What the 49ers Have to do to Beat the Eagles

The 49ers lost to the Eagles last season.
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The Lions were just a warmup.

The Eagles are a quality team that will win more games than they lose this season. Still, the 49ers should beat them if they accomplish these five things:

1. Bring Back the Jimmy Gimmes.

The 49ers lost to the Eagles last season because the 49ers couldn't run the ball effectively and head coach Kyle Shanahan didn't call the extended handoffs, or "Jimmy Gimmes," that make life so easy for his quarterbacks. I'm talking shovel passes, screens -- anything that doesn't travel past the line of scrimmage. Those throws were largely absent, so the 49ers gave up 5.5 sacks to a tremendous Eagles pass rush and lost. The same could happen in this game if Shanahan doesn't commit to the run and get the ball out of Jimmy Garoppolo's hands as quickly as possible.

2. Expand the Trey Lance Package.

The 49ers need to avoid the Eagles pass rush by running the ball. And right now, the 49ers seem to have only one healthy running back that Shanahan trusts -- rookie Elijah Mitchell. Mitchell carried the ball 19 times against the Lions. It's unrealistic to expect him to shoulder a bigger workload against the Eagles. Which means Shanahan has to find another ball carrier he trusts, and that should be Trey Lance. He should run at least six times, just as Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts will. And Lance should throw too, because the Eagles won't expect him to.

3. Ditch the Wide 9 Defensive Front.

Robert Saleh installed the Wide 9 in 2019 to supercharge the 49ers pass rush at the expense of its run defense. The Wide 9 works best against offenses that feature pocket quarterbacks and one-back formations -- i.e. the Rams. It does not work best against offenses that have dual-threat quarterbacks -- i.e. the Eagles.

If Saleh still were here, he most likely would use a 5-man defensive front to shut down the Eagles zone-read run game, because that's what he did in 2019 when he faced Lamar Jackson and the Ravens. Will new defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans use a 5-man front or something other than the Wide 9 if the Wide 9 gets gashed by runs between the tackles? He'd better.

4. Keep Jalen Hurts in the Pocket.

The 49ers have a terrific pass rush that creates lots of pressure on opposing quarterbacks. But pressure isn't always good. Sometimes pressure allows a mobile quarterback to scramble out of the pocket and make big plays on the perimeter where he's most dangerous. The 49ers shouldn't worry about pressuring Hurts on Sunday. They should worry about containing him in the pocket. Because if they make him stationary, they'll remove most of the big plays from the Eagles passing game, and might intercept a couple throws, too.

5. Don't get cute with a second-half lead.

Shanahan certainly knows how to put together big second-half leads,  but he also knows how to give them away. He give away two big second-half leads in Super Bowls, and nearly did the same last week against the freaking Lions. His preferred method of giving away late leads involves passing unnecessarily on second down while winning by multiple scores, because Shanahan is more concerned with scoring points than burning the clock. So with 11:25 left in the fourth quarter last week and the 49ers leading by three touchdowns, Shanahan called a drop-back pass on second and 10. Guess what? Garoppolo got sacked, and then the Lions started their comeback.

As long as Shanahan sticks with the run and keeps his defense off the field as much as possible, the 49ers should win 34-31 and start the season 2-0. His decisions will determine the outcome of this game.