By Jerrell Richardson
The season opener between the 49ers and Cowboys turned out to be what few expected: An impressive performance from the visiting team on both sides of the ball, leading to a relatively easy win. Based on the preseason play of the 49ers offense, the multiple new faces on their defense and the talent on the Dallas offense, this figured to be a battle for four quarters before an eventual winner was decided. Instead, the 49ers grabbed control of the game from the opening drive and never let go. While the Cowboys didn’t help their own cause with four turnovers, it was clear from the opening play who the better squad was. As they did a season ago, the 49ers relied on everyone to simply do their part, and the result was a 28-17 win that was not a close as the scoreboard indicated.
While this grade is with a slight curve when considering the opponent, the bottom line is the 49ers offense executed. They cashed in on short fields, had a touchdown scoring drive before the end of the first half, and with the lead did an effective job of controlling the clock. Leading the way was Colin Kaepernick, who was not great, but was certainly good. In just his second year as a starter, he continues to show signs of improving. He finished his day 16-23, threw for 204 yards and found Vernon Davis twice for touchdowns. While it was Davis in the red zone, it was Anquan Boldin who, like he did so many times a year ago, led the team in both receptions (8), yards (99), and big 3rd down catches.
The 49er running game was solid, finishing as a team with 124 yards. The combination of Frank Gore and Carlos Hyde, is finally the one two punch that the team has been looking for, and by the end of the year, the 49ers ground game, as it was last year will be among the best in the league. It was clear though, that the San Francisco plan was to throw the ball early, to allow for the running game to take over late and wear down both the Cowboys defense and the clock.
The thought going into this game was that the 49er defense would be in trouble. With all the new members of the secondary, the injury to NaVorro Bowman and Aldon Smith missing in action there was no way they could keep Dallas off the scoreboard. However, that’s exactly what the new look 49er defense did. While Tony Romo didn’t play well, a lot of it had to do with the 49er defense. Romo completed just 14 of his 23 passes, had no touchdowns and 3 interceptions. Dez Bryant was held to just four catches and Jason Witten had just two. 49er safety Eric Reid is the only remaining player from last year’s secondary and he proved that they will be just fine, leading the way with 4 tackles, a pick and a pass defended.
Without Bowman, the 49ers did struggle to stop the run, but how much of this was by design? DeMarco Murray rushed for 118 yards and was Dallas’ only real offensive threat all game, but the San Francisco defense seemed fine with this as they figured Dallas would not be able to beat them if the only way they had to move the ball was on the ground. Even if allowing Murray to run wild was the plan, the 49er linebackers and front 7 will need to play better in the weeks to come.
Special Teams: B-
The San Francisco special teams was an afterthought due to the play of the offense and defense, and it’s a good thing as Phil Dawson missed a golden opportunity to give his team some breathing room late. He missed his only attempt from 37 yards which in the grand scheme of things is not a big deal, but when considering his struggles in the preseason it’s certainly something for the team to keep an eye on moving forward. Andy Lee was his usual self, booming 4 punts on average 45.8 yards and pinned Dallas 3 times within the 20.
Offense And Defense Will Only Improve
The 49ers had to listen to critics all preseason talk about the lack of points scored by the offense and how they might not even make the playoffs. While those same haters will say that this was against the Cowboys and not proof that the offense will be productive, it’s clear that this is not the same 49er offense from a year ago and an upgrade then the one dimensional offense a year ago.
The concerns about the defense were that the new pieces were untested. However, after their performance against a high powered Cowboys offense they have proven that they can get the job done with who they have available, and once they can get their best linebacker and pass rusher back they will be a force. In fact by the time this team gets back its missing pieces they might actually be better than the defense that the past two season that have been this teams saving grace. The only takeaways from this game from the 49ers standpoint are positive as they continue to improve in all phases, and appear destined to be a better team than the 2013 version.
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.