Eagles: How Nick Sirianni can neutralize 49ers’ vaunted pass rush

The Falcons defense stinks, but the Eagles will face a much tougher defensive unit in their home opener this weekend against the San Francisco 49ers.

Despite their No. 1 corner Jason Verrett going down with a torn ACL, the strength of this Niners defense — their vaunted defensive line — left Week 1’s contest unscathed. San Fran’s front effectively controlled the game from start to finish.

In total, their defensive line got 33 pressures on Jared Goff in Week 1 and finished the game with three sacks. Arik Armstead, Nick Bosa, Kentavius Street, and Dee Ford all totaled at least five pressures on the day.

Nick Sirianni and his offensive coaching staff will need to scheme up ways to neutralize the 49ers front-four. And there are a few ways Sirianni can go about it.

While San Fran’s defensive line did get ample pressure on Goff all game, they didn’t contain the Lions running game very effectively. They gave up 116 yards on the ground with a 4.83 YPC average, along with one rushing touchdown surrendered.

Running the ball against this front will slow down their pass rush, and above all else, it’s an effective way to move the ball against this defensive unit. Detroit’s offensive line is not nearly as good as Philadelphia’s. On running plays, Detroit only averaged 2.3 yards before contact. Whereas the Eagles running backs averaged 2.7 yards before contact.

The point here is that Detroit found success on the ground with a meddling offensive line; Philly has a much better line and a solid one-two punch in Miles Sanders and Kenny Gainwell in the backfield.

Along with a steady ground game, screen passes should also be effective against this defense. Running screens to slow down a pass rush is a no-brainer, but the Eagles had arguably their best collection of screen plays in Week 1 that they’ve had over the past 2-3 years.

According to Jimmy Kempski of the Philly Voice, Philly ran seven screen plays and Jalen Hurts was 7-for-7 for 85 yards on those passes. One of which was Jalen Reagor’s 23-yard dagger to put the finishing touches on the victory.

Seeing an effective screen game was refreshing. In year’s past, Doug Pederson lost his way when it came to screen plays. Far too often, these screen passes went to guys like Alshon Jeffery or Greg Ward, two guys who have non-existent YAC value. Sirianni used Quez Watkins, Jalen Reagor, Miles Sanders, and Dallas Goedert on the majority of his called screens. Each of whom have great run-after-the-catch potential.

In last Sunday’s 49ers-Lions game, the play that really started Detroit’s comeback attempt was a 43-yard screen pass to D’Andre Swift that went for a touchdown.

This defense is aggressive, and sometimes that aggression will bite them in the ass like it did on that 43-yard catch and run.

In short, as long as Sirianni continues to call a balanced game plan and stays creative with his screen plays, the Eagles will be able to effectively neutralize this San Francisco pass rush. Hurts proved in Week 1 that he’s capable of taking what the defense is giving him. That’ll be even more paramount in his team’s home opener this Sunday.

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