Whether you’re talking about The Catch, the wars in the early 90s or Owens celebrating on the star, the San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys have a rivalry dating back to the 1970s. Sunday will not only mark the start of the 2014 regular season for both teams, but the 34th meeting between the two storied NFC franchises. The Cowboys have won the last 3 meetings, including an overtime win at Candlestick the last time the two tangled.
While the 49ers were in the news this week for a myriad of reasons: the Aldon Smith nine-game suspension, end of the Alex Boone holdout and Ray McDonald domestic violence debacle, Sunday will be the first opportunity to make a statement on the field. Here are some things I’ll be watching.
Three rookies are expected to receive significant looks in Week 1. Chris Borland has earned the inside linebacker spot, pairing with Patrick Willis in replacement of NaVarro Bowman. Borland played extremely well in the preseason, and this is his big shot to prove he belongs. The Niners first-round draft choice Jimmie Ward won the nickel corner job, and should be in the game quite a bit considering how much Dallas likes to throw the ball. On the offensive side of the ball, Carlos Hyde emerged as a legit number 2 running back and will be sure to get some playing time backing up Frank Gore. San Francisco is certainly hoping Week 1 is an impressive rookie showcase.
I’ve already touched on Borland, but the depleted linebacking corps will be a weakness Dallas is hoping to exploit. Not having Aldon Smith and NaVarro Bowman in uniform hurts, but Michael Wilhoite did an excellent job filling in for Smith last season as the Niners went 5-0 without their top pass rusher. Dan Skuta and Corey Lemonier will be sure to see playing time as well, but watch out for Ahmad Brooks. An under appreciated asset, Brooks is becoming a feared pass rusher who will hopefully receive the recognition he rightfully deserves with two big names out. The key for the four linebackers will be how they contain Tony Romo’s connections with Jason Witten. If they can neutralize Witten, they can take away a big part of the Cowboy’s attack.
The Revamped Offense
Dallas was last in the league in yards allowed last season, and 24th and 30th against the run and pass, respectively. The 49ers upgraded this offseason, acquiring standout receiver Stevie Johnson from Buffalo. Colin Kaepernick finally has the weapons he needs to improve on the team’s 30th ranked passing attack last year, and with the always steady Frank Gore in the backfield, a brick wall offensive line protecting him, three great wide receivers, an emerging second year man in Quinton Patton, and the always dependable Vernon Davis, the Niners have all the ingredients to light up the scoreboard.
This will be a high scoring game that showcases both team’s impressive offenses. However, the 49ers have the edge on defense and they’ll do enough to force Romo to make some mistakes and get out of there with the win. Niners start the Quest for Six with a W, 31-21.
Notes: Ray McDonald was on the plane with the team to Dallas and will play. Jonathan Martin will start at RT for the injured Anthony Davis. The 49ers and Cowboys are 16-16-1 against each other all time.
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