FRISCO, Texas – Today is a sad day for me, because I get to preview a pet cat of mine from the 2016 NFL Draft – who happens to play for the opposition.
The 49ers have had a well-earned reputation on defense for a while now, and we'll get to that in this scouting report. Even with all the changes they've undergone in the past few years, this is still a tough unit.
On top of that, we'll take a look at the lynchpin of the San Francisco offense – who just happens to be a highly-touted running back from Ohio State. Does that sound familiar?
Here's a first look at this week's opponent:
Nemesis: LB NaVorro Bowman
This is a super competitive player. More than anything else, you can see that he loves to play the game. He is physically and mentally tough, and he is relentless in the way he plays the game.
Bowman's football intelligence is outstanding -- hard guy to fool. It's rare when he is out of position. Leader on the field. Nose for the ball. Quick to get off blocks. Makes plays along the line of scrimmage. Knows how to stay square and fit. Shows range to get to the outside against the run. Wrap-up tackler in the open field. When he gets in position, he will finish.
His contact balance is outstanding, whether taking on a blocker or making a tackle. He can beat blockers to the point of attack, and he can run down plays from behind. He's got good movement and change of direction. Plays with body control and balance. It's rare to see him off balance or on the ground. He is able to turn and burst, which makes him useful on the blitz.
Bowman is consistent in the way he plays with his effort and intensity. If he does have an area of concern it would be in pass coverage. He can handle things between the hashes, but there are snaps where you see him struggle when the running back works wide on him. That said, he has no problems in zone coverage with his drops and reactions. He will knock the ball loose when he tackles or get his hand up in the throwing lane to bat a pass down. If he's left unblocked he will make every single tackle.
This is one of those rare players that never comes off the field.
Weapon: RB Carlos Hyde
This will be the best running back the Cowboys have faced to this point in the season.
Hyde plays sideways in this scheme, but he does a nice job of getting downhill with the ball in his hands – and he runs with a nasty-type attitude. He looks to hammer tackles, and he will deliver punishment as he runs.
He runs with his shoulder pads over his toes, and he can break the tackle of an unblocked defender in the backfield. This is a determined runner who can run through tackles. He will slam into the tackler and spin out for a positive gain. I can't emphasize enough that Hyde is tough to tackle one-on-one in space. He doesn't go down with shoulder hits – a big, downhill, ball control running back who is tough and durable.
Patient, powerful, and strong as an inside runner. Good vision and cutting ability. Keeps his head up as a runner. Has little man feet for a back of his size, and he will amaze you with his ability to start-stop and start again. He can slide and burst off a defender's tackle attempt. A workhorse, north/south type back. Finishes his runs with strength. Can catch the ball underneath and in the flat, and he's secure in the way he does that. No problems as a pass protector -- will identify his man, step up and deliver a blow. Is square and plays on his feet.
It's not an exaggeration to say that the game this week will likely hinge on whether the Dallas defense can shut him down.
Under the Radar: DE Ronald Blair
Like I mentioned earlier, this was one of my favorite defensive players in the 2016 NFL Draft. He was criticized because he played at Appalachian State, but he played well against big-time competition. He was not a highly-recruited player out of high school, but time and time again, he showed up on tape.
The Cowboys decided to take Charles Tapper over him in the draft, despite Blair sitting higher on their board. Blair will line up at end, tackle and even nose in certain situations. He plays with initial quickness, and he will work down the line and find the ball. He is active and always on the move. He has the length to shed blockers and plays with balance. His change of direction is good, as is his power to split double teams. He has some strength in his hands, which helps him as a wrap-up tackler.
This is a violent player who can capture the corner. He plays with a burst, and he can cover some ground when he's after the ball. He has a unique ability to rush the passer and play the run. He plays low and with leverage. Good instincts and is quick to read and react. I like him the best when he's on the move, because he can cross the blocker's face in a hurry. He's quick to shed blockers and close down the line of scrimmage.
I thought Blair could play as a left end in a four-man scheme -- or maybe even an under-tackle in a four-man line. There's plenty of versatility to his game. He can be disruptive when he gets the opportunity to be on the field. Very good rotational player and potential starter one day. Plenty of quality football ahead for him.