After a flurry of off-season acquisitions, the Philadelphia Eagles dubbed themselves “The Dream Team.”
So far, that dream has been a little fuzzy, with the Eagles stumbling out to a 1-2 start after back-to-back losses to the Falcons and Giants going into their game Sunday against the 2-1 49ers in Philadelphia.
But offensively the Eagles have the talent and speed to give San Francisco nightmares.
There’s Michael Vick at quarterback (who says he’ll play despite an injury last week) and the NFC’s leading rusher, LeSean McCoy, who’s averaging 6.1 yards per carry, plus quick receivers in DeSean Jackson (the former Cal star who’s also a dangerous returner) and Jeremy Maclin. Maclin, with 19 catches, has been Vick’s favorite target, but has been bothered by a hamstring injury this week. His status is uncertain.
“They have the speed and the quarterback arm strength to throw the ball downfield, and they use it,” 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio told reporters Thursday.
It will be a big test of the San Francisco defense, which has been for the most part solid. The 49ers rank No. 7 in the NFL defensively and No. 3 against the run and haven’t allowed an opposing back to rush for 100 yards for 25 straight games, the longest streak in the league. Last week, however, McCoy rushed for 128 yards against the Giants, who had come into the game with the NFL’s third-best rushing defense.
The Niners may also be without safety Donte Whitner, injured against the Bengals last week. He's questionable but did practice Thursday.
Offensively, the 49ers just hope to get things moving. San Francisco ranks last in the NFL, averaging just over 213 yards per game, and running back Frank Gore’s status is up in the air following an injury last week in Cincinnati. Also, the 49ers’ receiving corps – already stretched then because of injuries – will have to duel with one of the NFL’s best cornerback tandems in former Raider Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
“The secondary is an elite secondary in the NFL,” 49ers quarterback Alex Smith told reporters this week in Youngstown, Ohio, where the team was practicing. “It’s really a good defensive backfield that has been pushed around a bit the past two weeks.”
The Eagles have struggled overall defensively, giving up 64 points the past two games.
Sunday’s game may all come down to whether San Francisco’s defense can contain the Eagles. The Niners are well aware of their long streak of success against the run.
“Any time you have something going on, a streak or whatever it may be, you want to keep that thing alive,” 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis told the San Francisco Chronicle. “But at the end of the day we just know if you can keep a team from running the ball and make them throw, you’re taking away one element of the game.”