Eagles Opposition Report: 49ers Defense

Eagles Opposition Report: 49ers Defense

Statistic that may surprise you: the San Francisco 49ers boast one of the top defenses in the NFL, currently ranked seventh in yards allowed (306.3 per game) and in points (17.3 points per game). Of course, two of their first three opponents this season have been the offensively challenged Seahawks and Bengals, so we'll soon find out whether or not they are for real.

ILB Patrick Willis
Any conversation about the Niners defense begins and ends with Willis. It's a cliche thing to say, but he is the heart and soul of this unit, and everything they want to do revolves around #52. At 6-1, 240, he is one of the most active linebackers in the NFL, whether it's stopping rushers cold, covering tight ends, or rushing passers. A Pro Bowler in each of his first four seasons, and a first team All-Pro selection in three of those, there's really only one way to get around having Willis in the ball carrier's facemask, and that's by going over the top -- not that you couldn't see him 50 yards downfield.

ILB NaVorro Bowman
An underrated piece of the league's third-best run defense (62.7 yards per game), the Penn State product takes over Takeo Spikes' spot as a run-stuffing inside backer. He's impressed so far in his first season as a starter, racking up 30 tackles through three games. If the Eagles commit to a ground attack again on Sunday, Bowman will have another productive game, because...

NT Isaac Sopoaga
It was widely assumed Aubrayo Franklin moving on to New Orleans would be a huge loss for this defense, but so far Sopoaga has filled his role just fine. Sopoaga has played in different spots along the 49er line during his seven-year career, but mostly at left defensive end prior to this season. Right now, he's proving his 6-2, 321 lbs. frame can draw and fight the double teams that give Willis and Bowman the lanes to be aggressive and attack the line of scrimmage. Needless to say, the interior of an offensive line that struggled to get push in short yardage situations against the Giants front last week will have their hands full on Sunday.

RDE Justin Smith
One of the most consistent defenders on San Francisco's D, Smith came over as a free agent from the Bengals in 2008. He's put up at least six sacks in each of his first three seasons there, plus he's a solid two-way player who has earned Pro Bowl recognition in back-to-back seasons. He'll be working on Jason Peters' side, and while usually we talk about how that impacts the game in pass protection, this week it will be interesting to see if Peters gets to those second-level blocks while he fights off the tenacious Smith.

OLBs Ahmad Brooks and Parys Haralson
So where do the Eagles attack this offense? Thankfully, the 49ers become much more pedestrian along the edges. First, the defense lacks the great edge pass rushers such as DeMarcus Ware or Clay Matthews that really make these 3-4 defenses go. Brooks and Haralson have both had their moments -- Brooks has 11 sacks over the past two years as a situational player, while Haralson once reached eight QB takedowns for a season -- but neither of them are somebody that requires extra attention.

CB Carlos Rogers
An old friend of the Eagles, we last saw Rogers in a Redskins uniform, as they were getting torched 59-28 in the middle of their comical 2010 season. A first round pick of Washington in 2005, he's been steady enough to hold a starting job from year to year, but is merely average. His interception last week was only the ninth in his career, so he's generally not a playmaker, nor is he somebody who is going to shut down premier wide receivers.

CB Tarell Brown, SS Donte Whitner, and FS Dashon Goldson
The rest of the defensive backs are a largely faceless mish-mash. Brown is the other starting cornerback by default, Whitner is dealing with a hip injury, and we're not really sure about Goldson, who had a big-play laden 2009, but was around the ball significantly less in 2010.

Clearly the way to attack this defense is through the air, but the Eagles' passing attack has looked inefficient during the first three weeks. There needs to be more focus from the receiving corps, and Michael Vick is going to have to suck it up and play through immense pain, because the numbers suggest they won't be able to lean on Shady McCoy this week.

After 'soul searching,' Jaylen Watkins in line for major role with Eagles

After 'soul searching,' Jaylen Watkins in line for major role with Eagles

Every morning on his way to work, Jaylen Watkins drives down Broad Street toward the NovaCare Complex and thinks back to his three months on the Bills' practice squad.

The former fourth-round pick out of Florida in 2014 joined the Bills' practice squad after the Eagles cut him last Sept. 5 in what he has previously referred to as a “humbling” experience.

“I try to never forget that moment because it was definitely a soul-searching moment,” Watkins said on Wednesday. “Anyone who is released or fired from their job, you have to do some soul-searching.

“Every day that I drive down Broad Street, I think about Buffalo and how far I’ve come and just not wanting to be on a practice squad again. Nothing’s wrong with the practice squad, but my goal is to be on the 53 and making contributions to the team.”

Watkins isn’t just on the Eagles’ 53 after rejoining them late in 2015. For the rest of the 2016 season, he’s also expected to have a major role.

After Ron Brooks was lost for the season when he tore his quad tendon against the Vikings, Malcolm Jenkins is the Eagles’ new slot cornerback. That means that Watkins, 23, will be the second safety on the field in the team’s nickel package.

That meant that he played 46 snaps against the Vikings after Brooks went out. And with how much teams pass in the current NFL, he’ll probably play a considerable amount the rest of the season.

“It’s something that I’ve been waiting for and I’ve just been patient,” Watkins said. “I’ve been waiting for this experience, so I’m just excited. This week was amazing for me. ... It was good for me this past week to be in the game plan and putting yourself in position that this could possibly be me on the first play of the game.”

Jenkins has said multiple times that he enjoys playing as the slot corner, but until Brooks went down, the team thought it was better off with him staying at safety.

With the secondary shuffle, what’s different with Watkins at safety instead of Jenkins?

“Nothing really man,” the Eagles’ other starting safety, Rodney McLeod, said. “It’s been a next-man-up mentality this whole year. ... Guys have a lot of experience back there. I don’t think we’re going to miss a beat. It’s obviously an unfortunate situation with Ron playing great. But Jenkins is ready and so is (Jalen) Mills and Watkins.”

Watkins was drafted by the Eagles in the fourth round in 2014 and played just four games as a rookie before he was cut at the start of his sophomore season. He spent three months in Buffalo, where his younger brother Sammy is a star receiver.

When Jim Schwartz became the Eagles’ defensive coordinator, Watkins was moved to safety. He quickly asserted himself as the first option off the bench at that position.

And just like McLeod and Jenkins, he’s a safety with a history and knowledge of every position in the secondary.

“He’s kind of our Tyrann Mathieu a little bit as far as being able to play safety, being able to play nickel, being able to play corner, being able to play all those positions,” cornerback Nolan Carroll said. “A swiss-army knife if you want to call it that. For him, it’s just about continuing to get reps, continuing to be confident.”

Jenkins, McLeod and Watkins are so interchangeable, Watkins joked that sometimes they get confused because they forget which position they’re playing. According to McLeod, there haven’t been any communication issues between him at Watkins when Jenkins moves down into his role as the nickel corner.

Watkins still thinks about his time in Buffalo, but he also thinks he’s a much better player now than he was before he went there.

“Just more confident player, I would say,” Watkins said. “My coaches believe in me. My teammates believe in me. Now, I’m just confident and relaxed when I go out and play, making plays, doing what I did in college. I think I’m a much better player than before.”

Carson Wentz falls far behind Elliott, Prescott in Rookie of Year odds

Carson Wentz falls far behind Elliott, Prescott in Rookie of Year odds

Carson Wentz's Rookie of the Year odds took a hit, the Eagles' Super Bowl odds shortened and the Vikings' lengthened after Sunday's 21-10 win.

The Eagles are 33/1 to win it all, a week after being listed by Bovada at 50/1. The Vikings, meanwhile, went from 7/1 to 9/1. They still have the third-shortest Super Bowl odds in the NFL and are two spots ahead of the Cowboys (14/1). 

Wentz, who had his worst statistical game against Minnesota, is now 9/1 to win NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, according to Bovada. Last Wednesday, he was 6/1.

Wentz trails Cowboys studs Ezekiel Elliott (2/5) and Dak Prescott (11/5) on that leaderboard.

As far as this week, Wentz is favored to throw for more yards than Prescott. Wentz is 5/7 to outgain Prescott through the air in Week 8, while Prescott is 1/1 to outgain Wentz.

Elliott's over/under rushing total against the Eagles is 99.5. He's rushed for 130-plus yards in each of his last four games, and the odds are 3/1 that he'll reach that number again this week. 

The Eagles have allowed just one 100-yard rusher this season, Washington's Matt Jones (16 for 135).

Elliott is also now on pace to break Eric Dickerson's rookie rushing record. Dickerson had 1,808 in 1983; Elliott is on pace for 1,875. Will Elliott break that 33-year-old mark? A "yes" bet pays 2/1; a "no" bet pays 1/3.