San Francisco 49ers vs. Dallas Cowboys: 5 Matchups to Watch in Preseason Week 2

Grant Cohn@@grantcohnFeatured ColumnistAugust 19, 2015

San Francisco 49ers vs. Dallas Cowboys: 5 Matchups to Watch in Preseason Week 2

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    The key matchups of the San Francisco 49ers’ Week 2 preseason game against the Dallas Cowboys will come mostly during the second and third quarters.

    The first two weeks of the preseason starters usually don’t play much because the coaches want to keep them healthy. Starters typically get one, maybe two series before they’re replaced by backups.

    Week 3 of the preseason usually is the dress rehearsal. That’s when starters play into the third quarter. Until then, we should monitor the competition among the backups and players fighting for starting jobs.

    Here are five key matchups to watch Sunday when the Niners face the Cowboys.

DT Tank Carradine vs. LG La’el Collins

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    The Niners could have had rookie guard La’el Collins.

    Experts considered Collins a top-20 prospect before the 2015 draft. But he went undrafted after Baton Rouge police questioned him about the shooting of a pregnant woman. Collins never was a suspect.

    The Niners could have drafted Collins during any round, and he probably would have started for them immediately at right guard. But they passed on Collins, and the Dallas Cowboys signed him as an undrafted free agent.

    Collins already seems in line to start at left guard for Dallas. During Week 1 of the preseason, Collins played 51 snaps at left guard and earned a plus-3.2 grade from Pro Football Focus.

    During passing downs against the Niners, Collins will go against interior pass-rushing specialist Tank Carradine, a former second-round pick who’s replacing Justin Smith as the 49ers starting 3-technique in sub-packages.

    Against the Houston Texans last week, Carradine earned a plus-1.9 pass-rushing grade in 22 snaps from Pro Football Focus, although he didn’t face anyone special.

    Can Carradine beat a talented offensive lineman like Collins?

ILB Nick Moody vs. TE Gavin Escobar

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    Bob Levey/Getty Images

    Third-year inside linebacker Nick Moody got torched Saturday against the Texans.

    Houston quarterbacks targeted Moody three times and completed three passes against him for 27 yards and a passer rating of 104.2, per Pro Football Focus. He didn’t offer much resistance when he was in coverage.

    Sunday against the Cowboys, Moody will matchup against backup tight end Gavin Escobar (starter Jason Witten probably will play only a handful of snaps if he plays at all).

    Escobar led the Cowboys with five catches for 47 yards Week 1 of the preseason. Dallas seems intent on getting the third-year tight end in rhythm before the regular season starts, which means Moody should get tested on Sunday.

OLB Corey Lemonier vs. RT John Wetzel

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    Brian Bahr/Getty Images

    The Cowboys didn’t play their starting offensive tackles—Tyron Smith and Doug Free—Week 1 of the preseason.

    Instead, backups Darrion Weems and John Wetzel started, and each played more than 45 snaps.

    Wetzel started at right tackle, which means on Sunday he probably will face San Francisco’s current starting left outside linebacker, Corey Lemonier.

    Lemonier is hanging by a thread to his starting job, while second-year outside linebacker Aaron Lynch recovers from a hamstring injury. Once healthy, Lynch probably will take Lemonier’s job, unless Lemonier starts playing well.

    In two seasons with the team, Lemonier has one sack. Last Saturday against the Texans, he played 49 snaps and recorded no sacks or quarterback hits, per Pro Football Focus.

    If he can’t generate pressure against Wetzel, Lemonier may get permanently benched.

RG Brandon Thomas vs. LDT Jack Crawford

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    Coming into the preseason game against the Texans, the Niners seemed set at three spots on the offensive line: Joe Staley at left tackle, Alex Boone at left guard and Erik Pears at right tackle.

    Now the Niners may be set a fourth spot—right guard. All offseason the starter was Marcus Martin, who struggled. This is his first year playing right guard since high school. He seems more comfortable at center where he made eight starts as a rookie last season.

    The Niners’ best option at right guard might be Brandon Thomas, who missed last season with a torn ACL. Against the Texans he played 21 snaps and earned a plus-2.2 grade from Pro Football Focus—he was the second-highest graded player on the offense.

    Next week he’ll face Dallas backup defensive tackle Jack Crawford. If Thomas has another strong game, he may become the starting right guard by Week 3 of the preseason.

WR Quinton Patton vs. CB Byron Jones

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    George Nikitin/Associated Press

    The NFL announced Tuesday it will suspend 49ers wide receiver Jerome Simpson for the first six games next season.

    Before the suspension, Simpson was the favorite to be San Francisco’s No. 3 receiver next season behind Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith. Now, third-year receiver Quinton Patton is the favorite.

    Against the Texans Patton played 20 snaps and received zero targets, according to Pro Football Focus.

    Even with Simpson on the shelf, Patton has to do something to earn the No. 3 receiver job. So far he’s done nothing.

    Against the Cowboys Patton will face 2015 first-round pick Byron Jones. The Niners could have drafted Jones but decided instead to draft defensive end Arik Armstead.

    Patton probably will win the No. 3 receiver job if he plays well against Jones on Sunday.

    All practice observations were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

    Follow @grantcohn.

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