49ers mailbag: Preparing for rain in Philly and stopping Eagles’ ‘Brotherly Shove’

Oh, the weather outside is frightful. In Philadelphia, that is.

The rainy weekend forecast has 49ers fans worried that the elements might play to the Eagles’ advantage. Other readers wonder what the 49ers will do at their suddenly thin safety spot and how they’ll address their leaky special teams units. And what’s the deal with that bulky contraption Brock Purdy has been wearing on his right elbow? Is his throwing arm OK?

Thanks for all the great questions this week — there were more than usual — which were edited for length and clarity.

How should we view the potential rain in Philly this Sunday? Advantage home team? Advantage 49ers? A wash? – Doug H.

Oh, I think there’s no question it’s an advantage for the home team considering the Eagles played their last two games – both wins – in a steady rain. They’re gonna be well-versed for Sunday. That includes kicker Jake Elliott, who didn’t miss a field goal or extra point against the Chiefs and Bills and who nailed a 59-yard field goal at the end of regulation against Buffalo.

The 49ers? A few days ago, the local forecast was calling for rain on Wednesday, which would have been a good warm-up for a wet weekend in Philadelphia. As I write this, however, the weather in Santa Clara on Wednesday is now supposed to be cloudy with a high of 62 degrees (Freakin’ Northern California with its pleasant weather makes me so mad!).

Meanwhile, neither Purdy nor Jake Moody looked all that sharp during the only wet-weather game the team had this season, the Week 6 loss in Cleveland. Purdy had trouble gripping the ball while Moody was 1 of 3 on field goals, including a miss on the potential game-winner with nine seconds remaining.

Rest? Advantage, 49ers

Rain? Advantage, Eagles

What will the Niners do to prepare for the anticipated rain? – Allen F.

Maybe they’ll get lucky and it’ll rain during their Wednesday practice. If not, they can dunk the football in a bucket of water during the session. Some teams have done that to prepare for wet-weather games. It also might rain on Saturday in Philadelphia — the forecast keeps changing — when the 49ers have their final walk-through session. It might be smart to get a few throws and kicks in then.



How the 49ers and Eagles match up analytically entering their showdown

The Eagles. More lucky than good? It seems like they win a lot of single-possession games, which tends to be unsustainable. On the other hand, maybe they’ve cracked the point differential code? – Aaron P.

They’ve got an excellent offensive line and a quarterback who’s good at making off-schedule plays, especially with his legs. That’s a great combination to have at the end of games.

Do you think we’ll see more five-man fronts from the defense to combat the Eagles’ QB running game and get more 1-on-1s for pass rushers? – Scott H.

Yes, it seems like a good way to try to confuse Jalen Hurts and keep him hemmed in the pocket. The 49ers’ five-man fronts utilize Javon Kinlaw, who had a notably bad game in Philadelphia in the NFC Championship Game. It would be an opportunity for him to get a measure of revenge.

Would you rather have the No. 1 seed and face Dallas in the second round and Philly in the NFC Championship Game at home or the No. 2 seed and get the Lions at home and then hope Dallas beats Philly in Philly and then host Dallas? — Pete S.

I’d rather have the No. 1 seed because of the bye. Not only does that mean more rest than my opponents, but it removes one of the three games I’d need to win to reach the Super Bowl. That’s one-third less wear and tear, one-third less chance someone falls on the side of Trent Williams’ ankle, one-third fewer opportunities for a fluke play by the opponent or a terrible call by the officials. The bye simply reduces in a  substantial way the risks for a superior team.

Do you expect Trent Williams to play another three years even if the 49ers win a Super Bowl this year? — Gregg C.

I don’t know the answer. It certainly seems like he could play another three seasons if he wanted to. After all, we just watched 41-year-old Jason Peters play right tackle for the Seahawks. Peters, in fact, is less than two months from his 42nd birthday. Williams will be 38 in three years.

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Trent Williams is in his fourth season with the 49ers and 13th overall. (Kyle Terada / USA Today)

At the end of games, when the outcome has clearly been decided, Kyle Shanahan takes out most of his key players: Christian McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel, Brock, Purdy, George Kittle, etc. But he leaves in Trent Williams, who is in my opinion the most valuable of them all. Why does he risk Williams getting hurt? — David D.

Mmmm, that hasn’t been happening lately. Kittle and Purdy played every snap against Seattle, for example, while Williams was taken out for the last drive. The team has been cognizant about giving his still-mending right ankle as much rest as possible. He hasn’t played 100 percent of the snaps since suffering the injury in Cleveland.

On a scale of 1 to 10, what do you think the team’s level of concern is with the offensive line? — Harry B.

I’d say it’s a 6.5. Nick Zakelj’s biceps injury makes them short of centers, which always makes the 49ers nervous. I don’t think they’ve been happy with Spencer Burford at right guard and it will be interesting to see whether Jon Feliciano continues to get snaps there this week. (Burford was on hand for Monday’s bonus practice.)

I noticed that Purdy had a large compression device on his throwing elbow while on the sideline. Is he having trouble with the elbow lately, and is that a concern moving forward? — Ralph B.

No, he’s not having any issues. It’s a heating device, not a compression device something he’s started using now that it’s late fall and the temperature is dropping. He used it during both the Buccaneers and Seahawks games, for example.

“As it’s gotten colder, I use it to keep my arm warm,” he said. “It’s nothing in terms of the arm hurting or anything like that. It’s just basically like a heat pack.”

Why don’t teams blast Eagles center Jason Kelce before the “tush push” at the goal line? Time it correctly and cause a turnover and or have Kelce think twice about running that play. Time it wrong it’s a four-inch penalty and a redo down AND Kelce thinks twice about wanting to run the “tush push.” — Tyler J.

That might work at the goal line. But it would be a 180-inch penalty five yards anywhere else on the field if the 49ers time it wrong. I get your point, though. The only way to defeat it is to be quicker than Kelce and to get lower than him and the two Eagles guards. The 49ers have a pair of defensive tackles, Javon Hargrave and Kevin Givens, who are built low to the ground and who are extremely quick off the snap. If anyone can get a jump on Kelce and the “Brotherly Shove,” it’s those two.

Given the kickoff team is suspect, why don’t the 49ers just kick the ball out of the end zone? Does Moody just not have the leg? — Ryan L

I asked Moody this question on Monday. He said the wind and weather sometimes can prevent a kicker from blasting a kickoff deep into the end zone. The elements in Seattle weren’t too daunting, he said. He had two touchbacks against the Seahawks and it sounded like he could have gotten touchbacks each time had he tried.

Instead, the 49ers have been vying for more directional kicks, ones that allow the coverage teams to pin the Seahawks inside their 25-yard line. The problem is that they tried for this four times in Seattle, and only succeeded barely once when the Seahawks were stopped at their 24-yard line.

The following is where the ball landed and where the return ended up on the 49ers’ non-touchback kickoffs:

• SEA 1-yard line; SF 33-yard line (66-yard return)

• SEA 7-yard line; SEA 28-yard line (21-yard return)

• SEA 1-yard line; SEA 24-yard line (23-yard return)

• SEA 7-yard line; SEA 37-yard line (30-yard return)

Who do you see stepping up to fill the void George Odum leaves on special teams? — Dedrick A.

The new guy the team signed to the practice squad, Erik Harris, has been a stalwart on special teams in the past. He could step into the spot(s) Odum had been playing on special teams. I think the young guys also have an opportunity to step up. Rookie linebacker Dee Winters, who ran a 4.49-second 40 before the draft, and rookie cornerback Darrell Luter Jr., who ran a 4.46-second 40 (and who ran down Dee Eskridge — 4.39-second 40 — on Thursday), have the traits to be special teams standouts. They have an opportunity to step up at a crucial point of the season.

The team also has a lot of experience on their coverage teams in Charlie Woerner, Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles and Oren Burks. There’s no reason those units should be as porous as they’ve been.

It seems like opponents don’t get called for a lot for defensive pass interference versus the 49ers. Is it because Niners receivers always create separation? Or because the Niners don’t throw that many 50/50 balls? — Danny Y.

First, I checked to see whether your premise is true and it is. The 49ers have been flagged for 18 pass-related infractions, including pass interference, illegal contact, illegal use of the hands and holding. Their opponents have been flagged for 10 such calls. (I included penalties that were declined or offset.)

I also agree with your conclusion. Aside from Jauan Jennings, the 49ers don’t have any big-bodied receivers who post up and draw contact from defensive backs. Brandon Aiyuk, who has been Purdy’s favorite receiver, has only had six contested throws on his 65 targets this year, a very low number. That suggests he has good separation on the vast majority of his targets.

Another reason? The 49ers throw the ball less than most teams. Their 309 pass attempts are the fewest in the NFL and they are only one of four teams — the Ravens, Falcons and Bears are the others — that have more run plays than pass plays this season.



Super Bowl odds: Eagles, 49ers stand as co-favorites

Could we see the 49ers utilize Isaiah Oliver as a safety going forward? I seem to recall the Falcons trying him at that position at some point and given the lack of depth at the moment at safety, I wonder if he could see snaps there? — Christoffer A.

Might Isaiah Oliver be a valid alternative for a depleted strong safety roster? — Alberto R.

Yes, it’s quite possible that Oliver at least gets some snaps at safety in practice given the 49ers’ lack of depth at the position. He told me on Monday that there’s been talk of him becoming a safety ever since his third season in the NFL, although he’s never fully made the conversion.

He technically played safety in a few games while in Atlanta. But he said it was in games in which the Falcons were trying to get their top five defensive backs on the field at the same time — for example, in a game in which the Cardinals often used three or four wide receivers at once.

He definitely was the emergency fill-in after Odum (biceps) left the Seahawks game. The team likely will elevate newcomer Harris or second-year player Tayler Hawkins from the practice squad on Sunday in Philadelphia. Harris is a top candidate for the active roster later in the season should the 49ers burn through his elevation opportunities.

As a fan watching on TV, it’s hard to assess safety play. Did you get any sense from the coaches/players this week how they felt Ji’Ayir Brown did? How did you think he did in his first start? — Alex A.

You measure safety play by how many explosive plays the other team gets. The Seahawks had just two offensive plays of 20 or more yards (the 49ers, by contrast, had six) and one of them was Jaxon Smith-Njigba’s circus-like one-handed catch for 34 yards in the third quarter.

Individually, Brown was credited with four tackles, including a solo stop. He allowed three catches on three targets for just 13 yards. He lined up as a deep safety on 47 of his 56 snaps. In my book, that’s a solid effort.

Cornerback Marcus Peters just became available. Does he fit with what Steve Wilks is doing in the secondary? — Sean B.

I’m sure Wilks wants cornerbacks who tackle well. Peters? His 12 missed tackles rank third this season among cornerbacks and his tackling effort has been, well, let’s call it tepid.

Very important stuff here: I’ve noticed a lot of players with towels tucked back behind their hindquarters or off the side. Brandon Aiyuk seems like he has a long ribbon that trails him instead of a towel. What in the world is that? — Lee Eric F.

It’s actually a towel. I asked Aiyuk about it as he was coming off the practice field on Monday. He demonstrated its effectiveness by gripping the ribbon and then pulling it through his fist. He said he uses it to dry his gloves, which tend to pick up sweat — his own and that of opposing players. He said it’s simply lighter than the towels other players wear.

What was your favorite season of the 49ers to cover? — Forge W.

It has to be 2011. Jim Harbaugh was new and so were his slogans, his blue-collar work shirts, his florid quotes about Admiral Halsey, etc. There was a fresh story every day. It was like Christmas morning for a reporter.

Matt, are you still on the injured list? — Marco S.

No way. I walked to the post office today. That’s almost a half-mile round trip. I feel vigorous.

Who would make the best Santa Claus on this team? And have you ever dressed up as Santa? — Jose B.

Best Santa: Jake Brendel. He has the requisite bulk and there’s already some silver in his beard.

Best Grinch: Kittle. Did you see the way he absconded with the turkey platter in Seattle?

Barrows: Hermey the misfit elf.

(Top photo: Michael Zagaris / San Francisco 49ers / Getty Images)

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