Niners Live broke down every angle of the game marking the beginning of the C.J. Beathard era against the Washington Redskins. Now the 49ers return home to face their bitter NFC rival, the Dallas Cowboys. We will break down the key offensive and defensive matchups in this historic rivalry.
A lot has changed this week, and the 49er organization and the 49er Faithful have had little time to adjust to the sea of changes. First, the heart and soul of the organization, Navorro Bowman, was granted his outright release after eight seasons in the scarlet and gold. Then, much to the delight of the fan base and perhaps some of the players, Brian Hoyer was benched in favor of Rookie C.J. Beathard. Thus, the result was yet another loss, by less than 3 points, this time at the hand of the Washington Redskins. All of this change comes on the heels of perhaps the most anticipated game of the season against the “Accident Waiting to Happen” Dallas Cowboys.
49ers Offensive Line & Running Backs vs. Cowboys Front Seven
Over the past few weeks, we have seen Kyle Shanahan’s version of the running game take shape. As Niners Live correctly identified, the days of one running back getting 25 to 30 carries are over. Carlos Hyde and Matt Breida have split the lion’s share of the carries with an occasional carry by Raheem Mostert. We can expect that trend to continue with runs to the right side, as the Right Tackle Trent Brown and Right Guard Brandon Fusco will be asked to open up more holes, while Center Daniel Kilgore and the left side consisting of Guard Laken Tomlinson and Tackle Joe Staley will be asked to do their part in pass protection. The Cowboys have an unusual 3-4 alignment, as they are concerned with covering all of the passing lanes. The front four consists of two end’s DeMarcus Lawrence, who leads the team with 8.5 sacks on the left, and Tyrone Crawford on the right side. Controlling the Interior are tackles Maliek Collins and Brian Price. The linebackers are a veteran group. Sean Lee is listed as questionable with a hamstring injury. If he cannot go, expect Justin Durant to get the start at the Will spot; Damien Wilson, will start at the SAM and talented rookie Jaylon Smith will get the start in the middle.
C.J. Beathard vs. DeMarcus Lawrence
Well, as Niners Live correctly predicted, C.J. Beathard’s name headlines this segment. Fresh off his debut against the Washington Redskins, Beathard possesses an ability to extend the play out of the pocket by using his feet to run, while looking for the open receiver downfield. He will need that against DeMarcus Lawrence, who is becoming the star of the Cowboys’ front line (no pun intended). This will be a make or break game for Trent Brown, who is quickly earning a reputation as one of the best young tackles in the game.
49ers WRs & TEs vs. Cowboys Secondary
Once again, Pierre Garcon will face the number one cornerback, in this case PG-15 will be matched up against Orlando Scandrick, which should be a matchup that the 49ers take advantage of while still trying to figure out who the number 2 receiver will be. Last week, Aldrick Robinson, Trent Taylor and Marquise Goodwin had two catches and five targets each, with Robinson’s resulting in a 45-yard touchdown. We will see which of these receivers has the best chemistry with Beathard to earn the start. Dallas has been experimenting with the number 2 corner all season. Rookie Chidobe Awuzie could get the start, but is listed as questionable with a hamstring injury. Anthony Brown, who was listed as the slot corner, could get the start as the number 2 corner, while Jourdan Lewis could also see playing time, Meanwhile, George Kittle, who has been all over the map in terms of his performance this season, has the advantage of working with the new starting quarterback from their playing time in Iowa. Hopefully, that will translate on the field. If not, we may see newly promoted Cole Hikutini see some action at tight end or another shot for playing time for Garrett Celek. Dallas counters with Box Safety Jeff Heath and Free Safety Byron Jones.
49ers Front Seven vs. Cowboys Running Backs and Offensive Line
The Cowboys running game starts and ends with Ezekiel Elliott. It’s not that fellow running backs Darren McFadden and Alfred Morris aren’t capable of monster games, it’s just that it hasn’t materialized in a Cowboys’ uniform. Elliott, barring any last minute court appeal victory, will begin serving his 6-game suspension on Sunday and that presents a major challenge to the Cowboys’ efforts to control the clock. Note: Elliot will play on Sunday. The heart of the Cowboys’ offense is their line, but that line has struggled for consistency this season. Left Tackle La’el Collins and 2-time All-Pro Right Tackle Tyron Smith lead this group and will have to take on DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead respectively. Note: Armstead was recently placed on injured reserve. Meanwhile Current All-Pro Center Travis Frederick, along with Guards Chaz Green on the left and 2-time All-Pro Zack Martin on the right, will try to keep Earl Mitchell and rookie Solomon Thomas at bay in the interior. Meanwhile, this will be the beginning of a new era for the 49er linebacking core. Gone, of course, is Navorro Bowman, and this game will mark the return of Reuben Ferrari Foster, who will assume the role of middle linebacker. Eli Harold will continue his role at the Sam position and Ray-Ray Armstrong will try and improve on his lackluster performance of last week. Brock Coyle may also see playing time as he tries to put his awful performance against the Redskins behind him.
Dak Prescott vs. Reuben Foster
Yes, the 49ers defense plays another mobile quarterback in Dak Prescott, who made his claim to the starting quarterback position last year against the 49ers. He can win the game with his feet as well as his arm. Containing him will be key, and while it will take all 11 on defense to accomplish this, we focus on Reuben Foster this week. This is officially his defense with the departure of Navorro Bowman. As he assumes the role of quarterback of the defense, it will be his primary job to keep Prescott in front of him at all times. We saw what he could do at Alabama. It will now be time for him to show and prove and there’s no better stage to do this than against the so-called America’s Team.
49ers Secondary vs. Cowboys WRs and TEs
The 49ers secondary continues with the trio of Rashard Robinson, Dontae Johnson and K’wuan Williams as the corners. They will face an awesome challenge as they take on All-Pro wide receiver Dez Bryant, who did not play in last year’s game at Levi’s Stadium, Terrance Williams, who had his coming out party in that same game last year, and Trent Taylor’s exact prototype, Cole Beasley, who is one of the most productive slot receivers in the NFL. You can also expect Ryan Switzer to see some playing time.Eric Reid returns for his second game back in as many weeks (potentially on his second pitch count of snaps) in the Box Safety/Linebacker position and we can expect action from both Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt in the free safety/box safety positions, respectively. They will be responsible for trying to contain veteran All-Pro tight end, Jason Witten.
Storylines: The ties and history that connect the 49ers and Cowboys
Where do I begin? The Cowboys’ dominance in the 70s, perhaps; “The Catch”, the Jimmie Johnson era; Steve Young getting over the hump for his Super Bowl; The T.O. disrespect of the Star? The former two-way players such as Deion Sanders, Ken Norton, Jr., Charles Haley, Terrell Owens? Yes, both fan bases know the history between the teams, chapter, and verse. A fact that I witnessed and shared while viewing the Cowboys practice facility earlier this year. They love to talk about the years they beat the 49ers, but hate the fact that the 49ers were first in the race to five Super Bowl Titles. It really doesn’t matter what the records are, this is for bragging rights every time these teams face each other.
One More Thing
This game will be determined by the team who can best control the clock. When the Cowboys control the clock, they are almost unbeatable. With Ezekiel Elliott back, Dak Prescott’s life just got that much easier. The 49ers front Seven Must continue to pressure and contain Prescott in order to minimize any damage. Offensively, the 49ers have an advantage, as not very many teams are prepared for C.J. Beathard. The Cowboys secondary is especially vulnerable right now and if they can continue to inject new life into the aerial game; then it could be a memorable first win under the Shanahan era. Look for a very high scoring game as the eyes of the nation will watch this with very keen interest.
Please join us again soon on Niners Live, the home of the faithful fan and analyst from an objective/analytical lens, of course.
All records, statistics, and accolades are courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com, Pro Football Focus, 49ers.com, ESPN.com, NFL.com unless otherwise indicated. Author and new Staff Writer @NinersLive.net, David Edmondson. Content Creator, Editor, Sequoia Sims