‘Crushing That Run’: Eagles Dismiss 49ers QB Situation

GETTY Raheem Mostert #31 of the San Francisco 49ers celebrates a touchdown against the Green Bay Packers during the NFC Championship game at Levi's Stadium on January 19, 2020 in Santa Clara, California.

For the second time in two days, one of the Eagles’ defenders has subtly dismissed the 49ers’ passing game. Stopping the run is the top priority.

Brandon Graham was the culprit (motivator?) on Thursday when he told reporters that San Francisco is a “run team” and the 49ers’ uncertainty at quarterback didn’t really factor into their preparation. It’s still unclear if starter Jimmy Garappolo or backup Nick Mullens will be under center on Sunday. And it probably doesn’t matter.

“Not with this team, this team runs the football,” Graham said, echoing what Darius Slay mentioned. “They love to run the ball. We got to make sure we do our job upfront, make sure that we stop the run and, of course, the DBs going to handle the backend of it but upfront we’re worried just about crushing that run.”

The 49ers rank 12th in the NFL in total rushing at 132.7 yards per game, plus five rushing touchdowns (tied for third-best). They surprisingly only gained 93 yards on the ground last week versus New York with their two top running backs Raheem Mostert (knee) and Tevin Coleman (knee) sidelined.

Mostert has missed back-to-back practices this week and Coleman has been ruled out. No matter, the Eagles will be ready for a steady diet of Jeff Wilson Jr. and Jerick McKinnon who is dealing with a rib injury. McKinnon and Pro Bowl tight end George Kittle (knee) were both full-go at 49ers practice on Thursday. Garappolo sat out for a second straight day.

“We have to just prepare for whoever is at QB,” said Eagles safety Rodney McLeod. “Nothing really changes. We understand that everything is controlled by their run game. They have a great skill group and we have to prepare as such.”

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Don’t Forget About George Kittle

Sure, the first key is to stop the 49ers’ monstrous rushing attack but don’t forget about George Kittle. The highest-paid tight end in football — the guy Zach Ertz is chasing — is their biggest weapon. He’s a dynamic pass-catcher, creative route-runner, and willing blocker. The Eagles’ defense has to account for him at all times, never turn a blind eye to No. 85.

“He’s one of the rare tight ends who can do it all,” linebacker Nate Gerry said. “He’s really good when it comes to run blocking. He’s really good when it comes to pass-catching, running routes, being vertically fast — he’s quick, he’s just overall a really good tight end.”

The Eagles will likely be throwing the kitchen sink at Kittle. He could wind up matched up in coverage against a linebacker like Gerry or a safety such as Jalen Mills. They might even slap a cornerback on him in some packages. Think Nickell Robey-Coleman or Cre’Von LeBlanc.

“I think the biggest thing is knowing where he is on the field,” Mills said. “He’s their biggest threat when you’re talking about the pass game. Everybody knows that, so just kind of knowing where he is on the field. Whether it’s me as a safety on him or a linebacker or a corner, just kind of got to know where he is and key in on him.”

Gerry is banking on his experiences pairing up with Ertz and Dallas Goedert in practice might help in containing Kittle.

“He can run all the routes on the route tree,” Gerry said, “so being able to pair up against Zach and Dallas at training camp helps us on the backend and as linebackers covering, just being able to see a lot of the releases they see when it comes off our leverage. I think it’s a pretty good comparison from Kittle to Ertz and Dallas because Dallas is really good in the run game when it comes to blocking as well.”

Too Much Change at Linebacker in Philly?

The revolving door at linebacker has made it hard for Philly to find a true identity on the backend. Whether the organization wants to admit it, their refusal to address or value the position has hurt the defense. The team let both starters from last year — Kamu Grugier-Hill, Nigel Bradham — walk in free agency and the one key veteran replacement they signed retired before training camp began.

Gerry has been the de facto leader, the man relaying the signals in the middle, of a young group that includes T.J. Edwards, Duke Riley, Alex Singleton. The challenge has been adjusting to each player’s unique style and tightening up the lines of communication.

“This year, we got a lot of new bodies out there, not just in the linebackers room but in the DBs room,” Gerry said. “Communication is a lot different compared to what it used to be, like how I used to do things with Nigel is going to be different than how I do things with TJ. So each game we just got to get better about communication.”

The undersized linebacker (6-foot-2, 230 pounds) is a converted safety from Nebraska so he’s used to dropping back in coverage. Unfortunately, it’s been an issue for Gerry over these first three weeks. He was torched by the Rams’ Tyler Higbee in Week 2 and the Bengals seemed to pick on him again last week. They need to do a better job forcing more third-and-longs and hopefully, that will lead to turnovers.

“We haven’t gotten our hands on the ball very often, to be honest with you, when it comes to the backend on the pass,” Gerry said. “Last game was kind of our really first attempt to get into rush calls and being able to rush the quarterback.”

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