NFL-leading Eagles wary of letdown against winless 49ers
By ROB MAADDI
Oct. 26, 2017
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Carson Wentz and the Philadelphia Eagles are the talk of the NFL following a surprising 6-1 start and impressive victories in consecutive primetime games.
Here comes the winless San Francisco 49ers (0-7).
It's a perfect setup for a classic letdown when the teams meet in Philadelphia on Sunday. The 49ers are better than their awful record. They've lost five games by three points or fewer.
The Eagles are coming off a short week after playing Monday night and they lost two key starters: left tackle Jason Peters and middle linebacker Jordan Hicks for the season.
"The way the momentum swings in this league, it's too hard to look past anybody," safety Malcolm Jenkins said.
"We're far from achieving where we want to be. We've continued to face adversity, injuries, and all kinds of setbacks, but we've been plugging guys in and moving on. We've got plenty of things to work on, plenty of guys to get ready to play, and plenty of things to keep us grounded and humble. We'll focus on that."
Wentz has taken a giant leap in his second season. He leads the league with 17 touchdown passes, including 11 in the past three games. Wentz has also made dazzling plays with his feet, escaping sacks and running for big gains.
Injured Redskins cornerback Josh Norman called Wentz "Houdini" after watching him make several highlight plays during Washington's 34-24 loss.
"The guy's incredible," tight end Zach Ertz said. "I don't know how you stop that as a defense."
Wentz has started every game since the Eagles drafted him No. 2 overall in 2016, going 13-10. For San Francisco, rookie C.J. Beathard makes his second career start.
Beathard struggled against the Cowboys last week in a 40-10 loss. He was harassed by heavy pressure and blitz packages. Beathard finished 22 for 38 for 235 yards but was sacked five times, lost two fumbles and was hit six more times.
He did hit a couple of big plays and scored San Francisco's lone touchdown on a run in the fourth quarter, but looks for improvement this week.
"Just try to get better," he said. "Little things by little things, that turn into big things. There's a lot of plays out there that you can improve on. Even a good play that can be better. That's kind of how I looked at the tape."
Here are some other things to watch:
NEXT MAN UP: Halapoulivaati Vaitai replaces Peters, a nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle. Vaitai filled in at right tackle as a rookie last season when Lane Johnson was suspended. He played well after Peters was injured against the Redskins.
On defense, the Eagles lost their quarterback when Hicks went down. Nigel Bradham takes over as the signal-caller and Joe Walker and Najee Goode will see more snaps in a 4-3 set. Mychal Kendricks will stay on the field more now when the Eagles use only two linebackers.
NEW ROLE: Eric Reid began the season as San Francisco's starting strong safety before being sidelined by an injured knee. Reid returned two weeks ago on a limited basis before getting much more time last week, although at a new position.
Reid played mostly weakside linebacker as Reuben Foster moved into the middle to replace the recently released NaVorro Bowman. At 213 pounds, Reid is undersized for his new role and didn't appear enthusiastic about the change. But with Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt faring well at safety that could continue.
SLOW START: The Niners are off to their worst start since also losing the first seven games in Bill Walsh's first season as coach back in 1979.
No San Francisco team has ever started 0-8 but coach Kyle Shanahan is using the experience of Walsh's old team as a teaching tool for this year's version.
Two years after that start, the 49ers won their first of five Super Bowls in a 14-year span.
"Just because it's hard on your way there, doesn't mean you can't stop believing in what you think's important and working at it every day," Shanahan said. "I think they were a perfect example of a team that did that."
MONEY DOWN: The Eagles have the best third down offense in the NFL, converting 50.5 percent. The Niners have the worst third down defense, allowing 49.5 percent conversion.
KICKING GAME: Perhaps the only edge San Francisco has is a slight one at kicker. Veteran Robbie Gould is 9 for 10 on extra points and 16 for 17 on field goals.
Rookie Jake Elliott has hit all 17 extra points and is 14 for 17 on field goals. He's 4 for 5 from beyond 50 yards, including a 61-yarder.
AP Pro Football Writer Josh Dubow in Santa Clara, California contributed to this report.
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