The Eagles started their 2021 season on a high note, dominating the Falcons in a 32-6 rout. While the team from top to bottom looked great, they’ll face a much tougher test this week against the San Francisco 49ers.
San Fran is also coming off a victory in Week 1, although there’s was hard fought game that came down to the last possession. Kyle Shanahan’s group put up 41 points, the most of any team on opening weekend. They had some standout performances on both sides of the ball, but injuries have already started piling up for San Fran; something that plagued them throughout 2020.
As we continue to enjoy the Birds great opening weekend W, let’s take a look at some of the early storylines to keep an eye on throughout the next week.
49ers will be down two key starters in Week 2
After San Fran’s win on Sunday, we learned that the team fears cornerback Jason Verrett has a torn ACL. On Monday, Shanahan confirmed that the corner did indeed tear his ACL. They were already thin at corner heading into the year and Verrett is clearly their best coverage guy on the outside, posting the 8th-highest Pro Football Focus grade of any corner in 2020.
Rookie Deommodre Lenoir will likely be the team’s CB1 moving forward in Verrett’s absence. He played well in Week 1, allowing a pedestrian 39.6 passer rating when targeted. Behind Lenoir, the Niners can turn to Emmanuel Moseley, Ambry Thomas, or Josh Norman to man the other outside corner spot.
On the offensive side of the ball, running back Raheem Mostert also suffered a knee injury, but it’s not expected to be as bad as Verrett’s. Nevertheless, he was placed on IR and is expected to miss approximately eight weeks. When Mostert went down on Sunday, sixth-round rookie Elijah Mitchell stepped in and looked the part. He finished with 104 rushing yards on an impressive 5.5 yards per carry.
San Fran’s rushing attack is the focal point of their offense, so regardless of who’s toting the rock, their offensive line is good enough to make any back look good and Shanahan is a master of scheming run plays. But for their defense, losing Verrett is not easy to mitigate and it leaves a gaping hole in their secondary.
Deebo Samuel is a legit outside threat, but what about Brandon Aiyuk?
While Shanahan’s calling card is running the ball and utilizing play action, his outside receivers are some of the best young pass catchers in the league. Deebo Samuel had a career day in Week 1, hauling in 9 of his 12 targets for 189 yards on a 12.1 yards per catch average. The second wideout most people expected to be the No. 2 option outside was Brandon Aiyuk, but he was nowhere to be found. He went the entire game without a single target.
He may be in Shanahan’s doghouse, or his recent hamstring injury that caused him to miss practice time could have played a role in his limited action Sunday, your guess is as good as mine. It’ll be interesting to see how he rebounds this week against the Eagles. If both of these guys are on their A games, this Niners offense can be really dangerous.
Trent Sherfield was the starter over Aiyuk in Week 1, but he didn’t do a whole lot to solidify his status at the team’s No. 2 receiver. He finished with just 2 receptions for 23 yards.
Keep an eye on any notes out of Shanahan press conferences this week. When he’s inevitably asked about Aiyuk’s status this week, his answer should be telling — he’s one of the most forthcoming head coaches in the league when speaking with the media.
Rodney McLeod’s status for Week 2
Although Rodney McLeod was left off the PUP list to start the year, missing the first week of the regular season was probably inevitable in hindsight. Despite his absence and an early injury to Marcus Epps, the Eagles secondary played well and contained Matt Ryan to 164 yards through the air and zero touchdowns.
It’s unclear if McLeod will be able to go this week, but his addition will only improve an already impressive Eagles secondary. In 13 starts last season, McLeod proved to be on of the better coverage safeties in the NFL, tallying 1 interception, 7 pass deflections, a 48.3 percent completion percentage and 56.2 pass rating when targeted.
Facing another solid offense in Week 2, McLeod returning to the field would be welcomed.
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