OFFENSE: Last offseason, the 49ers hired Chip Kelly as their head coach. Kelly, who is famous for his fast-paced, college-style offense, has done well with the group, considering his roster. Blaine Gabbert, who was drafted 10th overall in 2011 by the Jaguars, has looked subpar at best, managing only a 68.6 passer rating and a 69.9 QBR. While his weapons are not the greatest, they’re not necessarily thin, with a great running back in Carlos Hyde, a rising tight-end in Vance McDonald, and a solid veteran receiver in Torrey Smith. With this all said, Gabbert and the offense are finding ways to score, even on some of the toughest defenses in the NFL. While 15 of their 18 points against Seattle last week could be considered garbage time, the Cowboys defense is not Seattle, and the 49ers are playing at home.
DEFENSE: On the other side of the ball, the 49ers defense has not been great. After shutting out the Rams in week 1, they have given up 83 points. In the past two weeks, that is a league worst. This is a very thin defense, and it is being carried by the offense. It’s especially unfortunate when you factor how good the Cowboys are looking offensively. And while the 49ers do have the luxury of playing at home, it may not be enough. This defense needs to be better. They’ve looked average in terms of secondary, mustering the 14 best pass defense. But it’s safe to assume the Cowboys will try to win this game with the run; an area the 49ers have struggled in and the Cowboys have only gotten better. The key for the 49ers defense is stopping the run, and making Dak Prescott win it with a banged up line, and no Dez Bryant.
OFFENSE: The Cowboys appear to be getting better every week offensively, improving in yards gained and scoring each week statistically. However, a Devil’s Advocate would say they have not been tested yet, especially when compared to the 49ers, as they have yet to play a top 10 defense this year, with the Giants, Redskins and Bears ranked 11, 29 and 16, respectively (the 49ers have played two top five defenses). But again, while the Cowboys defense is not Seattle, the 49ers rank only 20 in defense. And it’s appearing more foolish every week to doubt the ability of Dak Prescott. It’s hard to doubt this unit, but if the Cowboys do have an Achilles heel, it’s because they keep injuring it. The Cowboys are injury plagued, with Dez Bryant not practicing this week, and three of the Cowboys starting offensive linemen questionable as well. The 49ers meanwhile, had full practice from all but three of the players on the injury report. In short, this Cowboys unit can score, but it may be a little more challenging considering the circumstances.
DEFENSE: A unit that was expected to be one of the weaker ones in the NFL this season has not excelled, but still done its job nonetheless. While the Cowboys defense is only ranked 22nd, they seem to finally be applying the, “bend but don’t break” style of defense they have been touting since 2013. In week two against the Redskins, Washington’s offense managed to find the red zone five times in the 2nd half. Dallas’s defense, who could have given up 35 points in those five possessions, managed to give up only 16. It’s no mystery why the defense is playing better. When a team’s offense is controlling the game’s tempo like the Cowboys offense has, both sides of the ball play better. And this is occurring despite the defense having lost three defensive players to suspension, and having their number one corner hurt. That has been the key to playing well in their first three games, and it will be the key this week as well.
Coaching is an aspect sometimes overlooked in analyzing sports. In this matchup, Chip Kelly has the upper hand. The reason for this is, Chip Kelly is more familiar with this Cowboys team than vice versa, as he coached for the Eagles for three seasons. In those three seasons, he managed a 3-3 record against Dallas. While it’s not something to necessarily brag about, it means something. The last time Jason Garret saw this 49ers team was in week one of the 2014 season. Come game time, it would have only been 329 days since Chip Kelly saw this Cowboys team. That’s not very long, and while the Cowboys are better than they were 329 days ago, their team is not much different. It may not change much, but it’s something to think about.
- Dez Bryant missed treatment for his knee because he was “scared” that the injury endured would be serious. That’s understandable, but just as inexcusable. Dez Bryant is in his seventh year in the NFL. While he has matured a lot (and we do mean A LOT), it would be best if he avoided doing this again.
- While most people would probably not consider this “the game to watch” this week, this match-up has historical significance. The Cowboys/49ers rivalry is one of the richer ones in football. The 49ers lead this rivalry 17-16-1. The Cowboys can tie the series on Sunday with a win.
- Colin Kaepernick continues to protest every week. Expect him to do the same again on Sunday.