Top 10 players to watch in Week 7 matchup between 49ers, Cowboys
Honoring Dwight Clark
The 49ers will pay tribute to Dwight Clark and “The Catch,” which sent that young team to the organization’s first Super Bowl. More than 35 members of the memorable 1981 team will be on hand to support Clark in his battle with ALS.
When the winless 49ers and Dallas Cowboys (2-3) meet Sunday at Levi’s Stadium, it will be worth paying attention to the 49ers’ rookie class and how those players compare with the Cowboys’ young superstars. What follows are 10 players to watch:
10, 49ers RB Matt Breida
Just a week ago, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said there was basically no difference between Breida, an undrafted rookie from Georgia Southern, and starting running back Carlos Hyde.
But after leading the 49ers in rushing against Indianapolis, Breida did not see much action at Washington. He carried just four times for 21 yards. If he gets into the game early and provides a spark, Shanahan could again ride the “hot hand.”
9, Dallas QB Dak Prescott
Prescott is a dual-threat quarterback who is completing 62.6 percent of his passes with 11 touchdown throws in five games. He also has the ability to escape the pocket and makes some plays with his legs.
Prescott provides a challenge for the 49ers’ defense. The Cowboys’ offensive line has not fared as well as expected this season, but the 49ers’ defense has not gotten consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The 49ers’ pass-rushers cannot allow Prescott to get comfortable.
8, 49ers WR Trent Taylor
Taylor, the team’s top slot receiver, has 14 receptions for 110 yards. But his major contribution has come in the return game. The rookie from Louisiana Tech ranks fifth in the NFL with a 12.5-yard average on 11 punt returns.
The 49ers have lost five consecutive games by three points or fewer. Special teams have helped keep the 49ers in those games. And special teams will again play a big role in the team’s ability to keep it close down the stretch.
7, 49ers DE Solomon Thomas
The No. 3 overall pick in the draft has experienced an up-and-down start to his rookie season. But Thomas flashed last week why the 49ers had him as such a highly rated player.
Thomas recorded his second sack of the season to go along with nine tackles. Now, he must build more consistency. He will rarely come off the field, as the 49ers expect him to be a run-stuffer on early downs and get after Prescott in passing situations.
6, Dallas DE DeMarcus Lawrence
The fourth-year player leads the NFL with 8.5 sacks. He has been dominant in attacking as a pass-rusher from the left defensive end position. That means he will go up against 49ers right tackle Trent Brown.
Brown has shown the ability to be one of the best in the game. He must be focused from the opening snap and throughout the entirety of the game. Brown matches up well against Lawrence, but if his concentration wavers, he will be eaten alive.
5, 49ers TE George Kittle
Kittle is turning into a major part of the 49ers’ offense, and his opportunities for production should only increase with his former Iowa teammate now taking over as the starting quarterback.
Kittle caught seven passes for 83 yards and a touchdown two weeks ago. Last week at Washington, he caught four passes for 46 yards but had a couple of key drops. Kittle has shown the ability to contribute as a blocker, too, as he shows plenty of promise to be a key player for the future.
4, Dallas RB Ezekiel Elliott
There was a time that it looked as if Elliott would be unavailable due to an NFL-imposed six-game suspension that continues to bounce around the legal system.
Elliott will be in uniform, though. And he will be the main focus of the Cowboys’ offense. The 49ers have to slow him down, then not allow him to move the chains as a third-down option in the passing game out of the backfield.
3, 49ers LB Reuben Foster
Foster is the main man when it will come to slowing down Elliott. Foster had a good week of practice and will return to the 49ers’ lineup after missing five games due to a high right ankle sprain.
Additionally, it will be Foster’s responsibility to relay the defensive play calls to his 10 teammates in the huddle. Even if Foster is a little rusty, he should provide the 49ers with an immediate upgrade over the inside linebackers they have featured this season.
2, 49ers CB Ahkello Witherspoon
The 49ers’ first of two third-round draft picks has worked his way into a three-cornerback rotation, taking away some playing time from Rashard Robinson and Dontae Johnson.
The 49ers’ situation on the outside is young and unsettled for the future. Witherspoon has the size and athleticism to succeed in the NFL. His first major challenge comes on Sunday, as the Cowboys are likely to target him any time he is lined up against Dez Bryant.
1, 49ers QB C.J. Beathard
Veteran Brian Hoyer’s substandard play opened the door for Beathard to take over as the starting quarterback. Beathard held his own against Washington last week in helping rally the 49ers back from a 17-point deficit.
Now, there’s some tape on him. Now, the Cowboys got a full week to prepare solely for Beathard. As the 49ers look to the future, this is the first game that will provide GM John Lynch and Shanahan with the answer of how the organization views Beathard’s role in the future.