Statisticians call it a limited sample, meaning not enough data. When it comes to the San Francisco 49ers, however, you have to say that what we’ve seen in three games so far is what we’re going to get Sunday, namely:
- A cautious passing game built on minimizing Alex Smith’s exposure in the pocket.
- A full-on commitment to running the ball.
- A defense that appears capable playing the run well, though questions remain about how well the secondary can play the pass.
You have to give credit to coach Jim Harbaugh and staff. They’re 2-1 heading into Sunday’s game in Philadelphia. Their formula so far has been stout defense, minimal offensive mistakes and strong special teams. In turn, they beat two teams they should have beaten, and they had a chance to steal a win from a good Dallas team.
Sunday’s game against the Eagles will present more challenges, but it has to be said that 49er fans who have been waiting for a magical offensive transformation of Smith and Co. probably won’t get it.
This is a team limited by inconsistent offensive line play and lack of a deep receiver threat (the loss of Braylon Edwards really hurts). Its strengths are tight ends (Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker), Smith’s quick accurate throws and the occasional big play from a back.
Against the Eagles, they face a team that’s second in the league in rushing, has perhaps the best scrambling quarterback in the history of the league and two very dangerous receivers. In short, Philadelphia is built for a wide-open offensive attack whereas the Niners are built for control.
Philly feels that more snaps it gets, the more chances one of their game-breakers (Michael Vick, DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin) might score. San Francisco, in turn, will want to “shorten” the game by holding onto the ball, running frequently and converting 3rd downs for sustained ball control.
This contrast of styles plays out Sunday, so here are the five questions the 49ers need to answer for a win Sunday against the Eagles.