OXNARD, Calif. – After spending a day with the tape from Sunday night's loss to San Francisco, I've come back with my biggest impressions.
Some are going to be bad, as you might expect from a 23-6 loss. But as is often the case with game tape, there were plenty of positives to see from re-watching the action. Here are my top 12 impression from my review:
1. I was hoping that Darren McFadden was going to get more of an opportunity to carry the ball in this game, but that just wasn't the case. The 49ers defense did a really nice job of attacking the line of scrimmage. Each carry, there was some kind of breakdown down by the offensive line --whether it was a missed reach block or an unblocked defender that hurt his progress. McFadden's only positive carry was a four-yard run where I felt like if he could have kept his balance when he made his cut, he might have had a better gain. Instead, he went to the ground easily.
2. I thought the Gavin Escobar drop on 3rd-and-3 early in the game was a big momentum killer for this offense. Everything about the play was perfect -- except the finish by Escobar. Brandon Weeden couldn't have put the ball in any better of a spot for Escobar to catch it on the move and separate from his man. Weeden could have also elected to throw the ball to Lance Dunbar, who was working the opposite direction of Escobar -- and open, as well.
3. I didn't notice it at first from the broadcast booth, but the first sack of the day for the Cowboys by Randy Gregory most likely saved a touchdown pass to tight end Vernon Davis. There was no doubt that on the play, Colin Kaepernick wanted to hit Davis down the middle of the field while working against Andrew Gachkar. Davis was in the clear and had Gachkar beat but inside pressure from Davon Coleman and Ken Bishop along with Gregory never allowed the play to develop.
4. You had to feel for Dustin Vaughan and the type of day he had throwing the ball. The poise and rhythm that he showed in San Diego was nowhere to be found and it was a constant struggle for him to make plays. His first interception was an outstanding play by Mike Purcell, who was in the right place at the right time. But some credit also needs to be given to Arik Armstead and the rush that he put on Vaughan. When Armstead beat John Wetzel up the field, Vaughan still tried to hang in there and make the throw -- but without his feet being set, there was no shot at getting the ball to Escobar on the cross. From that point it really affected Vaughan in the way that he played the rest of that game.
5. I am starting to get the feeling that with Damien Wilson, you are going to have to take the good with the bad if he is going to be the starter at one of these linebacker spots. There is no question of his ability to run and hit, but he will need to do that under better control. He is so aggressive, there are times where he takes himself out of the play and puts his team in a bad spot. The more he plays, the more he will learn, but we all need to keep in mind that he is just a rookie out there.
6. As critical as we all have been of Darrion Weems and his quest to line up as this club's swing tackle, his work against the 49ers was an improvement over what we saw from the Chargers game. The tape showed that Weems was much better with his overall technique -- especially in the passing game. His only real issue was a twist stunt that he and La'el Collins didn't handle well, which resulted in a sack. He is not going to be a power player in his pass sets, but he was able to keep his man along the line of scrimmage at times or ride him past the quarterback when necessary.
7. My post game thoughts from the radio booth were correct: these Cowboys receivers had a rough day trying to separate from these 49ers defensive backs. No matter how the routes were run, there was a defender either on the hip or coming from the middle of the field to help. Even when passing routes off, there was a defensive back right there waiting. It was as fundamentally sound a group as I have seen these Cowboys receivers work against in a while.
8. It's a shame that as hard as this team works on special teams, they gave up 105 total yards in punt return yardage -- but I have an idea why. Of the four returns that the 49ers had, I counted seven missed tackles by defenders that were in position to make a play but were unable to finish.
9. I was asking in my post game observations to see more of Geoff Swaim as a blocker, and on the tape, I was able to get a better understanding of what he can do. Swaim is not the type of player that is going to get big time movement or push at the point of attack -- instead he is going to get in the way by shielding and moving his feet to stay in position. He is always working to tie up his man, which allows the ball to work around him. He will also use this type of technique on special teams when he is asked to block -- which he was able to do on the kickoff return with some success.
10. It was good to see Ryan Russell have the type of game that he did -- both from the under-tackle and end spots. As active as he was, what was most impressive about him was that with the large numbers of snaps that he played in the game, he didn't wear down and become sloppy with his technique. As a matter of fact, there were times on the tape where he appeared to play stronger and faster as the game progressed. In my mind he has gone from a player that was potentially on the bubble to a player on the 53-man roster. There is some value to him as a rotational player from what I have seen.
11. I continue to watch the progress of Davon Coleman along this defensive line with the hope that he can put everything together and be the type of player I know he can be. Ken Bishop got the start ahead of him this week, but when Coleman got his opportunity, he was ready to go. He was a force in the middle, holding the point of attack against the run -- but also getting push up the middle in the passing game. Where Coleman also impressed me was in his ability to play down the line and stay square to make the play. He also traveled well outside the tackle box to run down ball carriers in the flat to make plays. We have seen this from him before only to be disappointed in the end, but to this point it appears that Coleman is taking his job more seriously.
12. How could you not pull for Gus Johnson?