SAN FRANCISCO — A depleted Cowboys secondary took another hit last Sunday, when cornerback Orlando Scandrick suffered a high-ankle injury that has sidelined him for the foreseeable future. With Terence Newman still recovering from a groin injury he suffered Aug. 3, Alan Ball will replace Scandrick.
Ball was the Cowboys’ starting free safety last season but his poor performance persuaded management to redeploy him at cornerback, his natural position.
“When you’re number’s called,” Ball said, “you have to be ready for the opportunity to play. My number’s called right now so I’ve got to step up and accept the challenge.”
IRVING — Earlier this week, the Cowboys signed veteran cornerback Frank Walker to provide depth in their depleted secondary. Once a former teammate of Cowboys coach Jason Garrett, Walker is now taking orders from him.
Walker was on the same New York Giants team as Garrett, the former NFL quarterback, during his rookie season of 2003.
“Oh man, I used to give him a lot of trouble when were in New York,” Walker said. “On the field, I would jump a lot of his routes. He used to always say I’d sit on routes. I would say I’m not sitting on them I’m just not scared of your guys running by me. They’d start running double moves and everything on me. It was cool, though. I liked him a lot. We had a lot of fun.”
Walker said it’s not strange having Garrett as his boss now. He said he has a lot of respect for Garrett.
“He was just always a smart guy, always knowing what’s going on,” Walker said. “Seeing that in a younger coach, you can tell pretty much what a guy is going to be like the rest of their career, what guys do, what other players do, picking up on things that other players have.”
Walker could see some time at nickel cornerback Sunday against San Francisco with cornerbacks Orlando Scandrick and Terence Newman out with injuries.
Walker said he prefers outside cornerback, however.
“The difference is inside is easier because you always have help,” Walker said. “And the outside is a little harder, but that’s where the interceptions come, so I definitely prefer outside.”
SAN FRANCISCO — When Cowboys running back Felix Jones was playing at Arkansas and San Francisco linebacker Patrick Willis at Ole Miss, they bumped into each other on two different occasions.
Later, during Jones’ rookie season in 2008, they were set for another encounter. But a hamstring injury prevented Jones from playing in the Cowboys’ 35-22 victory over San Francisco. Now, for the first time since their college days, the two players will meet again.
Since entering the league in 2007, Willis has collected 600 tackles – more than any other player in the NFL. During that period, he has made four Pro Bowls.
Jones’ accomplishments have been more modest. Last season, he accumulated more than 1,000 yards from scrimmage for the first time in his career. However, Jones didn’t do much last Sunday – gaining 44 yards on 17 carries against the New York Jets.
Willis, on the other hand, shined in the 49ers’ 33-17 victory over Seattle, recovering a fumble and making five tackles – two of which resulted in a loss. If Willis and San Francisco shackle Jones this week, the Cowboys may need to address their rushing offense going forward.
SAN FRANCISCO — A week after suffering a 27-24 loss to the New York Jets last Sunday, the Cowboys will face the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park. He is a look at how both teams match up:
When the Cowboys run
In the first week, the Cowboys managed 2.46 yards per carry – the lowest average in the NFL during the first week. In part, that was because the New York Jets frequently pushed eight men near the line of scrimmage. But for a Cowboys team that was committed to running the ball – choosing to do so 26 times last Sunday — the rate of production was troubling. Now Dallas faces another aggressive defense. San Francisco conceded only 64 rushing yards last week against Seattle and locked down tailback Marshawn Lynch, who collected 33 yards on 13 attempts.
When the Cowboys pass
In the Cowboys’ 27-24 loss to the Jets, Tony Romo distributed the ball to eight receivers and completed three passes of 30 yards or more. In fact, Romo was virtually flawless for three quarters, connecting on 18 of 24 pass attempts for 234 yards and two touchdowns. But his overall performance was tainted by the two costly turnovers he committed in the late stages of the game. Romo will try to get back on track against a San Francisco defense that allowed only 197 passing yards and collected five sacks – the highest total in the NFL during the first week.
When the 49ers run
Only six teams ran more than the 49ers did in the first week, when they carried the ball 32 times. But despite its efforts to establish a ground game, San Francisco gained only 85 rushing yards – 59 of which were produced by tailback Frank Gore who repeatedly slammed into the middle of Seattle’s line. San Francisco may have to take a different tack against the Cowboys, who held the Jets’ potent rushing offense to 45 yards last week and eased concerns they couldn’t stop the run.
When the 49ers pass
In Jim Harbaugh’s debut as head coach, the 49ers’ offense took a conservative, deliberate and dull approach. Quarterback Alex Smith connected on 15 of 20 pass attempts for 124 yards and five of those completions gained fewer than three yards. Wideout Braylon Edwards made three catches and Michael Crabtree wasn’t a factor. That’s good news for the Cowboys, whose depleted secondary took another hit last Sunday when Orlando Scandrick suffered a high-ankle sprain.
Last week, in the 49ers’ 33-17 victory over Seattle, San Francisco scored one offensive touchdown. The special teams units accounted for every other point. David Akers connected on four field goals and Ted Ginn scored twice after fielding both a kickoff and a punt. The Cowboys, meanwhile, had a blocked punt returned for the tying touchdown last Sunday and produced only one touchback on their five kickoffs last week.
In a previous era, this game meant something to both teams. But since the mid-1990s, when both franchises were on the top of the NFL pecking order, they have veered in the wrong direction. Still, the Cowboys should be particularly motivated to take down the 49ers after suffering a heartbreaking loss against the Jets. They can’t afford to repeat the slow start of 2010, when they began the season with two consecutive losses.
SAN FRANCISCO — The Cowboys will try to get their record even this Sunday. Here is a look that what they need to do to secure a victory:
Make San Francisco throw
Alex Smith has been a starting quarterback in the NFL since 2005. Yet he has only thrown for more than 300 yards in a game twice in his career. During that same seven-year time frame, Frank Gore has run for more than 100 yards in a game 24 times. Even with a depleted secondary, the Cowboys should focus on stopping Gore to force Smith to be the catalyst of the offense. The 49ers know that’s a scary proposition.
Don’t abandon the run
Since 2009, the 49ers have allowed 3.53 yards per carry – the lowest average in the NFL. The Cowboys, meanwhile, have a starting running back, Felix Jones, who has rushed for more than 100 yards once in his a regular-season game during his career. Based on that evidence alone, it would seem foolish to try to run into the teeth of the 49ers’ staunch defense. But the Cowboys must establish their ground game and keep using it, especially if they’re nursing a lead.
Forget about last week
Yes, it was painful and tough to endure. But the Cowboys’ 27-24 loss to the New York Jets last Sunday is in the books. And no revisions can be made. Dallas has to forget about the lost opportunity to make a statement and seize a surprising victory. This is a new week and a new challenge. The Cowboys need to focus on the task at hand.
Avoid Ted Ginn
Kickoff specialist David Buehler was retained because he could consistently produce touchbacks. Mat McBriar is considered one of the best directional punters in the NFL. If they carry out their duties like they have in the past, then it stands to reason Ted Ginn won’t touch the ball on special teams. That’s important. Last week, Ginn returned a punt and kickoff for touchdowns within a span of 60 seconds. The Cowboys know he’s dangerous and should be avoided at all costs.
IRVING, Texas — Practice was over for the week, but David Buehler was on his way to the film room Friday afternoon to continue watching 49ers returner Ted Ginn Jr.
Ginn’s punt and kickoff returns for touchdowns accounted for nearly half the 49ers’ 33-point total against Seattle last week, and Buehler knows he must limit Ginn’s chances: either by kicking touchbacks or placing the ball in a tough spot to manuever.
Last week, Buehler had one touchback and landed his other kickoffs at the Jets’ 3- and 6-yard line. Two others landed seven and nine yards deep in the end zone, but the Jets stubbornly brought the ball out anyway.
Distance, hang time and direction are requirements from special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis. Buehler is good at all three, but the Bay Area conditions could always dictate strategy.
“Hopefully if the wind’s at my back,” Buehler said, “and hopefully I’ll get the green light as we call it to be able to kick a touchback and keep it out of Ted Ginn’s hands just because he is a dangerous returner.”
That said, Buehler’s confident that his coverage guys can do a better job against him than Seattle did.
IRVING, Texas — Just think for a second how far, and how fast, Tyron Smith’s football career has evolved within the state of California.
In November 2007, he played his final game at Rancho Verde High against the Colton Yellowjackets.
Last December, he finished his junior year at Southern Cal in the Rose Bowl against UCLA.
Now this Sunday, at the age of 20, Smith’s heading to Candlestick Park for his second career NFL start at right tackle against the San Francisco 49ers.
“It went by quick,” he said this week. “Can’t believe where I’m at right now.”
So far he’s handled it quite well, especially considering a hyperextended right knee initially threatened his availability last week against the Jets. Smith said he didn’t feel any limitations in practice this week.
“I think that’s admirable of a young guy that’s 20 years old that had an injury that came out and I saw no problem with that whatsoever,” offensive line coach Hudson Houck said. “And of course he doesn’t complain at all.”
Now he’s going back to his home state for his biggest game yet. His parents and his sister will be there for support.
The Cowboys’ first-round draft pick has come a long way from Moreno Valley in a very short period of time.
While the Cowboys don’t play San Francisco very often – not since 2008 in the regular season – the offense will look across the field and see at least one guy they know pretty well on the 49ers defense Sunday, Carlos Rogers, the longtime Washington Redskins cornerback.
In six years with Washington to start his career, Rogers faced the Cowboys seven times, deflecting seven passes. He signed a one-year deal for just over $2 million with San Francisco.
While Tony Romo and the Cowboys’ pass-catchers know Rogers fairly well, the 49ers do have some other, less familiar, defensive backs who form a pretty solid unit. Tarell Brown, a fifth-year vet from Texas, mans the other corner, while safeties Donte Whitner and Dashon Goldson, two free agents this summer, are pretty formidable.
“We’re looking at everything,” Miles Austin said of the 49ers secondary. “How the outside corner plays, how he moves in the nickel a bunch of times. We’re looking inside, outside, techniques, coverages, everything. I don’t just look necessarily at where I might be, because sometimes we mix things up and you might be somewhere else, so I just try to get a good grasp of where everyone is, and how everyone kind of plays.”
San Francisco’s defense had a pretty solid outing against Seattle in Week 1, limiting the Seahawks to just 219 total yards of offense and 17 points. The unit is coordinated by 3-4 coach Vic Fangio, who Jason Garrett actually interviewed for the Cowboys staff before hiring Rob Ryan.
“They’re looking good,” Austin said. “They’re looking real good. They’re a physical group, a tough group, and we definitely have our work cut out for us.”
IRVING — For the bulk of the Cowboys-Jets game, outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware lined up on both sides of the line trying to avoid the constant double-teams that hounded him last season.
Ware started the game lined up over Jets right tackle Wayne Hunter and recorded a sack on the first defensive snap of the game. When the night was over, Ware finished with two sacks and three quarterback hurries.
Ware said he saw plenty of one-on-one matchups, but was shut out in the second half on sacks and quarterback hurries. Still, he was a dominant force, something defensive coordinator Rob Ryan wants to take advantage of.
“The biggest thing is we want to exploit the offense,” Ryan said. “But by that is get DeMarcus not coming completely open, just have him one-on-one cause it’s like him going against one guy is gonna be like him going to be completely open. That’s our job as coaches trying to get that matchup.”
As the season progresses, Ware will face more double-teams in various forms: Tackles and guards, tackles and tight ends and tackles and running backs. Leaving Ware alone with a tackle is a dangerous deal.
“He’s got three guys blocking him all day,” Ryan said. “It’s like taking away one of your best players. As coaches [we] try to get him where he gets a one-on-one. Now if he gets a one-on-one, that’s great, but that doesn’t happen very often.”
Despite what the depth chart reads, defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said Jason Hatcher has earned the starting job at right defensive end. Hatcher made his second career start last Sunday against the Jets. Ryan said it had nothing to do with Marcus Spears’ return from a groin injury, which kept him out of the last two preseason games. Instead, it had everything to do with how well Hatcher is playing.
“Hatcher has been looking great,” Ryan said Friday. “We’re fortunate enough to have some big-time ballplayers. But I mean Hatcher is a starter, and I think he’d be starting on any team in the league. He’s a good football player.”
The sixth-year veteran had four tackles, including one for loss, and a quarterback pressure. Hatcher played 42 plays against the Jets, according to Pro Football Focus, with Spears getting 14. Kenyon Coleman had 22 plays at left end.
The Cowboys have an eye on 49ers return man Ted Ginn Jr., and for good reason. Ginn returned a kickoff 102 yards for a touchdown and had a 55-yard punt return for a score in a 59-second span of the fourth quarter.
The Cowboys spent extra time in practice working on Ginn, with Teddy Williams simulating Ginn’s speed early in the week before Williams was injured. Cowboys coach Jason Garrett constantly reminded his special teamers in practice how dangerous Ginn is. Kickoff specialist David Buehler was going to watch yet more film of Ginn after practice Friday.
“Look, I didn’t know he was that good. I didn’t,” punter Mat McBriar said. “I haven’t come up against him before. When I played Miami, [Davone] Besswas back there. So I haven’t really scouted him before. But looking at tape and obviously seeing the returns after the weekend, he’s just good. He’s really good. Really good.”
Ginn is fast, Olympic speed fast. The Cowboys will try to keep the ball out of his hands by directionally punting with good hang time and trying to kick the ball out of the end zone on kickoffs. Buehler had 51 touchbacks his first two seasons but only one on Sunday against the Jets.
“He’s a heck of a returner, but we’ve got a heck of a cover team,” Buehler said. “Obviously, it all starts with the kick, and I’ve got to get good hang time and good direction and good depth. He has good speed, but we’re trying to make him move east and west and not north and south. That’s when he gets dangerous is when he’s moving downfield. We’re trying to make him move toward the sidelines, and if we do that and hit him hard and hit him in the mouth early, I don’t think he’ll want to run too hard against us.”