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Ahead of Eagles-49ers NFC title rematch, is Brian Johnson getting too much blame?

DeSean Jackson speaks after retiring as a Philadelphia Eagle
DeSean Jackson speaks after retiring as a Philadelphia Eagle 22:49

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- The Philadelphia Eagles have their biggest test of the season against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, a showdown between the two top teams in the NFC and a rematch of the 2023 NFC Championship Game.

The 49ers are road favorites in this one over the 10-1 Eagles. This is the first time a team that entered with a 10-1 record or better will be a home underdog with their normal starting quarterback in the regular season since 1970.

This is the same 10-1 Eagles team that has started 10-1 or better in consecutive seasons, the first team to accomplish this since the 2005-2006 Indianapolis Colts.

A win for the Eagles Sunday puts them at 11-1, the first team since the 1972-73 Miami Dolphins to start 11-1 or better in consecutive seasons. Heading into Sunday's showdown, there are five questions the Eagles will have to answer.

1. Is Brian Johnson getting too much blame?

Johnson has been at the forefront of criticism with the offense struggling early in games, yet the Eagles have scored more points through 11 games this season than they did last season -- 28.2 points per game in 2023 to 27.5 points per game in 2022.

The Eagles actually lead the NFL in conversation percentage on third and fourth down combined (50.3%). They are also third in third-down conversation rate (47.3%) and first in fourth-down conversion rate (76.5%).

The red zone woes have been fixed too, as the Eagles are fifth in the NFL in red zone touchdown efficiency (62.8%). They lead the NFL in red zone offense since Week 5, converting 70% of their red zone opportunities into touchdowns.

Even with the improved numbers from 2022 (outside of the red zone), Johnson still takes heat from the offense either going three-and-out or touchdown. He simplifies the game to make sure the Eagles improve their points per possession (up from 2.5 last season to 2.54 this season).

"It comes down to moving the chains and putting yourself in a position to get the first first-down," Johnson said earlier this week. "I think when you think about it in the macro vs. the micro of, all right, we're going to go down and score.

"But sometimes it's just as simple as putting all your focus on how can we get these 10 yards to get it going. When you can get into some different things and get an opportunity to run more plays. Obviously the more plays we run, the more opportunity our guys have to make plays. And that's something that we just have to be really aware of."

Johnson just wants to find a rhythm with the Eagles earlier in games. He'll remain confident in his approach as he develops the play calling.

2. Will Dallas Goedert be back this week?

Goedert hasn't practiced all week (broken forearm) leading up to Friday, even though he hoped to make a return against the 49ers. Nick Sirianni has made it a point not to disclose any injury information on Goedert leading up to Sunday. Goedert did have his helmet on in Friday's practice, as Nick Sirianni said these words.

"I ain't gonna tell you s---," Sirianni said as he gave Goedert a high-five as he was stretching.

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Suffering the injury in Week 9, Goedert has been out since Nov. 5, making Sunday 28 days since he broke his forearm. The Eagles want to give Goedert a full four weeks of recovery, which Sunday against the 49ers would meet that deadline.

"I gotta talk to the doctor yet," Goedert said Friday. "To me, my arm feels really good. I'm excited to be where I'm at at this time. In my mind, I was ready to play a couple weeks ago."

The Goedert decision may come down to the wire, as the implications could be massive for the Eagles if he plays. 28.

3. How about Lane Johnson? Will he return?

Johnson missed last Sunday's win over the Bills with a groin injury, but he said he'll be ready to go for Week 13 against the 49ers. The Eagles right tackle was a full participant in Thursday's practice, yet that shouldn't affect his status for Sunday.

Having Johnson back is massive for the Eagles against the 49ers front. Philadelphia is 88-48-1 with Johnson in the lineup (.646 win percentage) and averages 26.4 points per game. Without Johnson, the Eagles are 14-22 (.389) and average 22.7 points per game.

San Francisco's pass rush has been dominant since acquiring Chase Young, having a 61% pressure rate and 15% sack rate. No quarterback has thrown a touchdown pass against the 49ers since Young arrived, as opposing quarterbacks have a 56.4 passer rating in three games with Young.

The Eagles need Johnson this week.

4. How can Philadelphia get off to a fast start?

The Eagles haven't been getting off to good starts of late, trailing by double digits in each of their last four games (and winning all of them). Philadelphia isn't exactly a fast starting team, yet far from the worst starting team in the league. They average 12.5 points in the first half (10th in the NFL) but allow 12.9 points (25th in the NFL).

Philadelphia allows 10.4 points in the second quarter, which is the second-most in the NFL. They average 6.2 points in the second quarter (19th in the NFL) and allow 9.5 (31st in the NFL). The second quarter is the culprit of the Eagles facing a -4 point differential in the first half.

Perhaps running the ball more will help, but the Eagles use the pass to set up the run. The second quarter is the problem, not exactly the slow start.

5. Can Eagles sustain this second-half success?

The Eagles have been outscoring opponents by 68 in the second half, the biggest margin in the NFL. They have four straight double-digit comeback wins, the first team to accomplish that feat. The Eagles are the fourth team in NFL history to win four straight games when trailing at halftime and the first team in NFL history to win their first four games of the season when trailing by 10-plus points.

In essence, the Eagles are built to comeback from any deficit. When tied or trailing in the second half, Jalen Hurts has a 67.6% completion rate with 10 touchdowns to zero interceptions and an 136.6 passer rating (first in the NFL). They'll be facing Brock Purdy this week, who is arguably the worst quarterback when tied or trailing in the second half. Purdy has completed 58.2% of his passes with two touchdowns to five interceptions and a 60.8 passer rating (32nd in the NFL).

The Eagles will find it harder to come back against the 49ers than other teams, but that also doesn't mean they won't be able to win when trailing. The 49ers have lost 14 games with a 10-plus point lead under head coach Kyle Shanahan, the second-most in the NFL since 2017.

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