Behind budding superstar quarterback, Carson Wentz, the Philadelphia Eagles have raced to a league-best 6-1 record and established themselves as a playoff caliber team.
Why is Wentz a superstar in the making? Because he does stuff like this.
Sandwiched between NFC East games against Washington and Dallas, with next week’s tilt with the Denver Broncos mixed in, the Eagles are looking at a traditional “trap” game this week against the 0-7 San Francisco 49ers.
In a game with a giant disparity in records, what are the key “Any given Sunday” questions? Take a look.
Can Kenny Albert and Charles Davis Say Halapoulivaati Vaitai?
The city of Philadelphia went completely silent on Monday night when the Eagles All-Pro left tackle, Jason Peters, went down with a knee injury. The entire team came out onto the field to support Peters as he was carted off the field.
The team confirmed that Peters will miss the rest of the season, after tearing his ACL and MCL. At 35-years-old, there’s a chance that his playing days could be over, which is a horrible way for a Hall of Fame career to end.
The Eagles drafted right tackle Lane Johnson to eventually man the left side, but he’s having a stellar season right where he is. Plus, as PhillyVoice’s Jimmy Kempski noted, teams are increasingly putting their best pass rushers against the right tackle.
Instead, Eagles head coach, Doug Pederson, has elected to start former fifth-round pick, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, in Peters’ left tackle spot. Vaitai started on the right side as a rookie, while Johnson served a suspension, and struggled mightily.
With a year under his belt, however, Vaitai is more prepared to step into the lineup. He’s not going to be able to match what Peters brought in protecting Wentz’s blindside, but that’s an unfair comparison for anyone.
The Eagles don’t need Vaitai to be an All-Pro, they just need him to be solid. The rest of Philadelphia’s offensive line is experienced and accomplished. If Vaitai can just avoid being blown up, the rest of the line can provide opportunities for Wentz and the Eagles revitalized running game.
Hopefully, Kenny Albert and Charles Davis, who will call the game for FOX, won’t try to actually pronounce his name too often. There’s a reason that even his teammates and coaches call him Big V.
Can Mychal Kendricks Back Up His Attitude?
Peters wasn’t the only big injury loss for the Eagles on Monday night. Middle linebacker Jordan Hicks tore his right Achilles tendon and will be out for the rest of the season.
Hicks is Philly’s signal caller on defense, and even though he’s had a quiet season, he is one of the leaders for defensive coordinator, Jim Schwartz.
Fellow starter Nigel Bradham, who’s been having an outstanding season, will take over the calling duties.
Technically, Mychal Kendricks is also a starting linebacker, but the Eagles frequently only go with two linebackers. The six-year veteran was once considered to be a defensive linchpin, but that was multiple coaching staffs ago.
Kendricks has not been quiet about his unhappiness in Philadelphia. He asked for a trade early in the last off-season and has kept up that stance into the season.
On Monday night, Kendricks wasn’t available once Hicks went down because he was inactive with a hamstring injury. The Cal product has made a habit of missing time with strains and sprains.
With Hicks gone for the season, this is Kendricks chance to show the NFL that he’s as good as he thinks he is.
Can Carlos Hyde Crack the Code?
The 49ers don’t have a lot on offense that scares teams. Their running back, Carlos Hyde, is typically the only one who can make opposing defensive coordinators pause.
The Ohio State product has 428 yards on 100 carries, which rounds up nicely to 4.3 yards per carry. That’s not amazing, but it’s not bad either.
The Eagles defense, though, has been beyond stingy when it comes to giving up rushing yards. Philadelphia is averaging a mere 67 yards surrendered on the ground.
Observers have been quick to point out that, since the Eagles weakness is in the secondary, most teams just don’t bother trying to run against them. The numbers bare that out to a point since Philly is giving up 291 yards per game through the air, which ranks 30th in the league.
From the Eagles standpoint, though, giving up those air yards hasn’t translated to opponents scoring. Philadelphia is yielding just under 21 points a game. Since they’re scoring 28 points on offense, that’s a number that they can live with.
Which is all a long way of saying that the Eagles defense will be focused on containing Hyde, which is bad news for the 49ers. Even worse, the Philly D will be looking to put some hits on film to catch the attention of one of their upcoming challenges, Dallas Ezekiel Elliott.
Who’s the Guy Keeping Kirk Cousins‘ Seat Warm?
As soon as Kyle Shanahan took over as the 49ers head coach, everyone started connecting the dots to who might be San Francisco’s future quarterback. Washington’s Kirk Cousins seems like a natural fit since he’s probably going to be a free agent and Shanahan was his first offensive coordinator.
The Niners did nothing to quell that when they decided to draft a defensive lineman (Thomas) in the first round and brought in journeyman Brian Hoyer to start the season under center.
Not surprisingly, Hoyer wasn’t particularly good so now the 49ers have turned to rookie C.J. Beathard, causing fantasy players across the country to ask in unison, “Who?”
Big 10 fans are well acquainted with Beathard from his exploits at Iowa, where he compiled a 21-7 record as a starter, including a shocking undefeated regular season in 2015.
Beathard took over for Hoyer, himself a former Big 10 quarterback, during the 49ers Week 6 loss to the Redskins. The rookie nearly helped San Francisco pull off the upset, before falling 26-24.
He had more difficulty last week as his team dropped a 40-10 decision to Dallas. The Cowboys sacked Beathard five times and caused him to fumble twice.
The Eagles defensive line doesn’t always rack up sacks, but they do get pressure on the quarterback, especially in the middle with Fletcher Cox. Established signal callers don’t like pressure coming right at them, and it’s even worse for a rookie who’s still trying to figure out NFL defenses.
Bay Area fans will have to settle for being thankful that the Washington front office so royally screwed up the Cousins contract situation.
What The Heck Was That Mack Hollins Touchdown Dance?
Mack Hollins, the Eagles rookie wide receiver from North Carolina, has become a core special teams player already but hasn’t gotten many chances in the team’s offensive sets. Against Washington, Hollins went in to give Torrey Smith a breather and promptly scored his first touchdown on a 64-yard bomb.
Then, he did this…
If you don’t spend much time on YouTube or didn’t catch Katy Perry earlier this year on SNL, then you might not have recognized the moves. Those in the know, however, quickly realized that Hollins was doing “The Backpack,” made famous by Internet sensation, Russell Hornig (aka “The Backpack Kid”).
For comparison, this is what the original looks like…
Considering some of the other versions on the Internet, Hollins’ homage isn’t that bad.
(Hey, look, what do you want from us? This game features a winless team against the team with the NFL’s best record. Even Eagles fans are going to be looking forward to the Cowboys-Redskins game.)