Staff writer Steve Fini breaks down his five players to watch during this weekend’s 49ers and Eagles tilt.
Vernon Davis (TE/49ers) – Oh, look. It’s another Pro Bowl tight end for the Eagles linebackers to deal with. Great. It’s been well-noted the Eagles struggled to contain Tony Gonzales two weeks ago, but Davis is very different than Tony Gonzalez. Whereas Gonzalez is a savvy veteran who uses his instincts to get open, Davis is a physical freak. He can line up anywhere on the field and get open against almost anyone. Eagles defensive coordinator Juan Castillo decided not to put a cornerback on Gonzalez a few weeks back. With the physicality of Gonzalez it was understandable. Going against the speed that Davis brings, however, Castillo might be forced to do just that. With 49ers “star” receiver Michael Crabtree hurt, Davis is the only real threat in their feeble passing game.
Jason Babin (DE/Eagles) – Jason Babin and the rest of the defensive line have been a force thus far. They lead the league in sacks with 12. San Francisco has an offensive line full of former first-round draft picks. Left tackle Joe Stately, left guard Mike Iupati, and right tackle Anthony Davis were all highly-touted out of college, but each has had their struggles, particularly Davis. He was viewed as a potential franchise left tackle, but that didn’t happen. The 49ers moved him over to the right side and hope he can pick his game up. With Jason Babin continuing his great play from last year in the Eagles “wide 9”, he should take full advantage of Davis’ bad technique. The Niners can run block, but we’ll see how they fare against a fierce pass rush.
Jason Kelce (C/Eagles) – I’m going to give props to CSN Philly writer and Hall of Famer Ray Didinger for pointing this out before I could. This is the first time the Eagles will play a 3-4 defense this year. That means Kelce will be going up against a true nose tackle and someone who is large right in his face. He’s been able to “buddy block” and double team opponents defensive linemen, but this week presents a different challenge when he takes on the giant Isaac Sopoaga. Sopoaga is 340 lbs. and strong. The last time Kelce went against a large nose tackle was against the Cleveland Browns during the preseason. Kelce struggled mightily in that game against fellow rookie Phil Taylor. To be blunt, Kelce was outplayed. He really struggled one-on-one with Taylor who dominated him with pure power. Looking at the game last week, Kelce had problems in short yardage situations when the Giants lined up players in his face. Hopefully this isn’t a continuing theme, but if Kelce can’t use his speed and technique it could be a bad day for the Eagles line.
Desean Jackson (WR/Eagles) – The Eagles should put out a missing persons report for Jackson. Teams have keyed in on him and have prevented him from making the explosive plays we’ve been accustomed to seeing over the past three seasons. The Eagles coaching staff hasn’t done a good job finding ways to get him the ball. This must change. San Francisco has a good defense, but their secondary isn’t particularly strong. They have had trouble in that area for years. Carlos Rogers isn’t the player he once was. He’s very good in run support but isn’t a shut-down type guy. Donte Whitner, the Niners strong safety, also plays the run well but gets burnt in coverage. This could be the first game of the year that Jackson really breaks out. Vick needs to get Jackson the ball early and often to open things up.
Kendall Hunter (RB/49ers) – The Eagles have a knack for letting little known players step up against them. They were better in that department this year until Victor Cruz shredded them last week. This week’s under-the-radar player that could hurt the Eagles is Hunter. The Eagles run defense needs to be more consistent. They’ve kept opponents under wraps on most plays, but have developed a concerning tendency to allow big runs at the worst time. The Eagles did a good job with Brandon Jacobs, but allowed Ahmad Bradshaw to break loose a few times. San Francisco features a similarly backfield dynamic. Frank Gore has been a disappointment this year, averaging less than three yards per carry. He’s their big bruising back that the Eagles can get on quickly. Hunter, on the other hand, is the quick elusive guy who can catch passes. He played extremely well last week for the Niners and should get an increased workload moving forward. He can hit a hole hard and take screens to the house. If the Eagles linebackers don’t recognize him out of the backfield he could cause big problems for them.