As a Niner fan you cannot ask for anything better than having your first two opponents of the season be a division rival and a long hated rival. The 49ers rode the defense and special teams to victory over the Seahawks last week but this week against one of San Francisco’s biggest and most hated rivals, Cowboys, the offense will need to produce touchdown drives. With Alex Smith at quarterback and a new offense, producing multiple touchdown drives against DeMarcus Ware and the Cowboys defense is easier said than done.
The 49ers and Cowboys have a long storied history especially in the NFC championship. The 49ers and Cowboys had memorable matchups in the 1971, 1981 and 1992-94 NFC Championship games. Both teams today are nowhere near those classic teams of the 80’s and 90’s but that does not make the rivalry any less intense as it is always feels good to beat the Cowboys. To preview the Cowboys vs. 49ers game Niner Noise hooked up with Steven Mullenax, Editor of Cowboys blog The Landry Hat, to answer some questions in order to get to know the Cowboys. Enjoy!
Q. All the talk this week about the Cowboys has been about Tony Romo and his failure in the fourth quarter against the Jets. Are Cowboys fans fully in support of Romo? Or will they pull a Broncos fan move and call for the backup, Jon Kitna?
The mistakes made by Tony Romo in last Sunday’s loss against the New York Jets have flooded the local media. But most fans are not making the “Start Kitna” posters just yet. For all his faults, Romo has been the best quarterback Dallas has had since Troy Aikman. And although he’s only had one playoff victory in the past five years, his regular season success continues to fuel the fire for his fandom.
Q. The Cowboys don’t have a lot of NFL starting experience on the offensive line. Will this be the Cowboys biggest issue throughout the season?
Yes, it will. And this is a problem that Head Coach Jason Garrett is happy to have if it means getting younger and faster. Garrett has shifted the offense to take advantage of the young O-line’s strengths. For example, he uses their mobility and speed for screen plays and run blocking down field. Unfortunately, their inexperience means Tony Romo is going to have be on high alert at all times. But if the lineman can learn quickly, the benefits of getting younger outweigh the costs…for now.
Q. Who is the one player on the Cowboys will need to step up from last week’s lost in order for the Cowboys to win against the 49ers?
Running back Felix Jones. He had a poor performance against the Jets last week and he’s looking to rebound strong. Now part of the blame for Jones’ lack of production falls on the young offensive line. But Jones showed so much promise in the preseason, that it’s left most Cowboy fans wondering who will show up on Sunday? The new Felix Jones who will break tackles for extra yardage or the old one, who falls down as soon as he’s touched. Jones has a lot to prove in this game.
Q. The Cowboys have multiple important players injured that may or may not play against the 49ers. Who is the one injured player that Cowboys will miss on Sunday?
There are two. Cornerbacks Terence Newman and Orlando Scandrick. Without them, our defensive backfield is only at half strength. Combine that with the fact that our other starting cornerback, Mike Jenkins is playing through neck and shoulder injuries, then you’ve got the recipe for a possible defensive disaster.
Q. The 49ers like to run the football and are physical in doing so, and the Cowboys did a good job of limiting the run against the Jets last week. How can the Cowboys control the line of scrimmage and take Frank Gore out as a running threat?
Jay Ratliff is the heart of our defensive line and he does the dirty work inside. He’ll funnel Gore to the outside, where linebackers DeMarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer and Sean Lee will keep him contained. The 49ers will be forced to throw.
Q. First-year coordinator Rob Ryan’s defense was impressive against New York last week. What are the some of the things Cowboys fans are excited about with Ryan’s new defense?
What excites fans the most is that Rob Ryan was able to shut down the Jets offense for most of the game without our top three cornerbacks. The thought of what he could do with a healthy backfield excites us to no end.
Q. The Cowboys have had more success than the 49ers in the last decade but both teams have coaches that are being entrusted with turning the teams into consistent contenders. Why is Jason Garrett the coach that will succeed where Wade Phillips failed?
Mentality. Coach Garrett is the type of person who likes to do things a certain way every time. He believes in hard work, doing the right things, and staying consistent. He expects every player to step up when needed and fully prepares them to do so. Coach Phillips was more free-wheeling. He was the nice guy coach that relied more on talent than work. Coach Garrett does not.
Q. Which player on the Cowboys is flying under the radar but will have a huge season for the team?
Although he’s been the talk of the defense after Week One, I predicted in the preseason that linebacker Sean Lee would have a breakout year. And after his 11 tackle, 1 interception performance against the Jets, the secret is out. Lee is in his second year out of Penn State and is now a permanent starter. The Cowboys were desperately trying to get younger in the middle and they have.
Q. Who will have a bigger season, WR Dez Bryant or Miles Austin?
If he can stay healthy, it should be Dez Bryant. As the team’s number one wideout, Miles Austin should draw most of the attention from opposing defenses. But leaving Bryant one-on-one with any corner in the league is a mis-match. Bryant is a monster in the making.
Q. What is your predication for the game?
Despite the various injuries the Cowboys have suffered, I still think their offensive firepower is enough to get it done against the 49ers.
Cowboys over the 49ers, 37-24