Former 49ers linebacker and KNBR color commentator Gary Plummer previews the 49ers opponents every week of the 2009 season on 49ers.com. For this week's "Points of the Game" column, Plummer breaks down the 49ers Week 15 opponent – the Philadelphia Eagles.**The 49ers seem to have found a balance. It's taken a while. As head coach Mike Singletary says, this is an evolving offense. I thought last week was the perfect mix of run and pass.
There were some runs out of base formations. There were some runs out of spread formations. And there was passing out of spread formations and base formations. It gives an awful lot for a defense to prepare for. It also gives a lot for a defense to adjust to. It makes for a long week for opposing coordinators.
The pressure was probably on a few weeks ago, in Seattle. The pressure seems to be off now. The 49ers have to count on an awful lot of help if the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys are going to be overtaken in terms of the Wild Card. So the 49ers just have to go in to it with the attitude that it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter what anyone else does. Just go out there and play like you know you can play. Play with reckless abandonment on defense like they did against Arizona. Have fun. It looked like guys were having fun on offense. Those are the things they have to do this week against the Philadelphia Eagles to win.
This will be like a playoff atmosphere for the 49ers.
They are going to be playing in one of the harshest environments that you can play in. It's not just the weather, but the fans in Philly. They sing your praises in Green Bay whether you're a Packer or a 49er. They're just great fans there. In Philly, they'll let your know right away who their loyalty is with. Those are some difficult obstacles to have to overcome. Those are the things that you do have to overcome if you want to be a playoff team. Obviously the 49ers have already beaten a playoff caliber team twice this year in Arizona. But that's been the only team. This will prove that they match up with somebody other than Arizona. It could very well be a team that you would have to play in the playoffs.
It sends a pretty good message. We saw Arizona get hot when the playoffs started. Was last week a springboard for the 49ers success in to the playoffs? Or was it aberration? We'll see on Sunday.
The 49ers have struggled on the road because of slow starts. They've started slow in almost every game on the road. It's been tough to watch. The 49ers look like a different team in the first half of their road games this year. They have to come out of the locker room with that mindset, knowing that it's been a problem and it's something that they have to address. They have to will themselves to start fast.
Offensively, you were able to see the amount of success Alex Smith and the offense were able to have in drawing the defense offsides while at home against Arizona last week. That's tough to do on the road. Conversely, Eagles defensive end Trent Cole has 9.5 sacks and there other end Juqua Parker has 6 sacks. Those two guys are going to have the benefit of crowd noise.
Cole is a guy who plays with a ton of effort. He's really good with his hands. He's got a lot of power. If this is Joe Staley's return to the starting lineup, he has done pretty well against those type of guys like Cole. There might be a situation where you want to chip block early on with Frank Gore who does an excellent job at that. Or they can put the tight end on that side and have them bump first just to slow him down a little bit.
If the crowd noise gets loud enough, there isn't even a snap count on the offensive line. They will just go off of whenever Eric Heitmann snaps the ball. Now, that small advantage that you have on offense is gone. The way to combat that is to be able to run the football. They slow up the pass rushers with speed screens, draws, and a quick passing game. It definitely changes things on the road. That will be a great challenge for the first half.
Defensively the 49ers have a lot of challenges against a dynamic Eagles offense. But with Ahmad Brooks' emergence this matchup becomes even more intriguing.
It's truly amazing how quickly Brooks has adapted to that position. Many times outside linebackers are great pass rushers. But for him to move from an inside linebacker to an outside pass rusher, it doesn't happen very often. To see the amount of pressure that Brooks was able to produce out of a three-man rush, even resulting in a sack one time, was truly amazing. He's obviously getting double-teamed in those situations. He just has that combination of speed, quickness, and power that is lethal at that outside backer position. What it has also done is give Manny Lawson and Parys Haralson more rest.
Those guys know pass down situations are opportunities for sacks. But now those opportunities that they're left with, they will take full advantage of. Not to mention they will each be well rested. That makes things really tough for opposing offensive tackles.
It's kind of like what I was saying about opposing defenses having to prepare for 49ers multiple number of looks on offense. When Lawson, Haralson, and Brooks are each taking their turns rushing the passer, you're going to get three different looks from those guys. The offensive line can't hone in on studying all of the idiosyncrasies of Haralson. They have to study Lawson and Brooks as well. It makes you that much less effective in your film study.
Another defensive player I'm impressed with is Dashon Goldson.
His range has been astounding at times. There are other players out there in the league who may be faster than Dashon. But, he's starting to see the game. When that happens, you react quicker and it doesn't matter how fast you are. If you're reaction time isn't there, you're not going to get to where you need to be. He was trying to a little bit too much, maybe three or four weeks ago. Now he understands that he doesn't have to blow guys up on every single play.
If it's in the open field, your job, especially as a safety, is to ensure the tackle. He's the last line of defense. He also understands that if it's in the box, go in there and blow it up. That's what he did when he caused both of those fumbles from last week. It was a thing of beauty.
He gives Shawntae Spencer, Dre' Bly, and Tarell Brown and immense security blanket. He's allowed those guys to play more physical. It's allowed them to be more aggressive. When the 49ers play well on defense, it's when they're playing aggressively in all phases.. That pass rush certainly gives a comfort level to all four of those guys in the secondary as well. They know that the ball is coming out in three and a half seconds rather than four and a half seconds.
Talking about Spencer individually, he's definitely playing with more confidence. You don't ever want to say that a guy was playing scared, but he played off more. He wasn't as decisive. He's seeing the game and using more technique now. Before he was just relying on his natural abilities. That's enough for some guys. But truly guys don't get to that next level until guys start playing with great technique.
Bly is a perfect example. He doesn't have the most speed out there. But he's got amazing technique. He studies the game and it shows. I think the time away from football was huge for Spencer. He understood how much he missed it. Sometimes when you come out and are thrust in to the starting role early in your career, it's the burden of the job. You think of it as a job with all of the pressure and the stress. Then, that year away, he looks at it now as an opportunity, a privilege, and a blessing. It truly looks like he plays the game that way now.
The X-factor in this game might be how well the 49ers defense defends the screen passes. The Eagles have been very effective with the screen pass. It doesn't matter who they back there. Their offensive line has worked together for a long time. Same thing goes for the guy pulling the trigger, Donovan McNabb. They have excellent timing and the screen passes are all about timing.