NFL Week 7 Preview: Cowboys at 49ers
The Dallas Cowboys visit the San Francisco 49ers in Week 7 of the 2017 NFL season. PFF previews the top player matchups of the game.
Coverage by: Aaron Jones
Matchup: Dallas Cowboys offense vs. San Francisco 49ers defense
- G Jonathan Cooper vs. Dl DeForest Buckner – Recently promoted Jonathan Cooper will have a tough test Sunday afternoon, as he’s projected to see plenty of one of the highest-graded interior defenders in the league, DeForest Buckner. Cooper currently fields the eighth-lowest pass-blocking efficiency (measures pressure allowed on a per-snap basis with weighting toward sacks allowed) among 76 qualifying guards, with a 93.4. In Weeks 4 and 5 he allowed seven total pressures, tied for the sixth most among 66 qualifying guards. His overall grade of 39.7 ranks 61st among 75 qualifying guards. Buckner has been a complete force on defense this season, ranking second among 124 qualifying interior defenders with an overall grade of 91.9. His 16 run stops (a stop constitutes a win for the defense) are the third most among 120 qualifying interior defenders. While the Cowboys should continue to feed their star running back Ezekiel Elliott, look for them to game plan away from Buckner.
- WR Cole Beasley vs. CB K’Waun Williams – Currently ranked 50th among 109 qualifying wide receivers with an overall grade of 72.8, Beasley currently sits as the second-highest graded wide receiver on the Cowboys. Yet before his strong two touchdown performance in Week 5, he had only been targeted 18 times, only half of Dez Bryant’s total (36), while also trailing Terrance Williams (21). He has not dropped a single catchable target this season (15), while Bryant and Williams have combined for five. With a projected matchup against one of the lowest rated cornerbacks this season in K’Waun Williams (ranking 112th among 114 qualifying cornerbacks), it’s not hard to imagine Beasley having a similar performance as he did in Week 5.
- WR Dez Bryant vs. CBs Dontae Johnson and Rashard Robinson – Although Dez Bryant is having a down year by his standards, primarily due to his 12.5 drop rate (tied for 17th highest among 64 qualifying wide receivers) he has still shown flashes of his strong play-making ability. Unfortunately for the 49ers, they may not have a cornerback that can match up with Bryant. Neither Donate Johnson (ranked 90th among 114 qualifying cornerbacks) nor Rashard Robinson (ranked 79th) have had much success this season, so look for Dak Prescott to continue to target his No. 1 receiver.
Coverage by: David Neumann
Matchup: San Francisco 49ers offense vs. Dallas Cowboys defense
- QB C.J. Beathard on passes to the left — San Francisco’s rookie quarterback did many rookie quarterback things in the first meaningful action of his NFL career, mixing some questionable decisions and throws with enough positive plays to provide some reason for optimism going forward. One area where he’ll need to show some improvement is on throws to his left, where his tendency to drift backward led to some dangerous ball locations that could’ve easily resulted in a turnover (or two). On passes beyond the line of scrimmage, Beathard was 3-of-12 for 38 yards when targeting receivers outside the numbers to the left and 14-of-20 for 189 yards everywhere else. It’s still early, but it’s a tendency worth monitoring.
- T Trent Brown vs. Edge DeMarcus Lawrence — Brown and Lawrence have been two of the biggest revelations of the young season, and they should spend most of Sunday lined up across from one another. After a pair of shaky seasons to start his career, Brown has been one of the NFL’s best pass protectors at tackle in 2017, surrendering just nine quarterback pressures on 262 pass-blocking snaps. Lawrence has been an absolute terror off the edge, recording four or more pressures in all but one game this season, including a whopping 13 pressures against the Cardinals in Week 3. With much of the rest of the Cowboys’ front struggling to generate consistent pressure, slowing down Lawrence will be priority No. 1 for the 49ers offense this week.
- 49ers’ zone running game — It’s no surprise the 49ers have called zone runs on the third-highest percentage of run plays (74.3 percent) this season under Kyle Shanahan. A bit more surprising, considering the struggles they’ve had along the interior of the offensive line, is how successful they’ve been on those runs. San Francisco is averaging 4.66 yards per carry on 101 zone attempts, the sixth-best mark through six games. There’s no reason to expect a decline this week against a Cowboys’ run defense that has been one of the worst in football so far. Dallas is giving up 4.47 yards per carry on zone runs, and the 2.20 yards per carry they’ve allowed before contact ranks 30th.