Nine! That’s the number of carries San Francisco 49ers (1-2) RB Frank Gore and rookie second-round pick (No. 57) RB Carlos Hyde combined to have against the Arizona Cardinals (3-0). No wonder they lost the game. The 49ers are built to run the football, and they failed to do so under OC Greg Roman. Why didn’t they run the ball more? Well considering the Cardinals run defense is among tops in the league, the 49ers thought it would be wise to use their other weapons in more four and five wide-receiver sets. And while that personnel grouping did fairly well early on, they struggled mightily in the second half. So what should the 49ers do when the undefeated Philadelphia Eagles (3-0) come to town? Run the ball down their throats for four-quarters while keeping the Eagles high-powered offense off the field.
The Eagles currently rank No. 13 in the NFL in run defense, and despite holding their opponents to 105.7 yards per game, they have yet to match up against a power running scheme that the 49ers use. So how can the 49ers attack them? By imposing their will down in the trenches on the left side.
I’ll be honest, T Jonathan Martin is a significant downgrade to T Anthony Davis and it shows. Whether trying to set the edge or hitting the second level, Martin is having trouble despite playing in the system at the Farm. So why not neglect that side altogether and flush it down the Eagles throats with two All-Pro’s in front of them? Yes, I’m talking about LT Joe Staley and LG Mike Iupati.
Two All-Pros at their respective positions, Roman should play to their strengths while adding FB Bruce Miller to clean up running lanes. Last week, Iupati graded out positively by Pro Football Focus with a 0.7 run block grade. If he can continue to build on that success while attacking NT Bennie Logan and DE Cedric Thornton, the 49ers should have success. The Eagles defensive line is suspect at best and while DE Fletcher Cox is coming into his own, he will be playing on the left side away from the 49ers strength, which is their left side. (opposite sides)
If Roman can commit to the run game while working both Gore and Hyde as the focal point of the game-plan, that should bode well for them as they move the chains. And if you’re wondering if the Eagles will stack the box, my answer to that would be yes, as SS Nate Allen often roams near the line of scrimmage. If Allen commits to the box, look for the 49ers to counter with three wide-out sets.
The 49ers were sorely missing TE Vernon Davis, but not this week. “Optimistic. Very hopeful that he’ll be able to play Sunday,” said Coach Jim Harbaugh. If Davis is back in the fold, look for him to create some mismatches as OLB Connor Barwin, OLB Trent Cole, and FS Malcom Jenkins do not have the 4.3 speed to stay stride for stride with the Pro Bowl tight-end. And with WR Stevie Johnson coming into his own, he may have another 100-yard day if the Eagles solely focus their attention on WR Michael Crabtree and WR Anquan Boldin.
With the 49ers preparing for a very talented, fast, and aggressive Eagles defense, they will need to run the football early and often as that’s what they do best. And despite them not having early success early on, the punishment it takes to bring down both Gore and Hyde for four-quarters will ultimately be too much for their defense, as the running game should yield big plays in the second-half.
Whether using Gore or Hyde, look for the both of them to have big days, as I expect them to come out swinging as Gore should have a stat line similar to 17 carries for 86 yards and one touchdown while Hyde finishes up with around six carries for 24 yards.