Happy gameday. We only have three of these left. What will be you be watching today? Whichever running back has the better day wins. It feels like that type of game.
2. Limiting Zeke
Dallas’ run game has looked like a shell of its former self in 2020 as their ground game sits 18th in the league, averaging under 111 yards per game. Lead back Ezekiel Elliott is currently averaging a career-low 3.9 yards per carry and 64 yards per game. Through 13 games, the star running back has topped 100 yards just once. The running back is currently working through a calf injury, however, he has no plans to let that keep him out of Sunday’s contest.
Meanwhile, San Francisco’s defense is holding running backs to under four yards per carry (fifth) and under 106 yards per game, the ninth best mark in the league. They’ll look to carry over that production in Week 15, as they’ve limited opposing offenses to under 100 yards in back-to-back outings. Despite the dip in production, the 49ers can’t afford to overlook Elliott’s speed, power and toughness in the Week 15 matchup.
“I remember his last season he was real healthy. He was having a phenomenal year and he was locking guys down who were at the top of their position,” Cooper said. “He’s actually a really good cornerback. I used to tell people all the time that I thought he was one of the best. And, so, it’s good to see him back out there competing, staying healthy. He still looks good even though he’s been out so long, I think three or four years. He hasn’t played a full season. So, I’ve been studying him on film. He looks good, and I can’t wait to go out there and see.”
Biggest offensive strengths and weaknesses
This is a pretty easy to figure out, the 49ers biggest offensive strength is their running game. The zone blocking scheme implemented allows their running backs to hit holes quickly to get to the second and third levels of defense. They also have multiple running backs that have the ability to run inside and outside, as well as make plays in the passing game.
This along with their play-action passing game makes it hard at times for defenses to stop them. Lucky for the Cowboys, the 49ers aren’t at full strength already down their starting quarterback, tight end, and wide receiver. Their best running back is also banged up and questionable for the game. If the Cowboys linebackers, Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith, can get off their blocks and stay in their gaps they can stop this running game forcing back up Nick Mullens to throw the ball more than the 49ers want and potentially win the game.
“I do believe that he is a mentally sharp kid,” Garcia said. “But I do believe that there are a couple of mechanical things that he can improve upon. It doesn’t mean that he has to be a scrambler or this tremendous athlete, but there’s a sense of pocket presence that I feel is missing with him and part of it is just from his mechanics.”
“His feet, to me, are a big issue,” Garcia said. “Tom Brady has good feet and great pocket awareness. He’s not a great athlete. There are a ton of guys that have been extremely successful at the position that have been very average as far as foot speed is concerned but they have great presence and awareness and they help their offense align out by how they utilize the pocket.
“Him sitting at the back of a 5-7 step drop puts his left and right tackle at a very difficult position to protect him because he is not hitching up into the pocket. When you don’t hitch up into the pocket, you don’t allow that pocket to really form around you.”
Shanahan sought to hire Vic Fangio as his defensive coordinator on his first staff, but the Chicago Bears would not allow Fangio to get out of his contract. Fangio became head coach of the Denver Broncos in 2019.
If the Broncos do not bring back Fangio for a third season as head coach — his record is 12-17 — then it would seem to reason that Shanahan would seriously consider him again for the job.
This could be the time for the 49ers to change their defense due to the large number of free agents and the likely roster turnover they will see on that side of the ball.