5 Players to Watch in the 49ers' SNF Game Against the Philadelphia Eagles
The San Francisco 49ers (2-1) finally return back to the Bay Area, taking on the Philadelphia Eagles (0-2-1) at 5:20 p.m. on Sunday Night Football.
Although there are still plenty of names on their injury report, the 49ers should once again hold the upper hand against an NFC East opponent.
Here are five players to watch:
Mike McGlinchey, Right Tackle, San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers entered the year with question marks at right guard and center, but had Mike McGlinchey locked for right tackle.
McGlinchey, however, has been inconsistent, especially in pass protection. There’s confusion over his performance as his PFF grade (66.5) does not match his “zero” pressures allowed.
With star Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham looming, McGlinchey draws his biggest test of the season. The second-worst pass-blocking tackle (PFF) is taking on one of the best pass-rushers in the NFL.
McGlinchey v. Graham could be the decisive matchup and not only dictate how Philadelphia defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz calls his game, but how many routes tight end George Kittle gets to run.
Graham has the speed and power to embarrass any offensive lineman and completely eliminate a side of the field.
He has manhandled right tackles all season with three sacks, five tackles-for-loss and six QB hits.
Like the 2019 49ers, Graham and their other pass-rushers allow the Eagles to create pressure without having to blitz. This allows for seven or more in coverage to constrict the middle of the field.
Deebo Samuel, Wide Receiver, San Francisco 49ers
Deebo Samuel (foot) returned to practice on Wednesday after missing the first three games.
The Eagles might draw the short straw in being the first team to have to defend Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk at the same time.
They’re both extremely versatile weapons that head coach Kyle Shanahan can line up all over the field.
That was a major attraction in drafting Aiyuk and Samuel.
Both receivers are just as dangerous in motion for a potential jet-sweep as they are on the outside.
No one really knows what the offense will look like with both on the field, but Sunday might be everyone’s first chance to find out.
It will be interesting to see how much Shanahan unveils.
Kwon Alexander, Linebacker, San Francisco 49ers
Like the rest of the NFL, big-money linebacker Kwon Alexander was spinning in circles trying to stop Arizona’s Kyler Murray.
Last week, Alexander was deked twice by Giants quarterback Daniel Jones. Alexander bit hard on the running back on two read options, leading to 19 and 23-yard runs by Jones.
Alexander must improve his reads this week, as Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz’s scrambling has been a factor this season.
Wentz isn’t as dangerous as Murray, but like Jones, he is a threat to occasionally move the chains with a scramble or read option.
He has rushed for eight first downs and tied a career high with two touchdown runs this season.
In addition to making quick reads to stop the run, Alexander often defends the middle of the field in zone defense.
His importance would skyrocket if slot K’Waun Williams and linebacker Dre Greenlaw (both DNPs on Wednesday) are inactive.
Although the Eagles’ RPO is not as prevalent as it was in their Super Bowl campaign, it’s still something linebackers should consider.
One bad read by Alexander, and the Eagles could have a wide-open Zach Ertz, or a big run by Miles Sanders.
Greg Ward Jr., Wide Receiver, Philadelphia Eagles
With Richard Sherman out, and Emmanuel Moseley’s status up in the air, the outside could be a clash of replacements.
Philadelphia might be without its top four receivers in Jalen Reagor (thumb/IR), J.J. Arcega-Whiteside (calf/DNP), DeSean Jackson (hamstring/DNP) and Alshon Jeffery (foot/LP).
To make matters worse, tight end Dallas Goeddert (ankle) was also placed on IR.
This leaves Ertz, a Bay Area native, and college quarterback-turned wide receiver Greg Ward Jr. as Wentz’s top two options.
Ertz is a force at tight end. The 49ers, likely Fred Warner and Jaquiski Tartt, won’t take him lightly.
But where the conversation gets fun is on the outside, specifically the possible battle of Ward and Dontae Johnson/Ahkello Witherspoon.
Ward made eight catches for 71 yards and a touchdown in the tie with Cincinnati.
Witherspoon (hamstring) missed Week 3, but was a full-participant in Wednesday’s practice.
Johnson replaced the injured Moseley, and helped shut down Darius Slayton last week.
Ward, Witherspoon and Johnson entered the year as depth. Now they’re a key matchup on Sunday Night Football.
Cre’Von LeBlanc/Nickell Robey-Coleman, Slot Cornerback, Philadelphia Eagles
Philadelphia played the majority of its last game with five defensive backs. Just two linebackers played 15+ snaps (Nate Gerry with 70 and T.J. Edwards with 51).
In an effort to stop the run, Cre’Von LeBlanc (57.3 PFF grade) played 33 more snaps in the slot than Nickell Robey-Coleman (48.9 PFF grade) last Sunday.
Although the strategy succeeded in holding the Bengals to 48 rushing yards, that likely won’t work Sunday.
Unlike the Bengals, who depend on three wide receivers, the 49ers love to run power with two tight ends and a fullback. The Eagles don’t have the personnel to defend that.
They’ve lost both games in which their opponents played two or more tight ends over 25 snaps (WFT and the Rams).
The 49ers should have no problem following the Rams’ successful 191 rushing yards in Week 2.
In the event Schwartz goes all out to stop the run, it would open up huge gains in the middle of the field via the play-action.
The Eagles have surrendered four touchdowns to tight ends (three to Tyler Higbee) while WFT’s Steven Sims Jr. (three catches for 50 yards), the Rams’ Cooper Kupp (five catches for 81 yards) and Cincinnati’s Tyler Boyd (10 catches for 125 yards) all took advantage of the slot.
Those numbers might get worse on Sunday.
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