The 49ers received some good news this week that starting cornerback Jimmie Ward’s injury suffered against the Seahawks last Sunday wasn’t season-ending. Ward’s status has been called “week to week” after he strained a quadriceps on a special teams play in the loss at Seattle.
But, for the short term, that means one of two young cornerbacks – Keith Reaser or rookie Rashard Robinson -- will have to take a big step forward this week to replace him against a dangerous Dallas Cowboys offense.
The Cowboys, guided by rookie starting quarterback Dak Prescott, rank eighth in the NFL in total offense, averaging 385 yards per game.
Prescott has been incredibly efficient so far as a passer, completing 66-of-99 passes for 767 yards and a touchdown without an interception. And, his cast of receivers – Cole Beaslley, Jaston Witten, Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams – has been impressive, combining for 52 of those 66 completions. Even though Bryant is unlikely to play because of an injury, the 49ers defense will have its hands full trying to stop Dallas’ balanced offense. Rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott is averaging 91.3 yards per game rushing, while also catching five passes.
Even with Ward in the lineup, San Francisco has struggled to stop the Panthers and Seahawks the past two weeks. The 49ers gave up 83 points and 947 yards in Weeks 2 and 3. Plus, the defense has been broken for big plays, as Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle noted this week. The 49ers have allowed 12 plays of 20 or more yards, including five for 40 or more.
This Sunday, either Reaser or Robinson will take Ward’s spot in the lineup. Their performance in practice this week will determine who starts, said defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil.
“Neither one of those guys has won the job outright,” said O’Neil.
Each cornerback says he’ll be up for the challenge.
“Every practice counts,” said Reaser. “Every play matters like it’s training camp or a game.” Added Robinson: “Every time we take the field it’s a business. When you get in between the lines, everything is strictly business.”
Reaser replaced Ward in the Seattle game, while Robinson was the nickel corner two weeks ago against the Panthers. In both games, the 49ers secondary consistently gave up big pass plays.
Robinson told Taylor Price of 49ers.com that it’s time that he and the defense as a whole play better, starting Sunday against Dallas.
“We’ve had some bumps and bruises, but we’ve put that behind us,” said Robinson. “And we’re ready to go.”
Kickoff for the game between the 1-2 49ers and 2-1 Cowboys is set for 1:25 p.m. Sunday at Levi’s Stadium.