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Opposing player to watch: 49ers right tackle Trenton Brown

This under the radar offensive lineman will be one of the toughest tests of the year for Demarcus Lawrence.

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San Francisco 49ers v Miami Dolphins Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images

Usually as fans look ahead to a Sunday contest with a particular team there are names that immediately jump out. Von Miller, Aaron Donald, Damon Harrison. All Pro players who are among the best in the league at their position.

Luckily for the Cowboys, and maybe not so luckily for the sake of this article, there aren’t any names that jump out like that with this week’s opponent, the 49ers. There are plenty of solid veterans with recognizable names such as Pierre Garcon, Joe Staley, Elvis Dumervil, and Eric Reid, and there are also a couple of promising young guys like Solomon Thomas, Reuben Foster, and DeForest Buckner, but none of them stand out as elite players, or guys who the Cowboys must build a game plan around.

With that in mind I’m going to take a little different approach this week and instead of focusing on a player who the Cowboys must game plan around in order to avoid having their game plan wrecked, I’m going to focus on a player who will be key to the 49ers game plan in order to avoid having a Cowboys player wreak havoc on Sunday. That player is right tackle Trenton Brown, and while he might not be the most recognizable name, he very well may be the key to their entire offensive game plan against Dallas.

Brown is a massive human being, listed at 6-8, 355 lbs with 36 inch arms. He is impossible to miss on the field as he dwarfs men who are absolute physical monsters in their own right. He was a seventh-round draft pick in 2015 and barely played as a rookie, starting only two games, although he cemented himself as the starting right tackle in 2016 and has started every game since. Brown had an up and down 2016 but his potential on the right side has always been clear as he pairs overwhelming size with surprising agility and quick feet. He isn’t exactly the old adage of a “dancing bear” out there, but he is quite nimble relative to his 355 lb. weight. So far in 2017 he has started to translate that raw ability to the field and has looked dominant in stretches. He was even named to Pro Football Focus’ First Quarter All-Pro team, for as much stock as you want to put into that.

Of course on Sunday Brown will be matched up (almost exclusively) with arguably the most important piece to the Cowboys defense right now, Demarcus Lawrence, who is the NFL’s leader in sacks despite having played only five games. In the old-school NFL you primarily only saw your elite edge-rushers at right defensive end, matched up against left tackles so they could take advantage of the quarterback having their back turned to that direction, not to mention the fact that the fact that the left defensive end position used to primarily be a run-stuffing position first and a pass-rushing position second.

Obviously that has all changed now that the league has become so pass-oriented and today it is commonplace to see teams move their top edge rusher to left defensive end in order to match them up with theoretically weaker pass-protecting right tackles. Von Miller is the first name to jump to mind, Khalil Mack is often on the right as well, and Lawrence falls into that category, partially due to his ability, but also because he has admitted to feeling more comfortable rushing from the left side of the defensive formation. At times he will bounce around but the vast majority of his snaps so far this year have come on that left side.

Everybody knows how important Lawrence has been to the Cowboys this year as he has more or less single-handedly manufactured a pass-rush for the team that has sorely been in need of one for years. He has more sacks than the rest of the team combined in 2017 and the only other players on the roster with sacks so far this year are Charles Tapper, who is currently on I.R., Maliek Collins, Tyrone Crawford, and David Irving, all players who are primarily pass-rushing threats from the interior when matched up against centers and guards, not when on the edge. So long story short, Lawrence is the Cowboys best pass-rusher by a country mile, and perhaps their only credible threat off the edge.

If Brown can handle Lawrence by himself on an island on Sunday it could cripple the Cowboys pass-rush as it will allow the 49ers to focus their pass-protection schemes on the interior with no other true threats off the edge. Conversely, if Lawrence can win those 1-on-1 battles with Brown and force San Francisco to devote a running back or tight end to help it will open up opportunities for those interior rushers as the 49ers left guard/center/right guard combination is not exactly a dominant trio.

One other thing the Cowboys coaching staff must be cognizant of with this matchup is keeping Lawrence from taking too much of a pounding in the running game from a man that outweighs him by nearly 100 lbs. In clear running situations it may be in their best interest to shift Irving or Crawford to the left side, with Lawrence moving to the right side, or even take him off the field completely for a breather in order to keep him fresh for those critical third and medium to long plays. You don’t want a man of Brown’s size leaning on your best (only?) edge-rusher who has a history of back issues all game long.

Right tackle Trenton Brown might not be the first name that comes to mind when thinking of the 49ers, but his matchup with Lawrence will most certainly be one of the best, and perhaps most important of the game.

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