Niners' defense won't be dreaming in Philly

LBs Willis, Bowman key NFL's No. 3 rushing defense

Linebacker NaVorro Bowman wouldn't mind being the worst nightmare imagined by the Philadelphia Eagles' self-proclaimed ''Dream Team.'' Bowman and the rest of San Francisco's resurgent defense will get that opportunity Sunday when the Niners face a reeling Philadelphia team in a matchup of the NFL's seventh-ranked defense against the league's No. 6 offense.


''They have the title of Dream Team,'' Bowman said this week while the 49ers were training in Ohio as part of their 10-day road trip in the Eastern time zone that concludes with a visit to Philadelphia's Lincoln Financial Field.

''We feel we have a 'Dream Team' over here (defensively) also," Bowman continued. "Saying 'Dream Team,' you're giving something that has to be earned. That title came out early. We have a chance to show them what talent we have on our side of the ball.''

The San Francisco defense was superb in last week's 13-8 victory at Cincinnati that lifted the 49ers to 2-1 and left them alone in first place atop the NFC West.

Led by swarming middle linebackers Bowman and Patrick Willis, the Niners' strength is stopping the run. San Francisco ranks third in the NFL in rushing defense, allowing just 62.7 yards per game on the ground. San Francisco has not allowed an opposing runner to gain more than 100 yards in 25 straight games, by far the longest streak in the NFL.

Philadelphia counters with a rushing attack that ranks No. 2 in the NFL, averaging 182 yards a game on the ground.

Much of the burden of cutting that production when the Eagles host the 49ers will rest on Bowman and Willis, a four-time Pro Bowler. Both will be needed against the Eagles' quick-strike passing game, too.

The 49ers' secondary is banged up. Cornerback Tramaine Brock has a cast on his left hand and strong safety Donte Whitner is questionable with a hip injury. Free safety Dashon Goldson returned to the starting lineup last week after missing San Francisco's first two games with a knee injury.

That concerns defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, already wary of the Eagles' ability to stretch a defense to its limit.

''He's (Whitner) highly questionable right now,'' Fangio said. ''He started to do some things in practice, but did not finish. I don't know his status. Brock can play but will have limitations. Playing corner in this league is hard enough full speed, to put a cast on your hand makes it even a little more hard. He'll be available.''

Eagles quarterback Michael Vick naturally draws attention, but Fangio said the Eagles are loaded elsewhere.

Philly offense features plenty of weapons


''The thing that jumps off at you is the speed of their skilled people,'' Fangio said. ''Starting with their wide receivers, (Jeremy) Maclin and (DeSean) Jackson are about as fast a tandem as you'll ever play against.

''Then obviously the speed and elusiveness of Vick, his strong arm, and his ability to get it to these guys deep down the field. This is a big-play team.''

Niners head coach Jim Harbaugh had a tongue-in-cheek suggestion for Eagles coach Andy Reid this week regarding the battered Vick:

''With the (concussion) he had two weeks ago, with the hand injury this week, it'd probably be the prudent thing to rest him for a week. I'd like that a lot. I think that would be prudent for them to do. But we can't count on it. So we're going to have to prepare for him.''

Willis said whoever is across the line presents a problem.

''We all know (Vick) is a playmaker and a guy that can make a difference in a game,'' Willis said. ''Whoever is taking the snap will be the guy we have to stop.''

Fangio is most concerned with stopping running back LeSean McCoy. He poses a threat on handoffs as well as coming out of the backfield and getting involved in the passing game.

''I think he makes it all go for this team,'' Fangio said. ''He's very quick, very elusive. He's got an unusual running style. He's kind of like Barry Sanders in a way that a run can be started outside left that can end up outside right or vice versa.''

Bowman, who ranks fourth in the NFL with 30 tackles after three games and had a team-high 11 in last week's win at Cincinnati, said it is his job to stop McCoy.

''That's the matchup in football – linebacker on running back,'' Bowman said. ''It's a tough challenge and one that I take seriously. The goal is to not let him get 100 (yards) against us. We've got to contain him.''

Bowman said the best way to do that may be to put pressure on Vick when the quarterback drops back to pass. If the Niners do that, McCoy will be needed to block instead of run.

''Then again, Vick is like a second running back,'' Bowman said. ''We've got to guard against him pulling it down and taking off.''

Vick, Maclin both probable for Niners


Another injury apparently will not keep Vick from taking the field for a second straight week. Despite a bruised non-throwing hand, Vick is listed as probable to play against the 49ers on the NFL's official injury report.

Maclin, hampered by a hamstring injury, also is listed as probable for the Eagles, who will be trying to avoid a third consecutive loss and continue their recent success over the 49ers.

A week after suffering a concussion in Philadelphia's 35-31 loss at Atlanta, Vick injured his right hand in the third quarter of a 29-16 home defeat to the New York Giants last Sunday. Vick was originally diagnosed with a broken hand, but tests later revealed a bruise.

After practicing earlier this week, Vick said there is a "100 percent" chance he starts Sunday as he tries to help Philadelphia (1-2) avoid dropping three straight regular season games for the first time since 2007.

"I just want to be there for my teammates and hold myself accountable for my responsibilities and what I have to do as a quarterback,'' Vick said. "So regardless of what I have to go through, I just want to be there.''

Vick has thrown for a modest 605 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions for an 87.7 passer rating. He's rushed for 153 yards on 24 carries and no TDs.

However, he's failed to finish each of the last two games and showed his frustration by lashing out at the officials saying he takes too many late hits without the opponent being flagged. Vick apologized for his comments this week.

"I think I was frustrated because I got hit late and I hurt my hand on that play and I couldn't finish the game because of that,'' Vick said. "I don't want any special treatment. If they feel there's a need to make a call, then they'll make it. If not, then I won't say anything about it.''

Vick's injuries and the offense overall have not been the main reason for the Eagles' early struggles.

LeSean McCoy is second in the NFL with 345 rushing yards and leads all running backs with five TDs. He recorded 138 total yards and a touchdown in last season's 27-24 win over San Francisco.

Maclin leads the team with 19 receptions for 260 yards and two TDs, but was day-to-day earlier this week and limited in practice because of his hamstring injury.

Eagles' defense struggling despite top-flight newcomers


It's on the defensive side where the Eagles have their greatest concerns.

Despite the addition of top-flight cornerbacks Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, plus veteran defensive linemen Jason Babin and Cullen Jenkins, Philadelphia's defense has allowed 64 points over the last two games – the most by the team in a two-game stretch since yielding 69 from Nov. 26-Dec. 4, 2006.

Against New York, the Eagles allowed three touchdowns of 28 yards or more.

"We can't give up big plays," coach Andy Reid said. "I mean, that's a simple fact."

Hoping to remedy that problem, Reid replaced starting linebacker Casey Matthews with fellow rookie Brian Rolle on the weak side this week.

Though the Eagles have averaged 34.8 points while winning five straight over San Francisco, the 49ers (2-1) have allowed 2.9 rushing yards per game this season. San Francisco gave up just 228 total yards last week at Cincinnati.

"They're big, strong guys that are agile, and yeah, they're very good against the run," Reid said. "So we'll see, see how it goes."

The difference, however, might be how well San Francisco can improve after averaging an NFL-low 213.7 yards through the first three games. Despite Frank Gore in the backfield, the 49ers rank 30th in the league, averaging 69.7 rushing yards.

Gore, held to 148 yards and one TD on 59 carries, could play despite a sprained right ankle. Though Gore was held to 52 yards on 18 rushes against the Eagles in 2010, he ran for 107 on 16 carries in a 27-13 loss at Philadelphia in 2009.

Niners offense looking for lift


San Francisco kicker David Akers returns to Philadelphia after spending the previous 12 years with the Eagles, and the 49ers have relied on him heavily in their first three games.

Akers leads the 49ers with 28 points and is ninth in the NFL in scoring.

"I have to prove things for the 49ers, not (the Eagles),'' said Akers, who is 7 for 7 on field goals with his new team.

The 49ers' offense could use a lift, especially if Gore's sprained right ankle limits him. Gore was hurt in the second quarter in Cincinnati. Rookie Kendall Hunter filled in, scoring the decisive touchdown on a 7-yard-run.

Even with Gore, San Francisco has been one of the NFL's worst rushing teams so far.

The 49ers aren't moving the football through the air, either.

The 49ers' 74 passes are third-fewest in the league. Smith was sacked five times by the Bengals and struggled to move the ball until late. He's been sacked 11 times in the past two weeks and suffered a concussion in Week 2 behind an offensive line that has struggled all season.

One area that may be due for a change is at right guard. Starter Chilo Rachal allowed two sacks and had three penalties in the first half last week. Adam Snyder played most of the second half, though Harbaugh said he has yet to make a decision on who will start against the Eagles.

Injury report


49ERS
OUT:
WR Braylon Edwards (knee), RB Moran Norris (fibula)
QUESTIONABLE: RB Frank Gore (ankle), S Donte Whitner (hip)
PROBABLE: WR Michael Crabtree (foot), G Mike Iupati (neck)

EAGLES
OUT:
CB Brandon Hughes (hamstring), DE Juqua Parker (ankle)
DOUBTFUL: DE Darryl Tapp (pectoral)
PROBABLE: S Nate Allen (knee), WR Riley Cooper (concussion), TE Clay Harbor (biceps), T Winston Justice (knee), WR Jeremy Maclin (hamstring), WR Steve Smith (knee), QB Michael Vick (right hand)

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