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.

No. 1 Villanova vs. La Salle: Wildcats look to stay hot vs. Explorers at Palestra

No. 1 Villanova vs. La Salle: Wildcats look to stay hot vs. Explorers at Palestra

No. 1 Villanova (8-0) at La Salle (4-2) 
7 p.m. at The Palestra

Villanova, now the top-ranked team in the country, travels to the Palestra on Tuesday night for another Big 5 game, this one against La Salle (the home team), which has won three straight games.

Let's get you ready for the matchup:

Last time out
La Salle beat Bucknell, 83-73, on Saturday.

Villanova won, 88-47, over Saint Joseph’s.

Scouting report
Villanova, which is undefeated, has become the No. 1 team in the country after beating St. Joe’s handily on Saturday. Josh Hart, who had a triple-double in the game, has been a major reason for the Wildcats' success so far this season. The senior is averaging 17.1 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game. 

La Salle has won three games in a row after losing at the buzzer to Texas Southern on its homecoming game. Against Bucknell, Jordan Price had 20 points, while B.J. Johnson had 22. Johnson, a transfer from Syracuse, leads the team in scoring with 18.7 points per game.

What it means
Villanova is the best in the country right now, and it moved up to No. 1 after Kentucky lost to UCLA. Another win will give the Wildcats good momentum heading into their Saturday matchup with No. 23 Notre Dame. A victory would also extend Villanova's all-time record Big 5 winning streak to 16 games.

La Salle head coach John Gianinni could potentially be on the hot seat if the Explorers suffer another poor season. A win against the defending national champions would alleviate any chatter about his status.

Series history
This is the first and only time the Big 5 rivals will meet this season. Jay Wright is 13-2 all-time against the Explorers, and his group blew them out last season, 76-47.

What’s next?
La Salle will head to Miami for the Hoophall Miami Invitational to take on Georgetown this Saturday at the American Airlines Arena.

Villanova travels to Newark, New Jersey, to meet No. 23 Notre Dame at the Prudential Center.

Doug Pederson doesn't think 2016 struggles will ruin Carson Wentz in long term

Doug Pederson doesn't think 2016 struggles will ruin Carson Wentz in long term

In his first month in the NFL, Carson Wentz's trophy case was filling up quickly. 

He won two NFL Rookie of the Week awards to go along with being named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week in Week 3 and the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Month for September. 

It's hard to believe all of that happened this year. 

Since September, the Eagles have gone 2-7 and Wentz has looked like a rookie. Sure, the Eagles have some major deficiencies on offense that haven't made his life any easier, but it's no longer possible to simply overlook the regression of the No. 2 overall pick. 

Could this tough stretch negatively affect Wentz long term?  

"I don't think it's going to affect Carson going forward," head coach Doug Pederson said on Monday. "I just don't think it's going to affect him at all, because he's really a pro's pro and he's learning how to handle adversity for the first time, probably, in his career. It's something that we get to the OTAs and we get a full offseason in and we just continue to work on it."

It's fair to say the 2016 season was probably never really about this year and making the playoffs. It's clear the more important thing is to develop Wentz into the franchise quarterback they drafted him to be. But the one thing the team probably didn't want to see was regression. It seems like that's what has happened. 

In the first four games of the season, Wentz had a passer rating over 100 three times and hasn't done it since then. Take a look at the difference in the first quarter of his season compared to the next two. 

First four games: Completion percentage of 67 percent, 7 touchdowns, 1 interception, passer rating of 103.5. 

Next eight: Completion percentage of 61 percent, 5 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, passer rating of 70.1. 

The Eagles will enter their final quarter of the season when they host Washington on Sunday. The best way to avoid any long-term issues stemming from a tough rookie season is to end on a stronger note. 

"Well, you avoid it by trying to win a football game, and you try to win as many as you can now with these last four that we've got," Pederson said. "If you're looking towards next season, you always want to go out with a bang and try to win as many as you can down the stretch."

Way back in training camp, the plan was for 2016 to be a redshirt year for Wentz. He was supposed to sit behind Sam Bradford and Chase Daniel, but Bradford was traded and the Eagles elected to start their prized quarterback from the onset. 

Wentz went from a redshirt season to being on pace to throw 603 passes, which would shatter the Eagles' record for a single season. 

"These are some of the decisions that I made back when the trade was made that if there was going to be some growing pains, these were going to be some of the pains we were going to have to go through," Pederson said. "And just him understanding and him learning and us growing together as an offense, he and I growing as coach and quarterback together, it's all part of the process."

Wentz and Pederson seemingly had a disagreement after Sunday's game, when Pederson attributed Wentz's struggles to mechanical problems, while Wentz denied that was the case. Pederson held firm to his belief that those mechanical issues can be corrected and it's probable Wentz spoke out of frustration on Sunday night. 

If Wentz is frustrated, it would be understandable. It hasn't been an easy couple of months. 

"I see him handling it well," Pederson said. "These are discussions that we will have, myself, [Eagles offensive coordinator] Frank [Reich], Carson [Wentz], as we talk to him, because we've played obviously at this level, and my experience, even in this city playing and knowing what that's all about, we can really help him. It’s our job to help him and make sure that he stays on track and stays focused and he doesn't get derailed by anything that's coming from the outside."