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