Dallas Cowboys: Ted Ginn

Five-star: Mat McBriar holds the fort

December, 1, 2011
Five-star question: Will Patrick Peterson, averaging 19.2 per punt return the past four games with three touchdowns, hit his average or return a punt for a touchdown Sunday against the Cowboys?

This is probably not the best time for Mat McBriar to be in a mini-slump with Patrick Peterson on the other end of his punts, but if you go by history the Cowboys should be able to keep the rookie returner under his 19.2-yard average.

Over the last few years McBriar has faced some of the NFL’s best returners, from Dante Hall to Devin Hester to DeSean Jackson to Ted Ginn and he has more than held his own.

Of course, he was healthy in those matchups. This case of drop foot has affected him some, although he said the pain has subsided for the most part recently.

McBriar will have to limit Peterson’s access to the full field. McBriar is adept at keeping his punts outside the numbers. Washington’s two returns a few weeks ago came on punts that were close to the middle of the field, which stretched the coverage team.

That came after McBriar had a 23-yard punt out of bounds. He was conscious of that happening again and his aim was off.

His aim can’t be off against Peterson. He has shown the willingness to catch a punt anywhere and return it. The 99-yard return against St. Louis is the classic no-no-no, yes-yes-yes play. His other returns for touchdowns are 89, 82 and 80 yards.

Look for McBriar to kick the ball near the sideline or out of bounds or use his flip-flop technique to force fair catches.
Columnist Jean-Jacques Taylor will analyze the Cowboys' biggest obstacle each week for ESPN Dallas' weekly "Big Decision" series. This week's topic: To kick or not to kick to Ted Ginn.

San Francisco has an awful offense that generated 209 yards -- 85 yards rush and 124 yards passing -- and 12 first downs in Week 1.

But they beat Seattle last week because Ginn returned a punt and a kickoff for a touchdown.

Ginn has six career returns -- three kickoffs and three punts -- for touchdowns in his five-year career. He has a career punt return average of 11.2 with eight returns of 20 yards or more and a 23.0 kickoff return with 11 returns of more than 40 yards.

David Buehler has one of the league’s strongest legs and Mat McBriar is an excellent directional punter. This is the time for Jason Garrett to put his aggressive nature to the side and insist Buehler and McBriar keep the ball away from Ginn.

The only way San Francisco can win is if Ginn has a big game by consistently changing the field position with impact returns.

A blocked punt returned for a touchdown played a huge role in the Cowboys’ loss last week.

They would be wise not to let Ginn affect the game this week.

Scout's Eye: Cowboys-49ers preview

September, 16, 2011

Something I learned a long time ago when I was starting out as a young scout with the Packers was that when you lost a game in the NFL, there is no one in the league that felt sorry for you. You study the tape, make the corrections, and you move on to the next week.

Scout's Eye
As hard as that loss against the Jets was to take, this team must move on. What awaits the Cowboys in Week 2 is a trip to San Francisco against a 49ers team that smothered the Seahawks on defense and then made them pay for their inability to cover on the punt and kickoff return with reserve wide receiver Ted Ginn returning one of each for a touchdown to put the game away.

The 49ers have some nice talent in some key spots, but I would not say that quarterback is one of those spots. Alex Smith was selected with the first overall pick in the 2005 draft, the same draft with Aaron Rodgers who went some 22 picks later. Rodgers has thrown for over 8,000 yards his first two years as a starter and has a Super Bowl MVP to his credit, while Smith is working with his third head coach in the last seven years.

Breaking down Smith, he stands tall in the pocket, keeping his feet active. When he feels pressure, he will slide to safety. If receivers are covered down the field, he will check the ball down to the backs underneath.

Smith did a nice job in the Seattle game of keeping his eyes down the field but running with the ball to convert third downs or put his offense in a positive position. The Cowboys have to be careful with Smith if Rob Ryan plays man coverage chasing receivers all over the field and Smith takes off running to try to make a play.

The ball comes off his hand with some velocity with an overhand throwing motion. Smith will try to look off receivers then come back the other way with the ball.

Head coach Jim Harbaugh is the play caller, so he really tries to run the offense to give Smith the best opportunity to make an easy throw in the passing game. Harbaugh will move the pocket with waggles or boots giving Smith high/low reads with receivers.

In the Seattle game, Harbaugh mixed his formations throughout, lining up in one look then shifting pre-snap to try to create confusion. Harbaugh went unbalanced several plays, then ran the ball weak side with Frank Gore, which was a different wrinkle.

Along with tight end Vernon Davis, Gore is the 49ers’ best offensive player. Gore doesn’t have explosive speed, but what he does have is the ability to keep coming at you. He is a physical back.

There were times where Harbaugh was able to start Gore one way then bring him back with misdirection with a pulling tackle and a backside tight end. Gore has the vision to see the creases and holes. Again, he just isn’t a burner.

The Seahawks had some success against Gore making him stop and have to restart. Gore is one of those backs that builds up speed as he runs. The Seahawks were able to get some defenders into the backfield, causing him problems getting going again.

This will be the second week that the Cowboys defense will have to face an athletic tight end. Last week, it was the Jets’ Dustin Keller. This week, it’s Davis, who has freakish speed down the field. If I am Ryan, I do not allow him free access in the route.

Davis is similar to Jason Witten in that he is too athletic for a linebacker to cover and too big for a defensive back to deal with. Unlike Witten, Davis wants nothing to do with the run blocking side of the game. Harbaugh will line Davis up all over the formation and Smith looks for him in route first.

Last week against the Jets, Ryan took DeMarcus Ware and moved him to the left side to rush against right tackle Wayne Hunter. This week, look for Ryan to potentially have the same plan moving Ware over 49ers right tackle Anthony Davis.

Was not impressed at all with Davis’ work. He is heavier than Hunter and his feet are slower. Ware and the other rushers should be able to attack Davis to the outside then work some underneath moves as well. Look for Harbaugh to try to use that misdirection I mentioned earlier to slow Ware down in his rush.

Last week, the Cowboys did a nice job in their front seven of coordinating their linemen with linebackers and creating pressure on Mark Sanchez. Smith will likely face the same pressure from Ryan with multiple looks and pressure. Again, Harbaugh will try and give Smith easy throws and he will also try and move the pocket to keep the pressure off his quarterback as well.

On the defensive side of the ball, the 49ers have a nice front seven. It’s a group of players that are high effort and motor types. Ends Justin Smith and Ray McDonald are relentless rushers and active against the run.

The Seahawks had trouble blocking this front because they were unable to sustain blocks. If you don’t keep a hat on Smith, McDonald, Ahmad Brooks and Isaac Sopoaga, you are going to struggle to move the ball.

The inside linebackers on the 49ers are outstanding. Patrick Willis and Navorro Bowman are always around the football.

When the Cowboys tried to run the ball last week, they had to deal with the Jets and their run-through inside linebackers. Run-through linebackers read the play quickly, see the gaps and beat the blockers to the spot. When you face run-through linebackers, it throws off your running game because they get into the backfield and it messes with the timing of the play.

These 49ers linebackers are more active than what the Cowboys faced last week, so the zone blocking scheme of the Cowboys will be tested.

When the 49ers blitz, they like to use their inside linebackers in games with the defensive line. In the nickel, Smith and McDonald will move inside and Brooks moves from outside linebacker to rush end. In this look is where you see those blitzes.

The Cowboys will also need to be aware that the 49ers can get good pressure with just a four-man rush.

In the secondary, Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers are the corners and Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner are the safeties. I really liked the play of Brown more than that of Rogers. Brown is quick footed and also did a nice job of fighting for the ball in the air. Brown is a bit of a gambler and is not afraid to jump routes.

Rogers has faced the Cowboys many times in his career as a former member of the Redskins. Rogers will play in the slot when the 49ers go to the nickel. If the Cowboys can hold up against the front seven pressure of the 49ers, then they will have a chance to make some plays against this secondary that is good but not great.

Opposing Voice: CSNBayArea.com's Matt Maiocco

September, 14, 2011
In this week's installment of Opposing Voice, we talk to Matt Maiocco, who covers the San Francisco 49ers for CSNBayArea.com and the television side as well.

Here's our Q&A with Maiocco.

1. Are the 49ers' special teams just that good, or were they lucky on Sunday? The 49ers certainly can’t rely on Ted Ginn to bail them out with returns for touchdowns every week like he did in the season-opening win against the Seahawks. Just a week earlier, Ginn had to accept a $1.2 million pay cut just to remain on the roster. And Ginn wasn’t even going to be the 49ers’ primary kick-returner until the day before the game. That duty was going be the assigned to rookie Kendall Hunter. But the 49ers decided to go with Ginn’s experience. His 102-yard kick return was exactly what the 49ers needed after Seattle pulled to within 19-17 with four minutes to play. Then, he provided the icing with a 55-yard punt return for a score just 59 seconds later. The 49ers should be improved this season as a whole on special teams based on the hiring of Brad Seely as special teams coordinator.

2. Alex Smith as a quarterback -- getting better? The thing about Smith is that he has made incremental improvements every season he remained healthy in his career. After spending his first six seasons with defensive head coaches, Smith finally has a head coach who not only has an offensive background but also played quarterback. Jim Harbaugh instituted a game plan that did not provide a lot of difficulty for Smith in the opener. Smith completed a bunch of high-percentage passes, connecting on 15 of 20 attempts, for just 124 yards. Smith is getting better, and for the first time he had a coach who will put him in situations where he has a better chance to succeed.

3. What has happened to Michael Crabtree? Crabtree was going along just fine in his first two NFL seasons — other than a contract stalemate that forced him to miss the first five games of his rookie year. His stats weren’t great, but he was producing decent numbers despite being on a team with a bad passing attack. Things took a turn for the worse, however, during the 49ers’ offseason workouts at San Jose State when he sustained a left foot fracture. He underwent surgery in July and last week was the first time he practiced. The foot is still very sore, so he played only 13 snaps in the season opener, catching just one pass for 4 yards. Crabtree will probably be limited for a while. Braylon Edwards and Joshua Morgan will likely remain as the starting wideouts with Crabtree’s contributions coming mostly as a slot receiver until he’s healthy enough to push for a starting job.

4. The 49ers had only 2.7 yards per carry. Was it the Seattle defense, or is Frank Gore slowing down? Because the 49ers offered no real threat with their passing game, Seattle loaded up the box to stop Gore. Of his 22 rushing attempts, Gore was stopped six times for no gain or a loss of yardage. It’s difficult to pin much blame on Gore. He simply didn’t have any room to run and a 49ers offensive line that prides itself on getting good push was unable to move the Seahawks off the ball.

5. How have the players responded to new coach Jim Harbaugh? The players weren’t too thrilled with the daily three-hour, padded practices during training camp, that’s for sure. But there is a level of respect that the players have for Harbaugh because of the fact he played 14 seasons in the NFL. Also, they know this guy can coach. He coaches the finest details. Mike Singletary did very little hands-on coaching. Harbaugh is very involved in practices, blowing his whistle like a drum major and spending a lot of time working with the quarterbacks. He is very demanding, but there is little doubt he has already earned a tremendous amount of respect.