What to Look for in 49ers Preseason Game vs. Cowboys


The San Francisco 49ers are getting ready to host the visiting Dallas Cowboys in their second preseason matchup of the 2015 season. Kickoff is slated for 8 p.m. ET and can be seen on the 49ers’ local broadcast of KPIX 5.

San Francisco is coming off a 23-10 loss to the Houston Texans in which the 49ers were completely shut out in the second half. While there were problems, San Francisco did enjoy some positive moments. One of those was the NFL emergence of running back Jarryd Hayne who broke out a sensational 53-yard run.

But that was last week. And this new contest prompts new questions and scenarios.

So what should we expect out of the red and gold in Week 2 of the preseason?

Turf Issues… Again

By this point in the young life of Levi’s Stadium, it should come as no surprise that the playing surface will be a question mark.

A poor turf was problematic last year. And it continued into training camp this year. Rick Horrow of CSN Bay Area provides a glimpse into the nature of the field and, more specifically, an insight into how this can be an issue once more.

How much of an issue will the turf be at Levi’s Stadium? Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Bad turf can affect a lot of things. It provides an unstable surface for kicker Phil Dawson. But it can also lead to broken plays and injuries.

If there’s one player whom the field does not affect, it’s quarterback Colin Kaepernick. The 49ers signal-caller indicated via Eric Branch of SFGate.com that the turf wasn’t much of a concern.

Still, we’ll have to keep an eye on the field and see just how bad conditions may get.

The Wide Receiver Battle

The 49ers will be without wide receiver Jerome Simpson for the first six weeks of the regular season per ESPN’s Adam Schefter as he serves his NFL-mandated suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.

I still expect Simpson to get some reps during the preseason in an attempt to keep him sharp. But it opens up the opportunity for other receivers to get a chance to climb the depth chart.

Wideouts Bruce Ellington, Quinton Patton and undrafted free agent DeAndrew White are all in the mix for a job here behind veterans Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin.

Both Ellington and Patton have seen the offensive side of the ball sparingly during their respective pro careers. Ellington’s abilities in the return game have helped him retain a safe spot to an extent, but running backs Reggie Bush and Jarryd Hayne create competition here.

Patton has seen his NFL tenure marked more by injuries and the inactive list rather than by catches and statistics. The former fourth-round pick of the 49ers has just six receptions to his name at this level.

And then there is White.

The former Alabama receiver standout has been making a name for himself with incredible camp catches.

Like this:

Whoever gets the majority of snaps is likely getting the most evaluation. I’d have to give the edge to Ellington right now. But White and Patton aren’t far behind.

The Hayne Plane

Jun 11, 2015; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers running back Jarryd Hayne (38) participates in drills at minicamp at Levi’s Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

I can’t say I like the nickname. But the hype surrounding Hayne is fun to watch.

Following his 63-yard rushing performance against Houston, fans across the globe are eager to get another look at the former Australian rugby star’s next effort.

Despite head coach Jim Tomsula’s efforts to tame Hayne’s breakout effort, the 49ers will likely continue to feature him as much as possible to see what can be made out of the rookie back.

According to Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area, San Francisco plans to rest Bush for the majority of the preseason. The veteran back and return man has had enough preseasons under his belt to showcase his value.

That continues to open up the door for Hayne.

Still, Hayne will have to figure out a way to burst onto the depth chart. The 49ers will likely carry running backs Bush, Carlos Hyde and Kendall Hunter on their 53-man roster. Also competing for a spot are fellow backs Xavier Grimble and rookie Mike Davis.

Where will Hayne fit in?

Third-Down Woes

San Francisco was 1-of-9 on third-down attempts in Houston. The defense also gave up nine third-down conversions out of 17 chances to the Texans offense.

Those are bad numbers on both sides of the ball.

For the offense, the story will be proper play-calling and execution. Watching the game back, I noticed a general lack of continuity. Sure, different members are lining up alongside guys they normally wouldn’t play with on first-, second- and third-string units. But the lack of production here is concerning.

On the flip side, the defense largely struggled to press any sort of third-down pass rush. Outside linebacker Corey Lemonier — who was listed as a first-team starter in place of the now-released Aldon Smith — generally struggled with his pass-rushing duties.

Linebacker Corey Lemonier didn’t exactly impress critics in his first preseason efforts in 2015. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

And, aside from nose tackle Mike Purcell, the defensive front wasn’t exactly stellar last week aside from a promising goal-line stand in the first quarter.

Both areas need adjustment and improvement against Dallas. This week may still be preseason football, but it doesn’t make these issues any less important.

As is almost always the case, preseason games are difficult to gauge in terms of evaluating a team’s overall abilities.

I can’t recall how many times I’ve seen a team go 0-4 or 1-3 during a preseason set only to finish with a 10-6, or better, record.

But the 49ers regular-season roster should begin to take more shape in Week 2. Votes may already be cast regarding some of the deeper members of the 49ers 90-man roster. That could mean an increase in playing time for guys still undergoing evaluation.

Or, if the coaching staff has already made determinations, you could see some likely cut-candidates get more snaps in an attempt to keep the remaining players healthy and rested.

We won’t know until Sunday.

Next: 49ers-Cowboys Game Preview

All statistics, records and accolades courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com and ESPN.com unless otherwise indicated.

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