By Jerrell Richardson
The 49ers and Cowboys meet in Week 1, and the winner will be the team whose defense steps up. While the 49ers defense is top tier, they will be without some key players and going against an elite offense. The Cowboys, on the other hand, are very suspect on defense, but going against an offense that has struggled thus far in 2014, albeit in limited preseason action.
Dallas Cowboys (0-0)
Head Coach: Jason Garrett
Players to Watch: Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, DeMarco Murray
The San Francisco 49ers kickoff the 2014 season against a familiar foe, the Dallas Cowboys. With multiple questions and controversy surrounding San Francisco’s offseason the regular season could not have come soon enough for the 49ers. Add to their rollercoaster of an offseason the way they ended last year and there is no getting around the fact that the NFC West powerhouse is anxious to get back to football. However, as the saying goes, ”be careful what you wish for.” Waiting for the 49ers is a Cowboys team that, if nothing else, can score points in bunches. With missing elements on the San Francisco defensive side of the ball, this could spell trouble for a team that looked lackadaisical in their four preseason games. However, while the 49ers defense will be under fire, the San Francisco offense should be able to keep up on the scoreboard and the 49ers will do just enough to escape Jerry’s World with a win.
When San Francisco has the Ball: Advantage 49ers
The critics have had a field day with the San Francisco offensive struggles during the preseason. While some points are certainly valid, what is the uproar really about? The 49ers are not an up-and-coming team. In terms of their starters, they know who can do what and the purpose of the preseason was to evaluate the backups and new additions and, above all else, stay healthy. Very rarely did the 49ers have their entire first team on the field this preseason, so it’s hard to accurately gauge where they are it as a unit. Week 1 will go a long way to silence the naysayers, as there is no way the offense should be stuck in neutral against an atrocious Cowboy defense.
Ignore the lack of touchdowns in the preseason. The 49ers offense is no joke. Everyone knows about the dual threat quarterback under center Colin Kaepernick, his favorite target Michael Crabtree, the constant professional running back Frank Gore, perhaps the fastest tight end in the league in Vernon Davis and last year’s 1000 yard receiver Anquan Boldin. But what the casual fan doesn’t know about is the emergence of running back Carlos Hyde, and addition of wide receiver Stevie Johnson. Add to the multiple threats at the skill positions the recent signing of the anchor on the offensive line, Alex Boone, and it’s hard to imagine how the 49ers will not be able to put points on the board against arguably the worst defense in the NFL a year ago.
While that was last year, since their disaster of a defense a year ago, Dallas released DeMarcus Ware, (their best pass rusher), and will be without both Sean Lee (their best linebacker) and Orlando Scandrick (their best cornerback), who were both recently lost to an injury and suspension respectably. Now, if the 49ers are unable to move the ball against the Cowboys, then critics will have a valid argument.
When Dallas has the ball: Advantage Cowboys
Just like Dallas, the 49ers will be without their best pass rusher (Aldon Smith) and arguably best linebacker (NaVorro Bowman) from a year ago, however, unlike the Cowboys, the 49ers defense a year ago was elite and last season played well without both of these defensive studs. Therefore San Francisco is confident that as a whole they can overcome these missing pieces and play up to the level they are accustomed to. With or without these players though, the Cowboy offense is going to be a handful, especially in their house, which happens to be on turf.
Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo can sling the football, and although he is known to turn the ball over in key situations, he had a very productive 2013, throwing 31 touchdowns to just 10 picks. In wide receiver Dez Bryant and tight end Jason Witten, Romo has two players who the 49ers (or any team for that matter) don’t have the personnel to cover one-on-one. But Patrick Willis and Eric Reid will lead the charge in keeping them both under wraps. While finding room to run against a stout 49er front will be tough for the Cowboys, they have DeMarco Murray, whose running style of speed and power could cause trouble for the 49ers front 7 and nightmares for the secondary if Murray makes it to the second level of the defense.
The bigger concern though is when Romo drops back to pass, as that’s when the Cowboys are at their best and unfortunately, when the 49ers are at their worst. As a team, San Francisco has plenty of players to put pressure on Romo, plug the running lanes and contain Dez Bryant at least enough to keep this affair into a shootout, which is exactly what the 49ers want to avoid, but the Cowboys have the players to throw a monkey wrench in the 49er game plan and turn this into a high scoring contest.
Not Quite A Must-Win
The 49ers have a lot of pressure on them this season, and they don’t get the luxury of easing into the regular season. Up first is a team that not only has a history against the 49ers, but a team that is scary talented. While the 49ers are still the better overall team, this will be no walk in the park. When considering the difficult path the NFC West will pose for a playoff berth, every game is important. However, it’s also important to keep in mind the ultimate goal, which is making the playoffs. With several key pieces out for a few games, the 49ers need to hold the fort and set themselves up for a second half of the season that will ultimately set up their playoff positioning.
While a win is almost deemed as necessary against the Cowboys, a loss is not the end of the world, as its just Week 1. Instead, the most important thing for the 49ers in opening week is to leave Cowboys stadium healthy and to show signs of getting back to the dominant team they were in 2013. Any and everything else can be sorted out in the next 15 games.
For more 49ers news and updates, visit 49ers Central.
Jerrell Richardson is a Bay Area native who due to a college career at San Diego State University has grown an appreciation for all things sports related in California. His heart will always remain in San Francisco though where he currently resides and covers everything from the San Francisco 49ers and Giants to the San Jose Sharks and California Bears Baseball team. Jerrell is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. His work can be found on Examiner.com.