That was far from pretty.
The 23-6 final score is of no value, but the totality of how the team played has ramifications of what the depth chart will look like come week one. I took extensive note while watching last night and took away both positive and negatives from the team's play.
To get some of the more glaring negative, 49ers rookie RB/PR Jarryd Hayne, who is making a name for himself after coming over from the National Rugby League in Australia, broke several huge Punt Returns against the Cowboys' coverage unit. In all honesty, the group made him look as if he was a Hall Of Famer in waiting.
This is without mentioning the blocked Punt that Safety Tim Scott failed with his technique and Dan Bailey managed to miss a Field Goal….
Yes, Dan Bailey missed. That pretty much says it all for how bad special teams looked last night. Aside from Tim Scott delivering a thunderous tackle on the opening Kickoff to the 2nd half and Lucky Whitehead having a few decent returns, there wasn't much to like with that unit.
There were a number of missed tackles, bad angles, and lack of gap integrity on the Punt Coverage team. Of note, early Jameill Showers made several noticeable tackles on Special Teams during this game. Even more concerning was the Offensive Line.
Yes, I am speaking of the backups, but there was definitely disappointing play there. One one drive alone in the 2nd Quarter, R.J. Dill began the drive with a False Start. On 2nd, Down John Wetzel showed that he has little ability to sit down on a bull rush and stop the Defensive End from walking him back to the Quarterback. Finally on third down, Darrion Weems and La'el Collins did not communicate well on a stunt and led to Weeden getting sacked.
No, the sack was not Weeden's fault. But, it did force him out of the game. Dill and Wetzel were bad throughout the entire game and probably extinguished any opportunity either had at making the Practice Squad. As they have also shown next to nothing during all of Training Camp. Personally, I would cut one of them today and workout several other Tackles on Tuesday to see if an upgrade can be found. Keeping them around even in camp right now is taking up useful reps that a more polished Tackles with a higher upside could be receiving.
One of the more surprising negatives was Dustin Vaughan. While he hung in the pocket well at times to deliver the ball while taking a hit, he was overall bad. His interceptions were a combination of poor decisions, poor execution, and not seeing the field properly. His first interception was returned for a Touchdown, a ball he threw right into the arms of the Defensive Tackle. His feet weren't set and I am still not sure what he thought he saw on that play.
His second interception came from him staring down Lucky Whitehead and delivering an inaccurate ball in his direction. His eyes were not good during this game, as he rarely went through his progression. He was extremely fortunate to not throw a third as he delivered a ball on the move directly into a crowd of the 49ers secondary. Why he didn't simply throw the ball out-of-bounds on that play is a question he will have to address in team meetings.
Now there were some positives to this game. The Defensive Line was outstanding throughout, no matter who took the field. Coleman, Bishop, Gardner, Russell, and Gregory all made splash plays that showed up. This was the highlight of Ben Gardner's camp as he put himself back into the Defensive Line conversation. In the second quarter, Bishop and Gregory ran a nice stunt which led to Bishop ceiling off two blockers, allowing Gregory to get the sack. He was a continued force, in the 2nd Quarter he immediately got pressure off the snap and forced a hold on a 49ers Tackle as he would have had a free shot on Blaine Gabbert. Gregory's play really stood out the entire game.
Something the recently retired Justin Smith did for the recently released Aldon Smith for years in San Francisco. If the Cowboys can utilize more stunts like that during the season the sacks will come with regularity, as there's far too much athleticism on that unit to not get home on a free run to the Quarterback.
Ben Gardner's sack came on an inside move after feinting an outside rush. I have not seen him show that much quickness throughout camp thus far. He also had several other hurries throughout the game. Bishop and Coleman should the willingness to hustle and run down run plays the entire night. A message Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli preaches, and something that is seen often from starting 1 Technique, Nick Hayden.
Keith Smith showed several flashes at Linebacker with a couple of Tackles For Loss, showing great tackling technique. Jasper Brinkley was not perfect last night, but his play was improved from the first Preseason game. Damien Wilson took a step back, not being in the correct position several times, but it a lot to ask for a rookie to be perfect through an entire game.
Wilber was a bit off playing his first game at Mike Linebacker, but again it is to be expected. Jonathan Brown made a nice tackle in the hole during the 3rd Quarter. Overall, not the best game for the Linebackers, but they did battle enough to keep the 49ers Offense from rolling over them.
The Secondary played well, starting from Corey White's great end zone breakup in the 1st Quarter extending through the rest of the game. Showers showed a lot of promise at Quarterback. While there were times where he would stare down his receiver, he showed a powerful arm on several throws and some toughness hanging in the pocket.His interceptions are correctable with more reps and film study. I did not see anything glaringly troubling with his interceptions, he just simply needs more repetitions in practice.
His touchdown throw to Nick Harwell was extremely impressive and showed a lot of poise on that drive, which would be the game's only offensive touchdown.
In a somewhat “feel good” moment, the much maligned AJ Jenkins was able to hold onto a ball after taking a vicious hit. He has had multiple drops during his career and throughout camp this year. Seventh Round draft pick, Tight End Geoff Swaim showed solid receiving skills and “want to” during this game. Showers threw him a great touch pass in the 4th Quarter that he was able to catch and shimmy his way upfield for the extra yard needed for the conversion on 4th-and-15. Gus Johnson showed a lot of heart to play this game without practicing much if at all this week. That kind of toughness could earn him a Practice Squad position.
Overall, there were things to like and dislike from this game. Special Teams needs to be cleaned up and the Linebackers need to sharpen up their game a bit going into next week. However with the play of the Defensive Line and Secondary, the defense is showing a lot of promise.