NFL Week Four Preview: Dallas Cowboys vs. San Francisco 49ers

Aug 20, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; San Francisco 49ers running back Carlos Hyde (28) runs the ball for a first down in the second quarter against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Growing up in the 90s, I preferred football over Power Rangers. During that time, in the early 90s especially, the NFL seemingly scheduled the Cowboys and 49ers every season. Not just the 90s but the two teams engaged in key moments in NFL history as well.

One of the most iconic moments ever occurred in January 1982 as 49ers tight end Dwight Clark made “The Catch” in the 1981 NFC Championship game. Along with that and the memorable games between the two franchises in the early 90s, there is a type of mystique when these two teams get together.

While this edition of Cowboys/49ers lacks a plethora of stars as the past encounters shown us once upon a time, it still has intrigue. Without a key playmaker in the offense, can the Dallas Cowboys (2-1) pick up a win in favorable circumstances or will Chip Kelly and his 49ers (1-2) bunch steal one? Let’s take a look at the preview for Cowboys & 49ers.

Nov 1, 2015; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett speaks with outside linebacker Sean Lee (50) during the game against the Seattle Seahawks at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Dallas Cowboys Notes

As if the 2015 season was enough, the 2016 season for the Dallas Cowboys have produced similar vibes. The injury list is woefully long and key players are either out for the the season for currently suspended. What was expected was the return of starting quarterback Tony Romo and wide out Dez Bryant, as both were getting healthy prior to the season.

Instead, the team is depending on fourth-round rookie Dak Prescott to guide the team and so far, he hasn’t been bad at all. The passer out of Mississippi State has completed 66.7% of his passes for 697 yards and a touchdown on the season while also rushing for another two touchdowns. While the rookie QB has been steady for the most part, another rookie graces the backfield as well as first-round pick Ezekiel Elliott leads the team in rushing yards with 274 and two touchdowns as well. Behind the rookies and a still stout offensive line, Dallas has produced an offense that is eighth overall and 11th in scoring.

A hairline fracture to his right knee for Bryant will likely have the All-Pro receiver out for for quite some time. Bryant has posted 11 catches on the season for 150 yards and the only receiving touchdown on the season but it has been Cole Beasley who leads the team in catches and yards.

While the offense has been treading water, the defense has been somewhat worrisome, especially in the last two games, in which the unit gave up 432 yards to Washington and 390 to Chicago. Of course the team is relying heavily on key veterans such as linebacker Sean Lee (12 tackles), cornerback Brandon Carr (10 tackles, three pass breakups, one INT), as well as free safety Byron Jones (nine tackles, two pass breakups, one forced fumble). It also seems that a light bulb has cut on for cornerback Morris Claiborne and his ability to stick to the opposing receivers hip pocket.

Ranking 22nd overall leaves a lot to be desired but for a unit that is gutted by suspensions and injuries, the group only allows 38% of third down conversions and only 20 points per game.

Sep 18, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; San Francisco 49ers quarterback Blaine Gabbert (2) talks to head coach Chip Kelly in the second quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

San Francisco 49ers Notes 

Since day one of his hire, Chip Kelly has been chipping away at molding the Niners to fit his ideal image. Outside of the team’s 28-0 season opening win over the Rams, very little has been going in the favor of the Niners. Kelly anointed former Jacksonville first-rounder Blaine Gabbert as his starting quarterback and that decision has been met with mixed results. Gabbert has posted just 532 yards, three touchdowns, and three interceptions. For the most part, the offense has rode the shoulders of running back Carlos Hyde and his 225 yards on the ground with four touchdowns.

The offense only averages 292 yards per game along with 24.3 points per contest and could really use a spark in their passing offense with Gabbert and his receivers. Offseason pickup Jeremy Kerley is the team leader in catches (12) and yards (114) and veteran Torrey Smith offers the deep threat for the team as he has posted 8 catches for 103 and the team’s only touchdown reception.

August 26, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Torrey Smith (82) warms up before the game against the Green Bay Packers at Levi

The defense is led by a number of proven veterans. Middle linebacker NaVarro Bowman is a workhorse and is building off his impressive 2015 comeback from a nasty knee injury during the 2014 playoffs. Safeties Antoine Bethea and Eric Reid provide stability on the back end and are constantly around the ball.

The Niners have a pair of run-stuffing defensive linemen in Arik Armstead and rookie DeForest Buckner who will get a huge test with the rugged Dallas offensive line. The unit also finds themselves fifth in the league in interceptions and tied for first in fumble recoveries. An emphasis made by a defense that doesn’t have much capability to routinely stop offenses. The next best way is to create more turnovers.

Aug 25, 2016; Seattle, WA, USA; Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) looks to pass against the Seattle Seahawks during the first half of an NFL football game at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Prediction

The absence of Bryant and a number of key players on the defense for Dallas may possibly make this game a little more closer than most would assume.

It’s no secret that Dallas will ride their rookie in Elliott and their massive offensive line. So expect San Francisco to attempt to neutralize the run game of Dallas as much as possible. Easier said than done of course.

If there is an advantage for the 49ers, they have an offensive scheme that is predicated on running the ball and making defenses uncomfortable. The front seven for Dallas will have that tough task sitting in front of them to defend the downhill running by the Niners.

Prescott and the offense will have to be careful with the football and play keep away from a Niners defense that has caused a number of turnovers this season. If they can, Dallas walks out with a victory. A close victory but a victory nonetheless.

Prediction: Cowboys, 26-20 

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