Week 4 brings the lone NFC West opponent that the Cowboys will face this year in the San Francisco 49ers. Just a few years ago the 49ers were coming off a Super Bowl appearance and were considered to be one of the model franchises of the NFL behind head coach Jim Harbaugh and a roster stocked with talent on both sides of the ball. Fast forward to 2016 and this team may be the perfect example of why some say the NFL stands for “Not For Long” as they now feature one of the least-talented rosters in the league, coached by longtime Harbaugh nemesis Chip Kelly. With that said, let’s take a look at the strengths and weaknesses of the 49ers offensive personnel.
If “Top 10 Quarterback Bust” was in the dictionary you’d likely see a picture of Blaine Gabbert next to it. Ever since being drafted 10th-overall by Jacksonville in 2011 Gabbert has done nothing but cement himself on the Mount Rushmore of Quarterback Busts alongside such luminaries as Ryan Leaf, Tim Couch, Matt Leinart, JaMarcus Russell, and Akili Smith. With that said, one could say last season was something of a career year for Gabbert as he put up about 2,000 yards and 10 touchdowns to seven interceptions over eight games. That isn’t particularly impressive but going into 2015 he had 23 touchdowns to 24 interceptions and about 4,400 passing yards over his four-year career, so he’ll take what he can get. In all seriousness though, Gabbert is one of the worst quarterbacks in the league. He is inaccurate, has poor pocket presence, and is turnover prone and indecisive. He has a strong frame, a good arm and can surprise you with a run every now and again, but at the end of the day he is nothing more than an average backup level quarterback, if that. So far this season he is only completing 55.2% of his passes with three touchdowns, three interceptions, and is averaging less than 200 yards passing per game.
Most figured Colin Kaepernick would be Kelly’s preferred choice based on his ability to run but Kelly has seemingly preferred Gabbert ever since taking the job.
Running Backs, Wide Receivers, and Tight Ends
The most prominent skill position threat on the team is 2014 second-round pick Carlos Hyde, although he hasn’t managed more than 470 yards or better than 4.1 YPC over either of his first two seasons. So far this season he is only averaging 3.9 YPC but he did have an impressive game against Seattle last week with 103 yards and two touchdowns. Hyde is a powerful ‘between the tackles’ runner and is a load to take down, he can also surprise with his ability to accelerate for a man his size. Behind Hyde is a hodgepodge of receiving backs in journeymen Shaun Draughn and rookie Mike Davis. Draughn has done nothing of note in his five seasons in the league while Davis has not shown much in his first three career games. The 49ers don’t have any significant receiving threats out of the backfield.
On the outside the Niners start Torrey Smith, formerly a very successful receiver for the Ravens who has seen his career take a turn for the worse since re-locating to the Bay Area in 2015. After racking up over 3,500 yards, 30 touchdowns, and winning a Super Bowl in Baltimore, Smith managed only 663 yards and four touchdowns in his first season with the team. He is their best receiver and a deep threat with speed, but he is nothing close to a legitimate number one type of receiver. Across from Smith is Quinton Patton, a fourth-year receiver who posted career bests in 2015 with 394 yards and one touchdown. Behind the starters are Jeremy Kerley and Rod Streater, two receivers who have actually been more productive than Patton over their careers in New York and Oakland respectively. Kerley in particular has had an impressive (for the 49ers) start to the year out of the slot as he leads the team with a whopping 114 receiving yards.
At tight end the Niners start former second-round pick Vance McDonald, who is backed up by Garrett Celek. McDonald and Celek both had career years in 2015, although they only combined for a meager 512 yards and six touchdowns on 49 receptions. McDonald does have two touchdowns so far this season, which leads the team, but he may miss Sunday’s game with a hip injury.
Long story short, this might be the worst collection of skill position talent in the league.
The 49ers offensive line looks downright impressive compared to the quarterbacks and skill position players, although it is still a below average unit at best. Five-time Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Staley is the best player on the unit, and likely the best offensive player on the roster in general. At 32 years of age Staley is still playing at a high level; he is a fantastic pass-protector, a technically sound run-blocker, and is one of the best left tackles in the league.
Next to Staley at left guard is journeyman Zane Beadles, formerly of the Broncos and Jaguars. He was a prized free agent signing by Jacksonville a few years ago but disappointed in two years with the team. At center is Daniel Kilgore, a long-time reserve lineman for the 49ers who has sparse starting experience, while 2015 seventh-round pick Trenton Brown is the starter at right tackle following the retirement of Anthony Davis. This Sunday will only be Brown’s sixth career start. Andrew Tiller starts at right guard. That’s all I have on Andrew Tiller. Aside from Staley the other four starters are replacement-level players.
The 49ers also drafted guard Josh Garnett with the 28th-overall pick this past April although he has struggled to break into the lineup, which is quite an indictment when you look at the rest of this unit.
Where The Cowboys Can Take Advantage:
- Arguably the worst offense in the entire league with an anemic collection of skill position talent, no real threats at receiver or tight end, and one of the worst quarterbacks in the league
- If the Cowboys can build any kind of lead and/or apply any kind of pressure to Gabbert he will crumble and make several mistakes
- Joe Staley is the only reason the offensive line isn’t considered the worst in the league
What The Cowboys Must Fear:
- If the 49ers offense can sustain drives, allowing the physical Hyde to wear down the defense
- If the Cowboys offense turns the ball over and sets the 49ers offense up with field position
- The 49ers are a professional football team and anything can happen in any given game