A fast start, finally?
It isn't unusual for this category to appear in these weekly game previews, but until the Niners show that they can do something other than sleepwalk through the early parts of a contest, it's going to remain a key factor. The reality is the 49ers have consistently dug themselves into a hole at the beginning of games, and even when they've been able to scratch and claw back into those contests, it has proved too much to overcome.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Niners entered Sunday having given up six touchdowns in the first quarter, tied for most in the NFL. The Eagles, meanwhile, were one of two teams that had yet to give up a touchdown in the first quarter.
Worse for the Niners was that they had scored only one touchdown and had been outscored by 35 points in the opening 15 minutes, which was second-worst in the NFL. Philadelphia had outscored opponents by 35 points in the first quarter, the best mark in the league.
Unfortunately for the 49ers, there was no improvement to be found Sunday, though not for a lack of effort by the defense. Despite myriad injuries, the Niners' defense did enough to keep them in the game, holding Philadelphia to just a field goal in the opening 15 minutes.
Once again, though, the offense let the Niners down and did not score a point until there were about four and a half minutes left in the third quarter. At minus-38, the Niners have the worst first-quarter scoring margin in the league.
Holding up on the O-line
Considering all the talent the Eagles boast on their defensive line, they've been surprisingly ineffective when rushing just four this season. Before Sunday, they had managed to pressure opposing quarterbacks on just 15.8 percent of dropbacks when rushing only four, the worst rate in the NFL. However, when the Eagles had sent five or more, they were getting pressure 42.9 percent of the time, the 10th-best rate in the league.
Suffice to say, those numbers alone would have given the Eagles reason to blitz more, but they didn't need to because of the state of the 49ers' offensive line. San Francisco started the game without right tackle Trent Brown (concussion), and things only got worse from there, as left tackle Joe Staley left with an eye injury that forced him to get stitches and go to the hospital for X-rays on the orbital bone near his eye. Right tackle Garry Gilliam, Brown's replacement, left with a knee injury and did not return.
Those issues forced the Niners to play guards Zane Beadles and Erik Magnuson at left and right tackle, respectively. Had there been any more injuries on the offensive line, the Niners would have used tight end Garrett Celek at tackle and moved Magnuson inside.
For Philadelphia, it meant a chance to get after rookie quarterback C.J. Beathard relentlessly.
According to ESPN Stats & Info's metrics, the Eagles pressured Beathard on 38 percent of his 45 dropbacks, the second highest percentage by the Eagles in a game this season. That pressure left Beathard running for his life, completing three of 10 passes for 31 yards with an interception while under duress and taking four sacks.
Of course, the Niners weren't the only team dealing with injuries on the offensive line entering Sunday's game. The Eagles lost star left tackle Jason Peters to a season-ending knee injury in Week 7 against Washington. Philadelphia faced the prospect of moving forward without one of the bookend tackles who made quarterback Carson Wentz's life a lot easier in his first season and a half.
Before Sunday, the numbers showed that Wentz had been much better when he had both Peters and right tackle Lane Johnson protecting him. In 404 dropbacks with both tackles on the field, Wentz had a total QBR of 67.5, with a 21-to-6 touchdown-to-interception ratio and 7.4 yards per attempt. In 525 without at least one of Johnson or Peters, Wentz had a total QBR of 52.4 with 12 touchdowns and 12 interceptions while averaging 6.2 yards per attempt.
With that in mind, Niners defensive coordinator Robert Saleh drew up a creative and aggressive game plan to get after Wentz and force him to be uncomfortable. For much of the game, that plan worked, as the Niners got to Wentz for three sacks and hit him seven more times. Wentz also was unable to shake loose to make big plays with his legs, rushing twice for 7 yards.
All told, Wentz finished 18-of-32 for 211 yards with two touchdowns and an interception for a passer rating of 84.2. It was a solid job against Wentz and something for the 49ers' defense to build on, even if it didn't get enough help to turn into their first win.