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

Eagles Film Review: Carson Wentz's improvisation pays off big

Eagles Film Review: Carson Wentz's improvisation pays off big

Carson Wentz takes pride in not letting plays die easily. 

In Sunday’s 34-3 win over the Steelers, one play he didn’t let die ended up being the back-breaker in the blowout. 

We’re, of course, talking about the 73-yard touchdown pass to Darren Sproles at the 13:08 mark in the third quarter. Coming into the second half, the Eagles had a 10-point lead, but this touchdown pushed it to a 20-3 advantage and the rout was on. This play was a tone-setter (see story)

“That’s something that we talk about a lot,” Wentz said after the game. “We always say that a play is never dead. I like to make plays when we need to and everyone just does a great job of getting open in those situations.”

This was the first big off-schedule play Wentz has hit during his three weeks as the team’s starter, but the signs were there. In the Chicago game, there were several times where he showed his ability to extend plays. We broke them down in a film review last week (see story).

Throughout the week, Wentz had been compared to Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. One of the reasons was their shared ability to extend plays and make something happen. Big Ben showed his ability in the first quarter and almost connected on a huge touchdown pass to Markus Wheaton in the back of the end zone, but the receiver couldn’t pull it in. 

When Wentz got his shot later in the game, Sproles was able to pull it in, then make something happen with his feet. 

“I saw Carson scrambling this way,” head coach Doug Pederson said. “Darren was literally right in front of me and when I saw him wheel, my first reaction was to find the sideline to see if he stepped out to be quite honest.  He hadn’t, and Carson just — it was like in slow motion — floated that ball up the sideline and Darren did the rest from there. It was a tremendous play from those two individuals. I guess the last thing I did is I always look back to make sure there are no flags on the ground on those long plays.”

There were no flags. Touchdown. Game. 

Let’s take a closer look at the play: 

Wentz is in shotgun with Sproles in the backfield with him. The Eagles come out with three-wide on the far side of the field and a lot of space on the near side. 

Stephon Tuitt, who actually had a pretty good game against the Eagles, takes this route to the quarterback. When he gets to left guard Allen Barbre, Barbre either didn’t see him or didn’t react quickly enough. 

While Sproles is still running his short out, Wentz feels the pressure and is able to step up through the hole created by Lane Johnson and Brandon Brooks. As soon as he makes it through, Wentz still has his eyes downfield. 

Now Wentz is through the hole and sees Sproles finishing his out-route. This is when Wentz, on the run, motions to Sproles to take off. This is something we’ve seen Wentz do a few times during his three weeks as Eagles quarterback. 

Wentz was left with a tough decision here. He could have run for 10, maybe even 15 yards. It was wide open, but he decided to try to make a play with his arm instead. 

“I always want to be a thrower first,” he said. “Even when a play breaks down, I’m always looking [to throw] because that’s where the big plays are happening. If I scramble I might get 5, 10, 15, 20 yards, but I’m not that fast. I always want to get it to the guys that can make plays. We always want to make plays when they’re there, and that’s what happened.”

With the line of scrimmage at the 27, Wentz has enough awareness to run horizontally to make sure he didn’t cross. And as soon as Pittsburgh safety Mike Mitchell takes that first step toward him, Wentz sees how much room Sproles has to work with. 

Ryan Shazier, who was covering Sproles on the play, froze and then started to step toward Wentz too. He said he thought the quarterback crossed the line of scrimmage, but Wentz was aware enough to stay behind.  

Once Sproles catches the ball in open space, he begins to do Sproles things. Defensive back Sean Davis took a bad angle on him and once he gets close, the veteran turns it inside. Davis said he was trying to buy time for the rest of his defense to get there and stop Sproles. It didn’t work. 

“Man, it’s Sproles!” receiver Nelson Agholor said. “Did you think he was going to get tackled?”

While he’s blocking downfield, Dorial Green-Beckham actually trips himself up and does a somersault. But it didn’t matter — Sproles didn’t need a great block. He pretty much did it himself. 

“Anytime that you can put it in the hands of [Sproles] something special can happen on any play, and he did the rest of it,” Wentz said. 

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Travis Konecny leaves impression with vets in Flyers' preseason win

Travis Konecny leaves impression with vets in Flyers' preseason win

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Michael Raffl had just finished playing alongside Travis Konecny, the 19-year-old kid that has Flyers fans abuzz about the now and future.

Yet for Raffl, he wasn’t thinking forward. Instead, he was looking back.

“Yeah, well, I couldn’t do that when I was 19, that’s for sure,” the 27-year-old said smiling, eyes wide open. “No, it’s impressive, he’s a really, really good hockey player.”

Konecny had that resounding affect Wednesday night at the PPL Center, recording a goal and an assist while leading the Flyers to a 2-0 preseason win over the Devils (see 10 observations).

He dazzled with speed and shiftiness.

He showed off vision and smarts.

When he touched the puck, he had everyone’s attention.

Paired with Raffl and Brayden Schenn in a game featuring mostly prospects, the 2015 first-round pick made the molding of Ron Hextall’s roster that much more difficult. With the general manager looking on, the highly touted winger started fast before making his imprint in a span of just four minutes and 34 seconds.

First, he redirected a blast by Andrew MacDonald to hand the Flyers a 1-0 lead. Not long after, the 2015 first-round pick deceived the defense to find Raffl right in front on a backdoor pass for a 2-0 advantage.

“We had a cycle play going and he had a nice fake up top there and I was just going to the net,” Raffl said. “Somehow I was all by myself and he saw me, put a perfect pass on my tape and I just went around the goalie and put it in.”

Following his first goal, Konecny nearly tacked on another less than a minute later when he appeared to hit the crossbar on a shot. He also flirted with a few more assists.

“I think I just played relaxed,” Konecny said. “I came into the game tonight trying not to do too much and just keep things simple. The main thing for me was getting pucks out of the zone, so I think I did that well tonight and hopefully I can keep building on it.”

Relieving pucks from the zone isn’t a problem when you possess the speed and skill of Konecny, who racked up 101 points last season at the junior level.

At just 19, that’s where he’ll have to return if he doesn’t crack the Flyers’ roster.

With cuts already made and more coming, that sometimes is on Konecny’s mind.

“It weighs on you a little bit. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t thinking about it and it’s definitely the time I need to step up and make sure I’m playing good hockey,” Konecny said. “And just earning another day — that’s just the way I’m looking at it. Every day I wake up and just work hard and move forward from there.

“I think everyone comes into camp and tries to give them (management) a reason not to send you back and make it hard on them.”

Wednesday night didn’t hurt his chances.

“He played a good hockey game,” Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said. “Had an impact offensively. He did a pretty good job. There’s some youthful mistakes in there, but overall, he had a real good night tonight playing with Raf and Schenner.”

Placing Konecny with two capable NHL forwards offered the Canadian an opportunity to prove what he could do if he was in fact on the big club.

“We played well together,” Konecny said. “I think from the start we just had a lot of communication, we talked in the room, in warmups, we all knew what we were going to do throughout the game and in certain scenarios.”

If anything, Konecny left an impression on Raffl.

“He’s a very smart player,” Raffl said. “Once he has the puck, he makes smart decisions with it. It was very easy to play with him out there. He plays a mature game and I really enjoyed it.”

Time will tell if more is in store come Oct. 14.

Loose pucks
Anthony Stolarz and Alex Lyon combined for the shutout. Stolarz started and made 11 saves over 29:23, while Lyon played 30:37 and stopped seven shots. “I like both of our guys tonight,” Hakstol said. “Stolie did a good job, he made a difference in this game in the first 10 minutes, those two or three really good saves there. Then Alex came in halfway through, which isn’t an easy thing to do and was ready to go and did his job.” … Schenn, MacDonald and defensive prospect Robert Hagg finished with an assist apiece. … With the roster currently standing at 49, the Flyers expect to make 15 cuts on Thursday. … Defenseman Nick Schultz is out four to seven days with a lower-body injury suffered in Tuesday night’s preseason game. ... The Flyers are off Thursday before likely practicing Friday ahead of Saturday's preseason game at 7 p.m. against the Bruins at the Wells Fargo Center.