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Things are moving in the right direction for the 49ers.

A week ago the sky was falling, and the 49ers season was very much in doubt after numerous key injuries. A convincing win over the New York Giants in Week 3 kept the team afloat while they awaited the return of key contributors.

49ers health status

If there is any team that can match the 49ers injury woes, it’s their Week 4 opponent, the Philadelphia Eagles. Fortunately for the 49ers (2-1), they’re trending in a different direction than their opponent.

In Week 4, the 49ers will add WR Deebo Samuel and TE George Kittle back to the offense. Samuel, who suffered a foot injury in the offseason, was placed on short-term I.R. to begin the season and will play this week after returning to practice.

This week, Samuel will be eased in to the offense out of caution for their top wide receiver. 49ers Head Coach Kyle Shanahan discussed Samuel’s role Sunday:

“I wouldn’t say that there’s a pitch count, but Deebo was our starting receiver last year. He earned that early in the year and we kept it that way most of the year, definitely to finish. I don’t expect him to be like that on Sunday. It is his first time back. We’ve got to be smart with that. You see a lot of these injuries around the league and stuff, and that’s kind of what happens when you don’t go to the totally normal process of an offseason that we did. When you have a guy who’s missed a ton with his injury, that makes it even stronger. So, we’ve got to be smart with him. I know he’ll be out there, but it won’t be as his normal, that’s for sure.

Kittle suffered a knee injury in Week 1 and has missed the past two games. Last week, Kittle had a good chance to play, but the team decided to give him another week.

If it were up to Kittle, he wouldn’t have missed any time at all:

“I feel like I can always play, I felt like I could have played against the Jets but that’s just me. A couple things went into me not playing. A conversation with coach Shanahan, we disagreed. [Playing] just wasn’t the best decision.” 

Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who suffered an ankle sprain in the Week 2 win over the Jets, will miss his second-straight game after he was unable to return to practice in the capacity for which the 49ers were hoping.

In addition to Garoppolo, DE Dee Ford, CB Emmanuel Moseley, TE Jordan Reed, CB Ahkello Witherspoon, RB Raheem Mostert, and LB Dre Greenlaw were all ruled out for Sunday’s game.

Decimated Eagles offense

The winless Eagles (0-2-1) have it bad. They’ve had a frustrating start to the season, and their offense has been decimated by injuries.

This week the Eagles had one, yes, ONE wide receiver healthy enough to practice. That’s almost unheard of. QB Carson Wentz will have very limited receiving options Sunday, which favors the 49ers defense, who will be without a few of their cornerbacks.

So far this season, Wentz has struggled through three games. He has not looked the same as he did when he put up MVP numbers in 2017.

Shanahan discussed what he’s seen from Wentz despite the struggles:

“We’re coaching like we’re playing against Carson Wentz, who is one of the better quarterbacks in this league. He was the best player in the league the year they won the Super Bowl. I think he’s done a lot of good things since. I know his numbers aren’t great this year and I know a lot of people are saying things about him, but when I watched the film, I’d see Carson Wentz.” 

Wentz’ struggles could be due to the lack of weapons in the passing game, and the inconsistencies on the offensive line. On Sunday, Wentz will lose another key member of his offense.

Matchups to watch

When the schedule came out this offseason, this was expected to be a good game between two good teams. That may still be the case, but the slew of injuries to both teams dampens the excitement.

The 49ers are heavy 7-1/2 point favorites Sunday. After what backup QB Nick Mullens did to the Giants last weekend, the 49ers offense has shown to function just the same without Garoppolo. That is bad news for the Eagles.

Starting his second consecutive game, Mullens is excited to have two key playmakers back on the field:

“It adds some excitement, you can get the ball into those guys’ hands. I haven’t played with George in a while and so he’s always messing with me about it. ‘I can’t wait to play with you again.’ I love that. And George and Deebo, those guys bring energy, they bring great energy. They’re leaders of this football team and that helps the entire offense. It helps the team and they’ve done great in practice. Like I said, very fast, very physical, great mindsets. And so, we’re pumped to have those guys out there and it’s been a great week.”

If the 49ers are to lose this game, expect the Eagles defensive line to play a big role in stopping Mullens and the offense.

That defensive line is stout, featuring the likes of Derek Barnett, Malik Jackson, Fletcher Cox, and Brandon Graham. The 49ers offensive line has struggled to contain pressure from the interior and on the edge with Mike McGlinchey. If the Eagles can apply constant pressure on Mullens and contain the 49ers’ rushing attack, it could be a frustrating day for the offense.

At cornerback, the Eagles have Darius Slay, for whom they traded this offseason. Slay has been one of the best corners in the NFL for a few years now, and will present a challenge for whichever 49ers receiver he is matched up against.

The middle of the field is where the 49ers could have an overwhelming advantage. The Eagles linebacking corps has been bad, very bad. The 49ers are getting Kittle back, who could end up tormenting the Eagles on Sunday.

Offensively, the 49ers should be able to do what they want against the Eagles defense. Philadelphia certainly has some pieces that will match up well against the 49ers’ offensive weapons, but there are still too many holes left to be exposed.

Prediction

This is a tougher game to predict, because the Eagles are a better team than either the Giants and the Jets, who the 49ers handled with ease. Their abundance of injuries makes it hard to imagine the Eagles beating the 49ers at home.

  • 49ers 28, Eagles 21

I imagine the Eagles will heavily utilize both RB Miles Sanders and TE Zach Ertz on Sunday. They really have no other choice, given most of their weapons won’t play. They will be able to find the end zone a few times against a banged-up 49ers defense, but won’t be able to keep pace in the time-of-possession battle.

Taylor Wirth

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