Week 4 versus Dallas Cowboys
Sunday, October 2 at 4:25 p.m. ET
It’s hard to know what to make of the Dallas Cowboys entering 2016. The NFC East is a joke, and the Cowboys have had their fair share of dysfunction in recent months to suggest they aren’t going anywhere soon.
Linebacker Rolando McClain is out on a 10-game suspension, and defensive ends Randy Gregory and Demarcus Lawrence have also been handed four-game punishments for violating NFL drug policies.
Yet all of the Cowboys’ success, or failure, this season will be predicated on quarterback Tony Romo — as our friend Steven Mullenax over at The Landry Hat pointed out.
Deciphering Romo’s health — not easy, considering he’s 36 years old — will go a long way in determining how San Francisco matches up.
Oh, and how will Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant and rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott match up against a 49ers defense likely angered by two weeks against two of the more prolific offenses (Carolina and Seattle) in the NFL?
Why the 49ers Win
The Cowboys front seven is hurting, due to suspensions, and this is a unit which gave up nearly 2,000 yards on the ground last season.
Expect the 49ers to run the ball early and often, which should further exploit Dallas’ weakness against the run. Lawrence, who registered eight sacks last year, won’t be a factor. So we can probably expect San Francisco’s quarterback — Colin Kaepernick or Blaine Gabbert — to be upright for most of the game.
The 49ers defense will have two goals — get to Romo and don’t let Elliott be a factor.
Dallas gave up only 33 sacks last year, so any pressure on the veteran QB may be tough to come by. As such, look for San Francisco’s run defense to clamp down on Elliott and prevent him from keeping a wary Niners defense on the field.
Why the 49ers Lose
The 49ers could, feasibly, win this game and make it look easy in the process. Dallas’ front-seven defense is questionable at this point in the season, which opens the door for running back Carlos Hyde to have a big day.
But the 49ers will have to pass the ball, at some point, to avoid being one-dimensional. And this will happen against a Cowboys defense that ranked No. 5 against the pass last year.
Remember all that inexperience from San Francisco’s receiving corps? Yeah, that reveals itself here, just like it did against the Seahawks the previous week. This means more pressure on Hyde to produce and, if Dallas can limit those gains, the 49ers offense will have a long day.
The Cowboys offense tries to exploit San Francisco’s run defense in sub packages. The wider lanes are exploited by Elliott, which leads to some big gains and extended time of possession.
Next: Week 5 vs. Arizona Cardinals