Philadelphia Eagles: Making sense of the Niners’ makeshift secondary

(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) /

What do Josh Norman and Dre Kirkpatrick have in common?

Well, for one, the duo are both over 30, are taller, man-press cornerbacks, and are members of the 2012 NFL Draft class who have played for multiple teams during their respective tenures. They also, funny enough, weren’t on NFL rosters when the season opened up and didn’t sign their respective deals until September sixth and 14th.

But now? Now, the duo very well could play significant minutes for the San Francisco 49ers as they make the cross-country trip to the City of Brotherly Love, where they will take on the Philadelphia Eagles in their home opener.

So what gives? Did Nick Sirianni‘s squad just get handed an absolute gift from the football gods, or are some fans, riding high off of the Birds’ Week 1 win over the Atlanta Falcons, in for a rude awakening?

Let’s try to find out.

The Philadelphia Eagles have a unique perimeter opportunity in Week 2.

Heading into Week 1, the San Francisco 49ers expected Jason Verrett and Emmanuel Moseley to be their starting perimeter cornerbacks, with K’Waun Williams filling the same role in the slot.

On paper, there’s a lot of talent in that secondary, even if it lacks the sort of Richard Sherman name recognition it boasted from years past. For all of his injury issues, Verrett continues to get opportunities league-wide into his 30s because he’s fast, pesky, and a threat to pick off a pass any time the ball is thrown in his direction.

Do you remember Howie Roseman’s “genius” idea of playing Avonte Maddox on the outside? I would imagine he hopes Maddox could be the NFC East’s answer to Verrett.

Moseley, too, has proven himself a viable outside option over the past two seasons as well, largely starting opposite Sherman in place of Verrett. Factor in Williams, a journeyman slot corner who has been effective for SF over the past half-decade, and a bench filled out with Deommodore Lenoir, Ambry Thomas, and Davontae Harris, and the Niners’ secondary looked serviceable enough behind one of the most formidable defensive line rotations in the league.

… and then the injuries started to pile up.

First came Harris, a free agent acquisition who ended up on IR before Week 1. While it’s never nice to lose a player to injury, Harris wasn’t expected to start after bouncing around the league over the past few seasons, so no harm, no foul. Then came a more brutal blow to Verrett 60 snaps into the 49ers’ Week 1 win over the Detroit Lions, where he suffered yet another ACL injury that should hold him out for the rest of the regular season.

And, to make matters worse, Moseley is currently listed as doubtful for the Niners’ game versus the Eagles, which could leave anyone from Williams to Thomas, or even one of the team’s new journeyman vets expected to start against a Philadelphia Eagles offense that just looked darn impressive in their first game of the Nick Sirianni-era.

Yeah, I think the hype surrounding this matchup is 100 percent warranted.

Now granted, having a mediocre secondary isn’t the worst-case scenario when a team has a dominant pass rush capable of disrupting down-field plays before they even start. Eagles fans got a front-row seat to this sort of game plan in Week 1 when Matt Ryan and the Falcons could barely execute a seven-step drop without one of the team’s rushers ending up in the backfield.

Fortunately, the Eagles have a number of players built for such a check down-heavy attack, from screen specialists like Jalen Reagor and Quez Watkins to move tight ends like Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert and even DeVonta Smith, who just so happens to be one of the best route runners in the business at the tender age of 22. Throw in a few designed outside runs for Jalen Hurts and a heavy dose of Miles Sanders, Boston Scott, and Kenneth Gainwell in the passing game, and the Eagles should be able to keep the Niners’ makeshift cornerback rotation guessing and exploit their collective inexperience.

Fortunately, Sirianni looks like the sort of head coach who knows how to exploit schematic weaknesses, as evidenced by Week 1.

Next. Steven Nelson has been a godsend for Darius Slay. dark

Make no doubt about it; Week 2 is far from a cakewalk for the Philadelphia Eagles. The San Francisco 49ers’ offense is still one of the better, more idiosyncratic attacks in the NFL today, with a heavy usage of fullbacks and YAC-specialist wide receivers. But in a league where very few true mismatches exist, the Eagles’ wide receiving corps has a clear advantage over the Niners’ cornerbacks grouping, especially if Emmanuel Moseley is ultimately out, which is a pretty incredible thing considering the historical state of that position grouping in the City of Brotherly Love.