What We’re Watching: Eagles-Niners

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Stewart Bradley and the Eagles' defense will have their hands full with Frank Gore and the 49ers run game. (Yong Kim / Staff Photographer)

Daily News football writer Paul Domowitch tells you what he will be keeping his eyes on during the Eagles-49ers game:

1. Penalty watch: The Eagles have been shooting themselves in the foot. They are among the league leaders in penalties with 34 for 319 yards in the first four games, many of which have killed drives and wiped out big plays. They haven’t had fewer than seven in a game. Got flagged eight times against the Redskins, including four holding calls on the struggling offensive line. Their special-teams units already have seven penalties.

2. The run defense: The Eagles are 27th in the league against the run. They’ve given up 130 or more rushing yards in three of the first four games and are allowing 4.4 yards per carry. They have not controlled the line of scrimmage early, allowing 6.1 yards per carry in the first quarter. Last week, the Redskins rushed for 57 yards on nine first-quarter carries as they built a 14-0 lead the Eagles never were able to overcome. It won’t get any easier this week against the Niners’ dangerous Frank Gore.

3. Turnover opportunity knocks: The Niners’ offense has been mistake-prone, turning the ball over 10 times, including seven interceptions by quarterback Alex Smith. That giveaway number could be a lot worse considering that they’ve fumbled nine times but managed to recover six.

4. The protection: The Redskins seldom blitzed last week and still the Eagles’ offensive line had trouble protecting the quarterback. The line allowed just one sack, but committed four holding penalties, three because they had been beaten by their man. Kevin Kolb is capable of doing some damage to a secondary that already has given up eight touchdown passes and will have a rookie (Taylor Mays) starting at strong safety. But Kolb needs at least a little bit of protection from his front five to do that.

5. The punt battle: Yeah, you heard me. The punt battle. The big legs of the Niners’ two-time Pro Bowler, Andy Lee, and the Eagles’ Sav Rocca, whose 48.1 average is second in the league to the Raiders’ Shane Lechler, will provide return opportunities for both teams. Neither punt-coverage unit has distinguished itself. Maybe this is the game DeSean Jackson finally breaks one.

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