The NFL preseason is the rare time in professional sports when the final score takes a backseat to other important storylines. That will once again be the case when the San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys take the field Sunday for each team’s second preseason game.
Both teams are coming off losses (the 49ers lost to the Houston Texans, and the Cowboys lost to the San Diego Chargers), but individual performances and position battles will take center stage in Levi’s Stadium. After all, roster spots and starting positions are on the line for the regular season, when teams will start to care more about that final score again.
Here is a look at the critical information and a preview for the preseason showdown.
Date: Sunday, Aug. 23
Time: 8 p.m. ET
TV: Local affiliates (CBS 11 in Dallas, KPIX 5 in San Francisco)
Live Stream: NFL Game Pass
Ticket Info: Tickets for Sunday’s game are available at ScoreBig.com.
The home fans will certainly have their eyes on the backfield during Sunday’s game.
Carlos Hyde only had two carries for six yards in the first preseason contest and probably won’t see much action as the presumed starting running back, but he is a potential breakout star with Frank Gore in Indianapolis. San Francisco would likely feel a bit better about its backfield if he ran over a defender or two in the hole Sunday before an early exit.
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick likely won’t see much action either since it’s only the second preseason game, but it is imperative for San Francisco’s playoff chances that he develops some on-field chemistry with wide receiver Torrey Smith. The best time to do that is early in these preseason games, so expect a first-quarter throw toward the former Baltimore Raven.
One player who will be on the field for a significant amount of time is running back Jarryd Hayne.
The former Australian rugby star played in his first football game against the Texans and racked up 63 yards on only five carries, including a 53-yard burst. He also shined on special teams with a 33-yard kick return and two punt returns for a combined 24 yards. NFL Video captured some of his impressive highlights:
Hayne’s preseason success is an intriguing storyline that will hold the crowd’s attention into the second half, but he is fighting for a roster spot. He couldn’t pick a better audition than a showdown with America’s Team, and his versatility as a special teams contributor and potential return man gives him a legitimate chance to make the squad.
As for the Cowboys, the loss to the Chargers didn’t mean much considering Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, Darren McFadden and Joseph Randle, among others, didn’t play. Bryant likely won’t play against San Francisco either, but we could get an early glimpse at the all-important running back battle.
The Cowboys must find a way to replace DeMarco Murray’s production from a season ago, and McFadden and Randle are the leading candidates.
It remains to be seen how much they will play, if at all, since they each sat out the first preseason game and are bouncing back from lingering injuries. McFadden commented on his mindset this training camp in a radio interview with KRLD-FM in Dallas, via the Dallas Morning News:
You know the competitor in me definitely wants to be the No. 1 guy that goes out there. But at the same time, it’s like, man, you know we’re going to split carries. So whoever goes out there or goes out there second — I just know whenever I do get a chance to get the ball in my hands, I’m going to go out there and go 110 percent.
The Cowboys will use both during the season, but an impressive August performance from either McFadden or Randle could go a long way toward determining who earns more early carries in September.
Randle and McFadden missed the first preseason contest, but rookies Randy Gregory and La’el Collins took advantage of their opportunities. Gregory notched a sack and multiple quarterback rushes, and Collins cleared the way for the rushing attack. Gregory in particular caught ESPN’s Louis Riddick’s eye:
Look for both youngsters to see plenty of action Sunday as they continue to build confidence heading into the regular season.
Collins will likely be asked to block for quarterbacks Dustin Vaughan and Jameill Showers, who are fighting for a spot behind Romo and Brandon Weeden on the depth chart. Vaughan threw for 106 yards against the Chargers, and Showers added 40 passing yards and 18 rushing yards with fewer opportunities.
Showers also saw the field on special teams with his speed, which gives him a leg up in the versatility department, but how each performs at quarterback in the preseason is more important for the positional battle.
The Cowboys have a number of players with something to prove in the preseason. The youngsters on the offensive and defensive lines, the running backs (if they see the field) and the quarterbacks behind Romo and Weeden are all fighting for playing time and spots on the depth chart.
Vaughan and Showers will be on the field for the majority of the game if it unfolds like Dallas’ first preseason contest, and they will be plenty motivated to make plays against San Francisco’s backup defenders. The extra sense of desperation from the Cowboys signal-callers down the stretch will prove to be the difference.
Prediction: Cowboys 24, 49ers 21