With a backdrop of rolling hills and green scenery, the 49ers spent their week at The Greenbrier campus in West Virginia in between East Coast matchups to open the regular season. The remote stay presents camp-like opportunities for team bonding, but just as important, a facility that features two full practice fields to resume preparations for their Week 2 contest against the Philadelphia Eagles, who also stand 1-0.
Coming off a suspenseful win against the Detroit Lions for the season opener, the 49ers need to be ready for the Eagles dynamic offense that features Jalen Hurts and DeVonta Smith. This quarterback and wide receiver duo has chemistry that first developed as teammates during their time at the University of Alabama and has already showed early signs of carrying over to the NFL. Hurts passed for 264 yards and three touchdowns, and Smith hauled in six of those targets for 71 yards and a touchdown in Week 1.
Mobile quarterbacks such as Hurts have consistently presented a challenge to the 49ers. However, rookie quarterback Trey Lance has served well to San Francisco’s defense, being used on the scout team to practice performing against a quarterback that can survive (and excel) out of the pocket.
“(Lance) gave us the best looks we can ever ask for. And it’s very beneficial,” defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans said. “We’ve had it all OTAs, all training camp. Trey is such a dynamic player and for us to be able to benefit from the look that he’s giving us has been outstanding.”
Impressing the 49ers defense is cornerback rookie Deommodore Lenoir , now responsible for an even more important task at hand with the critical loss of Jason Verrett (ACL). Making his NFL debut, Lenoir played all 90 defensive snaps in Week 1, a league-wide high, and allowed one catch for just three yards on 55 coverage snaps, per NFL Next Gen Stats.
Ambry Thomas, another rookie making his way on defense and special teams, playing gunner, corner and kick returner for the 49ers in Detroit has a “tough opponent to go up against,” special teams coordinator Richard Hightower said. In his NFL debut, Thomas returned four kickoffs for 70 yards (17.5 yard average) and played in 61 percent of the 49ers special teams snaps.’
“I’m still excited about Ambry and he’s up for the challenge,” Hightower said. “I’m hoping he makes a jump this week.”
The 49ers offensive performance is one of the biggest threats to the Eagles in their home opener this Sunday. Eagles first-year head coach Nick Sirianni described Kyle Shanahan and the team as a “challenge” coming off of Philly’s dominant win in Atlanta.
“(Shanahan) knows how to attack a defense. He knows the system really well; he knows what complements his system really well. That’s what stands out to me,” Sirianni said.
In order to win in Philadelphia, the 49ers offensive line will have to carry over the same strength that impressed Shanahan, as well as the momentum that George Kittle and Deebo Samuel set in Week 1. Kittle completed four receptions for 78 yards, and Samuel led San Francisco’s offense with nine receptions, a career high 189 yards and a touchdown. However, the passing game is just one threat the 49ers have against the Eagles defense. The run game is another.
Elijah Mitchell earned his spot on the Top-5 NFL poll in league leaders for rushing yards, with a total of 104 yards and a touchdown in his NFL debut. Mitchell answered the bell after Raheem Mostert was sidelined early in the contest with a knee injury. Sunday’s game against the Lions was the first time since 2012 the 49ers had a 300-yard passer (Garoppolo, 314 passing yards), 100-yard receiver (Samuel) and 100-yard rusher (Mitchell) in the same game.
The team is also expecting Trey Sermon, who has made strides at practice this week, to make his 49ers debut. The third-round running back was a surprise healthy scratch against the Lions, however has shown some extra motivation in advance of Sunday’s tilt.
“The best way I know how he felt is by how he practiced this week,” offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel said. “There was a deliberate intent and an extra focus to him – an extra aggressiveness that I think his teammates felt. So, what that told me is, ‘Hey I didn’t like not dressing. I want to play football. So how do I do that? I don’t go and talk to people. I show people.’ That’s kind of the common denominator. Kyle always says to the players and coaches ‘don’t tell me, show me.’ And he showed I think all of us that he really wants an opportunity, which he’ll get this Sunday.”
Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham expressed how intense San Francisco’s run game is and how the 49ers are able to dictate the game by setting the tempo.
“These guys are really good at that. They went to the Super Bowl pretty much off that, running the ball,” said Graham. “We just got our hands full… that’s one thing I will say, those guys run. Them boys running, and you gotta make sure you keep up.”
The 49ers travel to Philadelphia on Saturday in hopes of extending their season record to 2-0 against the Eagles at 10 a.m. PST, Sunday, Sept. 19. For ways to watch the game, click here.