Eagles Opposition Report: 49ers Offense

Eagles Opposition Report: 49ers Offense

Through three weeks, the San Francisco 49ers offense ranks dead last in the NFL in total yardage, averaging just 213.7 despite not playing a particularly tough slate of defenses so far (Seattle, Dallas, and Cincinnati). They're neither running nor passing well, ranking very close to the bottom of the league in both categories. The Niners have picked up only 209 yards on the ground and 432 through the air.

Here's a look at their key skill position players on offense, and click here for a look at the Frisco defense.

QB Alex Smith
Each year lately, we wonder why the 49ers don't get in on the offseason QB shuffle. Their division is usually up for grabs and poorly contended, and they've had a good running game and a solid defense. And yet, they were barely on the radar when the Eagles were shopping Kevin Kolb and Donovan McNabb before him, instead settling on a former first overall pick who wasn't good enough to get them over the hump in previous seasons and started only 10 games in 2010. Smith now has some in-house competition after the team selected Colin Kaepernick out of Nevada with the 36th overall pick, but the veteran held off the rookie to keep his starting job. Week 3 was pretty indicative of Smith's ability to impact an NFL game most weeks—200 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT. If he follows in Eli Manning's footsteps and beats the Eagles to the tune of an NFC Offensive Player of the Week, we're in huge, huge trouble.

ESPN's Mike Sando put together a nice piece on how Smith has fared against various types of pass rushes so far this season, as well as a look at his game against the Eagles in 2010, which may not have much bearing on what he'll see this Sunday. Here's why. Still, even with all of the above considered, Smith did manage a 300-yard game with 3 TDs against the Eagles last year.

RB Frank Gore
San Fran's top running back is listed as questionable this week, which isn't all that unfamiliar for him. Heading into the season, most thought it was more a question of when than if he would get hurt. His current ankle injury isn't expected to keep him completely out of action on Sunday, though it's not for certain it will matter either way. Gore has been largely ineffective so far this season even before getting nicked up last week, in large part due to his line's inability to open up holes for him. Gore can still churn out yards when healthy and in the right situation, but this week we'll more than likely see a good bit of the guy below. [UPDATE: Gore will play, but Kendall Hunter will start.]

RB Kendall Hunter
Hunter, a fourth round pick out of Oklahoma State, ran effectively enough in relief of Gore last week in Cincinnati. While a sub-3.0 YPC is nothing to get too excited over, Hunter did find the end zone on one of his nine carries. He also caught a pair of passes for 12 yards. He's no giant at 5'7, but he's stout enough at 200 lbs, and he has what it takes to test the Eagles' shaky run defense. In all likelihood, Hunter will get more carries than Gore, and given Gore's ankle, that's not necessarily a good thing for the Birds. Hunter is one of the 49ers' two most dangerous weapons this week.

Anthony Dixon should also get some carries and grab a few yards.

FBs Moran Norris and Bruce Miller
Fullback Moran Norris is expected to miss the game as well, leaving rookie Bruce Miller as the lead blocker out of the backfield. Rotoworld says Miller got the bulk of the first-team snaps in camp and could actually be an upgrade to Norris.

TE Vernon Davis
We all know the Eagles have trouble neutralizing tight ends, and this guy can be as dangerous as any in the league. The Niners had trouble getting Davis going in the first two weeks, hitting him with only 7 passes for 65 total yards and no scores. However, he hauled in 8 catches for 114 yards last week, leading the team in receiving. Expect San Fran to try to replicate that success against the Eagles. In last season's matchup between the two teams, Davis had one of his two 100-yard games of 2010 and also hauled in a TD. He's a big target at 6-3, 250, athletic, and a matchup problem for even some of the better linebackers and safeties in the league. Davis is the most dangerous man on the field for Frisco, and Juan Castillo will have to be creative if he wants to keep him from torching a group he generally outclasses, perhaps rolling one of his corners inside.

Establishing the pass rush early will be key too. If Davis needs to stay home and block, he's obviously a lot less dangerous. Also watch for TE2 Delanie Walker, who could sneak a catch or two from under the radar.

WR Braylon Edwards
Out with a torn meniscus, probably for a few weeks. An already poor receiving corps and passing attack gets even worse.

WR Josh Morgan
Morgan shouldn't be a coverage problem for the Eagles, but then again, neither should have Victor Cruz. Of course, Morgan won't have the benefit of lining up opposite Hakeem Nicks. He hasn't had more than three catches in any of his three games this year, nor topped 35 yards.

WR Michael Crabtree
Crabtree is listed as probable for this week, limited in practice this week by a foot injury. Like Morgan, he's done nothing of note so far in 2011. The foot kept him out of action in week 2, and he has only 4 catches for 28 yards a pair of games. John Hansen of FantasyGuru.com points out that Crabtree did have a nice TD negated by an offensive penalty, so he was close to breaking through last week.

WR/KR Ted Ginn Jr
Not a factor as a receiver through 3 weeks. Just 4 catches for 38 yards, all coming in week 2 with Crabtree out of action. However, he has already returned two kicks for touchdowns, taking a kickoff the full length in week 1 and returning a punt 55 yards for paydirt in the same game. Alex Henery better be aiming between the uprights every time he lines up, and Chas Henry should be thinking sideline when possible. Alex Smith did like him in week 2, targeting him a team-high 7 times.  

K David Akers
This guy's gonna get some applause, as well deserved as any returning player in Eagles history. But dear god let him not be lining up for a potential game winner in the final minute of the fourth quarter.

Photo by Jason O. Watson-US Presswire

Report: Lonzo Ball, Sixers considering pre-draft workout

Report: Lonzo Ball, Sixers considering pre-draft workout

It may be time for Sixers fans to start setting money aside for some Big Baller Brand gear.

Sources tell ESPN's Chris Haynes that Lonzo Ball is considering working out for the Sixers, who hold the No. 3 pick in the upcoming NBA draft.

"A final decision will be made once Ball's agent, Harrison Gaines, and Sixers general manager Bryan Colangelo have had an extensive conversation centered on the identity of the team, sources told ESPN," Haynes writes.

Haynes also states that the main concern between Ball and the Sixers would be how the former UCLA point guard would fit in on a team that plans to feature 2016 No. 1 pick Ben Simmons as the primary ball handler.

This news comes after Ball declined to work out for the Boston Celtics, who own the top pick in June's draft.

"We don't deal with [Ball's camp] all that much," Celtics president Danny Ainge said on 98.5 The Sports Hub radio during The Toucher and Rich Show Thursday. "They didn't show up at the combine, which is very common — many of the top 10 or 15 players don't show up for the combine. ... We just tried to get him in for a workout and they politely said no."

Ball's father, LaVar, has previously stated several times that his son would only work out for the Lakers, who will select at No. 2. Plus, Lonzo Ball has said he would rather be drafted by the home state Lakers instead of going at the top of the draft.

"I'm a family dude," Ball said during an interview on ESPN last month. "All my family is in L.A. So, to be able to play in front of them, I think that would mean more to me."

Even with all the pre-draft posturing and the outspoken nature of his father, Ball has proven to be a top-tier talent. The 6-foot-6 Ball averaged 14.6 points, 7.6 assists and 6.0 rebounds as a freshman at UCLA as he was named a consensus first-team All-American.

We previously looked at how Ball would blend with the Sixers, which one analyst called a "perfect" fit.

The Sixers may be having similar thoughts.

500 plate appearances in, Tommy Joseph an above-average offensive 1B

500 plate appearances in, Tommy Joseph an above-average offensive 1B

BOX SCORE

Tommy Joseph is making the Phillies' situation at first base quite tricky.

Joseph on Thursday continued building on his red-hot month of May by going 2 for 5 with a game-tying homer in the seventh and a walk-off RBI single in the 11th inning of the Phillies' 2-1 win over the Rockies (see Instant Replay).

He's hit .329 in May with six doubles, six homers, 15 RBIs and a .657 slugging percentage. The only first basemen in the majors with a higher slugging percentage this month are Yonder Alonso, Justin Bour and Paul Goldschmidt.

That'll hold off the eye-popping production of Rhys Hoskins for now (see Future Phillies Report).

Extending it further, Joseph has played 148 career games with 499 plate appearances in the majors. That's just a bit less than a full season. He's hit .255 with an .804 OPS, 28 home runs and 23 doubles. He's provided above-average offensive production from first base.

Most Phillies fans know Joseph's story — big-time catching prospect acquired from the Giants in the 2012 Hunter Pence trade, series of concussions, position switch, hot start to 2016 at Triple A, promotion, production.

It was a long, winding road for Joseph, and when he was asked Thursday if he expected to be this solid 500 plate appearances into his major-league career, he brought up health.

"My goals were to be healthy, to be able to play in 162 games and that's all I really want to be able to do," Joseph said. "That's something I haven't been able to do in my career and it's something that I'm looking forward to. I'm looking forward to the challenge to go through the mental challenge and the physical challenge and I'd say that's my No. 1 goal, that's my only goal. Because if I'm able to stay healthy and stay on the field then I'm able to enjoy this great game and getting to share it with my teammates."

As for the May adjustments, Joseph said the standard things about communicating with hitting coach Matt Stairs, working in the cage and staying consistent with his approach. His timing wasn't there in April but it's certainly been there in May.

"There's no telling what clicks in a guy, it's just a matter of making a minor adjustment sometimes, possibly getting better pitches to hit," manager Pete Mackanin said. "There's no telling what it is, but he just looks a lot more comfortable at the plate."

Bullpen bouncing back
It's been completely overshadowed by the Phillies' recent skid but the bullpen has pitched very well of late. The unit that was overworked and criticized in April has combined to allow just two earned runs in its last 22 2/3 innings. On Thursday, six Phillies relievers — Edubray Ramos, Pat Neshek, Joaquin Benoit, Hector Neris, Luis Garcia and Jeanmar Gomez — pitched six scoreless innings.

Neshek made the play of the day, diving and landing on his head to snag a pop-up bunt attempt before turning and firing to first base for the double play.

"I said early on that I think it's one of our strengths," Mackanin said of the bullpen. "And after today you can see why I have a lot of confidence in them."

Neshek, who has pitched in the postseason for four different teams, said Thursday that he thinks this is one of the best bullpens he's ever been around. It's not lip service, either. The unit was terrible in April, there's no getting around that. But some of that really did have to do with the overuse. Setup men were entering in the sixth inning. Opportunities for holds and saves were few and far between. Roles were not defined.

Stuff-wise, repertoire-wise, there is a lot to like about the Phillies' bullpen. Neris, Benoit and Neshek all offer vastly different looks and have track records of success.

While Neshek didn't totally endorse Benoit's comments from a few weeks ago that everything would settle down once the relievers knew specifically which inning they'd pitch, he did say that he too feels most comfortable coming in during a hold opportunity.

"I think my numbers show that I'm best in those situations, coming into a hold opportunity when we're ahead," Neshek said. "We haven't had much of those lately."

The horrendous start to the season for the Phillies' relievers will skew their stats all season long, but it's nice to see that at least one aspect of this team is starting to get into a groove.