The San Francisco 49ers enter their game on Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles in a do or die situation. They come into the game with a 1-2 record, sitting two and a half games behind the NFC West division leading Arizona Cardinals. Another loss to an NFC opponent could bury the 49ers in a hole from which they cannot recover as they pursue their fourth straight playoff berth.
The Eagles come into the game with a record of 3-0, with all three victories coming after trailing by at least 10 points in each game. Philadelphia has won five of the last six meetings between the two teams, with the lone 49ers victory being in their last matchup back in 2011.
This game will also be the third time Jim Harbaugh and Chip Kelly have met up as head coaches. They faced each other twice while at Stanford and Oregon, with each winning on their home field.
With that as a backdrop here are 5 burning questions to which the answers will be key to the outcome of the game.
1) Can the 49ers avoid penalties? - Through the first three weeks of the season the 49ers are the most penalized team in the NFL with 42 total penalties. Only 12 of those penalties have been called on the offense. The defense has given up 17 first downs as the result of penalties, eight of those occurring on third down. In addition, the 49ers have averaged over 100 penalty yards per game so far this season.
2) Will the defense start to trust the man next to them? - The 49ers defense, especially the secondary, gave up big plays against Arizona as the result of defensive backs not staying solid in their assignment. This is something that will be vital if they are going to have success slowing down an Eagles offense that leads the NFL with 116 plays of at least 20 yards since Kelly took over last season.
3) Will the 49ers look to establish the run game? - Through the first three games this season the 49ers have run the ball on 45% of their plays, but this is a bit misleading because the majority of those rush attempts came in their week 1 victory in Dallas. Over the last two weeks Frank Gore has carried the ball a total of 19 times including 6 in last week's loss to Arizona, while Carlos Hyde has only 7 carries.
When the 49ers found themselves in a similar situation heading into week 4 a year ago, they got their groove back by showcasing a heavy dose of Gore. Look for them to go back to the ground this week.
4) Can the defense put pressure on Nick Foles? - After three weeks only two 49ers defenders have sacks, Justin Smith and Ahmad Brooks. The defense is on pace to generate a total of 21 sacks on the season, a paltry number.
Not only are the sacks missing, so is any sustainable pressure on the quarterback. They have been able to pressure the opposing quarterbacks on only 25 of 112 dropbacks, or 22% of the time. Nick Foles will shred the 49ers if they don't disrupt the pocket.
5) Will the 49ers finally play a full 4 quarters? - The 49ers have been outscored the last two weeks by a combined score of 38-3. As bad as that number sounds, it is actually an improvement over a season ago when they were outscored 41-3 in the second half of losses to Seattle and Indianapolis in week 2 and 3. This week they will face an Eagle team that has been lights out in the second half.
Prediction Time: 49ers 26 Eagles 24