FRISCO, Texas – A look at two of the matchups that intrigue me the most in this matchup between the Cowboys and 49ers.
Dallas Cowboys TE Jason Witten vs. San Francisco 49ers S Eric Reid
Every team is different in the way they play their fronts and coverages, but there is usually one package that they're comfortable with. The 49ers appear to feel that the best way for them to operate is with a single high safety in the middle of the field. That's Antonie Bethea's job -- to keep things in front of him and not let anything get over the top.
With Bethea deep, that puts the very talented Eric Reid near the line of scrimmage. With the likelihood of Dez Bryant sitting out this game, I felt like the 49ers were still going to have Reid cover Jason Witten in this game. In the previous two games, Reid has carried Greg Olson and Jimmy Graham, so Witten fits right in that plan. In Reid, the 49ers have a player with good size, speed, and arm length for the position. He's a hard guy to run away from due to how physical he is. He is going to make Witten have to battle for space and make it as tough as possible for him.
What I really like about Reid is how competitive he is. Reid has never lacked for confidence and it comes out in the way he plays. He is an active and instinctive playmaker who is always around the ball. He's not afraid to come downhill and help in run support. He's a really good space player and a finisher.
Jason Witten has faced his share of outstanding safeties during his career but not many with the ability and skill of Eric Reid.
Dallas Cowboys DE Jack Crawford vs. San Francisco 49ers OT Joe Staley
On paper, this doesn't appear to be a matchup the Cowboys will have much success with, but Jack Crawford can surprise you in the way he plays.
Where Crawford can give Staley problems is in how relentless he plays. He has to do his best to take the fight to Staley and not allow Staley to control him. Crawford will have to be ready for a player that has outstanding length. Staley has long arms and big hands to control any defender he faces. Those long arms allow Staley to keep defenders off his body. He is also able to gain an advantage with his quickness off the start. It's his explosiveness which allows him to get that surge in the running game.
What makes Staley tough as a pass blocker is that he can bend. I have seen him play flat-footed, then adjust to movement with a quick lateral slide and eliminate a pass rusher. He is rarely out of position or off balance. His nifty feet allow him to adjust and redirect with ease. He plays with a strong base and is a hard guy to move. He's not easy to work around. He can jolt and deliver punch, and when he shoves a defender you see them go flying.
He's especially effective when he can down block in the running game -- very aware player. Not fooled on twist stunts or games with linebackers. Staley is a very similar player to what the Cowboys have in Tyron Smith. Both have rare physical traits and use them to their advantage each and every snap.