and just 23 rushing attempts. What stood out even more, however, was the fact that Kaepernick was responsible for nearly half of the carries (12), while Gore got a grand total of six (for 10 yards). As a team, the 49ers gained just 82 yards on 23 carries (3.6 ypc) and for the season currently rank 17th in the league at 112 yards rushing per game. A recommitment to the running game seems likely given Harbaugh’s reputation, but perhaps a bigger question is who’s going to get the carries? Gore has proven his effectiveness in a workhorse role in the past and he now has fresh legs to relieve him in second-round pick Carlos Hyde (4.5 ypc, 2 TDs). Kaepernick may be a record-setting dual-threat quarterback, but it seems it would be in the team’s best interests that the workload on the ground falls more to Gore and Hyde than him. After all, San Francisco’s lone victory thus far came in a game in which Gore and Hyde combined to run the ball as many times as Kaepernick threw it.
Philadelphia comes into this game undefeated, but the Eagles have been a slow starter and a strong finisher. The Eagles have been outscored 54-27 in the first half, but have dominated (74-24) the proceedings after halftime. Besides digging themselves out of early holes, Chip Kelly’s team also has weathered a rash of injuries along the offensive line and at a few other key positions. San Francisco has had to deal with its own injuries, but it’s the self-inflicted mistakes – turnovers, poor execution, a lack of cohesion and inopportune penalties – that have done the most damage.
The 49ers need this game much more than the Eagles and are trying to avoid the first three-game losing streak in Jim Harbaugh’s tenure as head coach. Philadelphia’s offense will be tough to slow down, but I think this is the week the losses up front will be felt on the field, even against a depleted San Francisco defense. The 49ers get back to the basics in that they rely on the ground game to control the clock and limit the opportunities the Eagles get on offense while the defense makes enough stops late to seal the team’s first-ever victory at Levi’s Stadium.