Prior to the game against San Francisco, I wrote about five things to look for. Now, after re-watching the game film, these things can be examined closely to help provide a clearer picture. Let's revisit these items:
The Three-Headed RB Monster
The initial impression of the running game appeared less than stellar. As a result, immediately following the game, fans were again asking around to see what running backs were still available. That seems to be rather common these days.
During the game, there were several runs stuffed close to the line of scrimmage and people were quick to point out that the team was relying on the services of the backup offensive linemen almost the entire game. Travis Frederick played eleven snaps and Doug Free played only six, but outside of that - it was all reserves. But regardless of who was playing, the game film was able to show some things. Often times, there were no running lanes, but occasionally there were. So, how did they do in each situation? (all photos courtesy of NFL Rewind)
Let's start with Darren McFadden. The Cowboys new free agent running back ran the ball three times. His first two runs offered no running lanes (left photo) as 49ers linebacker, Navarro Bowman shot the gap both times and McFadden wasn't able to do anything to escape. The one time he did get a lane to run in (right photo), he wasn't able to do much with it. In fact, it looked like he was falling down for most of his four yard gain.
Watching Joseph Randle run told a different story. Similar to McFadden's attempts, Randle didn't get many good chances either. Of his seven rushing attempts, only two of them gave him a lane. But unlike McFadden, Randle was able to do more in both types of circumstances. Almost all of his runs required that he make some sort or hard cut in the backfield to elude defenders. And many times he turned nothing into something. In instances with poor blocking, he carried the ball five times for 14 yards (2.8 yards/carry).
This is nothing to that will impress anyone, but he is demonstrating that he is elusive enough to get the dirty yards when the lanes aren't there.
But the most satisfying thing that the game film revealed was what happened when he did have a running lane. There were two instances where that happened and he made them count with runs of seven and nine yards.
This was a great sight to see because we all know that these types of lanes are going to be there for the Cowboys running backs. It's just a matter of what the running backs can do with them. It still only a small sample, but Joseph Randle demonstrated that he has the vision and the elusiveness to slip through defenders and make good runs.
Now, it wasn't all rainbows and puppies for Randle. There is the pass protection aspect as well. We all saw that he got called for holding while trying to pick up a blitz. That's definitely an area of concern. But Randle also got a second shot at pass protecting and did an excellent job the next time. During the play where Dustin Vaughan threw a pick-six to the 49ers defensive lineman, Randle did a great job picking up the blitz from the right side. This is something that Randle can get better at and it shouldn't be harmful enough to offset what he brings to the rushing attack.
As far as Dunbar goes, he didn't carry the ball. He caught two passes, but didn't have any space to run.
The Second Unit Linebackers
Not only did the Cowboys have three backup linebackers starting against the 49ers first unit, but they also had their number four, five, and six rated defensive tackles (Jack Crawford, Devon Coleman, and Ken Bishop) playing against the starters. Everything was in place for a disaster. And when it came to defending the run, it wasn't pretty. I felt like I did when I used to coach my fourth grade boys basketball team and I'd sign them up for a weekend tournament against fifth graders. Ultimately, there would be times where they would get worked over real good, but it provided plenty of opportunities to see what they were made of. Here is what I learned about the backup LBs:
Andrew Gachkar - He was the best of this group. You would always find him in the mix of things. He was taking good angles and able to maneuver through blocks well. The only negative with Gachkar was that whenever a blocker squared up on him, he was wiped out of the play. He didn't show the strength to be able to shed the block. Gachkar was persistent though and led the starters with four tackles.
Damien Wilson - He's one of the kittens I am smitten for (a "pet cat" that is a rookie is a pet kitten), but watching the tape was a little disappointing. Athletically speaking, he was better than the other guys. He is a missile towards his target. The problem is, he is sometimes off-target. Wilson over pursues the runner. If he gets himself out of position, he's toast. He came flying in and put great pressure on Colin Kaepernick forcing him to misfire on a pass in the end zone, but there were also times when he'd take himself out of the play by taking the wrong angle when going after the ball carrier. He definitely showed that he's a rookie, but with more coaching these types of things can be worked out.
Kyle Wilber - He played 17 snaps, but really couldn't be found making any plays. He did run down 49ers running back Carlos Hyde after he had gained nine yards, but for the most part - he seemed like he was always showing up late for the party.
Also of interest is the performance of the deeper guys fighting for a roster spot. Jasper Brinkley played a little better, making three tackles. But more impressive was the play of Keith Smith. For the second straight preseason game, Smith was the standout linebacker. He did a great job of getting after the runner as he was able to shed blocks to get to him. By the time he entered the game, the 49ers had their second string in so he had it easier than Wilson, Gachkar, and Wilber, but nonetheless - he played well. He led the team with six tackles including two splash plays - chasing down Quinton Patton for a 12-yard loss and an impressive take down of Blaine Gabbert off the read-option. This undrafted, second-year linebacker has been signed and cut repeatedly over the last year, but the way he is performing - he's making a serious push to earn a spot on the 53-man roster.
It's All About That Rush
There were three edge rushers that I thought would be interesting to keep an eye on.
"It wouldn't be surprising to see Randy Gregory get his second and third sack of his career. The Cowboys other defensive line draft pick could impress as well as Ryan Russell continues to flash some good plays. Bubble guy Lavar Edwards had a great first preseason game so Ben Gardner needs to respond with a big game of his own to stay in the race for that final defensive end roster spot."
And as it turns out, all three of them got a sack. Gregory could have very easily got that second sack had it not been for a hold from the 49ers left tackle. The Cowboys pass rush continues to demonstrate that it has improved significantly. Gregory entered camp as the teams number four edge rusher, but he is already showing the coaches that he needs to be on the field. It's always nice to have a pass rusher beat their man, but it's even more delightful when all four of them do it.
The writing on the wall is that Weeden was again, horrible. The game film continues to show otherwise. Granted, there was nothing great that Weeden did on Sunday, but he still continues to play okay. Looking at the stat book against the 49ers, Weeden completed two passes in five attempts for a total of seven yards before exiting the game with a concussion. But a close look at each play shows the following:
- He made four good throws, one pass was dropped and one pass was negated by a penalty.
- He threw the ball away once and was sacked once. He wasn't getting a lot of time to throw, but none of these pressures caused him to make an errant pass and result in a turnover.
- He made one bad pass when he was trying to hit Devin Street on a 3rd and 11 where the receiver had two defenders on him. He wasn't rushed on this play and Street had no chance to catch it.
So when you factor those things in, Weeden did okay. He had one bad play. He had an accuracy percentage of 75, which puts him at 77.8% for the entire preseason. While Weeden isn't wooing anyone with his play, he's also not playing as horrible as many think.
Don't Forget About Patmon
Tyler Patmon got the start opposite Orlando Scandrick. His play is especially of interest now with the recent news of Scandrick's season-ending injury. So how did he do?
Patmon was thrown at twice, both times being completed. The first time was to Quinton Patton for seven yards, but Tyler wrapped him up immediately. The second time was a short pass to Patton that turned into a big loss as Tyler was in perfect position to make the tackle, but the 49ers receiver decided to put on his fancy pants and run the other way.
And it wasn't just Patmon that played well. The coverage from all the Cowboys cornerbacks was outstanding. Corey White made a touchdown saving pass break up in the end zone against Torrey Smith.
Not a single 49ers wide receiver caught a pass for more than 10 yards. Think about that for a minute. A lot of this has to do with the team's improvement getting after the quarterback, but the coverage has been tight and the defensive backs have been doing an outstanding job of wrapping up after the receiver catches the ball. The Cowboys defense is off to a good start demonstrating that they can work together and limit big plays in the passing game.
Those are my observations. What are the things that you saw that stood out the most?