49ers vs. Cowboys: 6 Things to Watch in Sunday's Crucial Game Against Dallas

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49ers vs. Cowboys: 6 Things to Watch in Sunday's Crucial Game Against Dallas
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

In terms of growth, the players and coaches on the San Francisco 49ers are still getting acquainted.

It’s been eight weeks, you say, since the start of training camp, what more is there to know?

But that's a minute of time it takes to assess, understand and apply all the needed elements that go into shaping an NFL team for the rigors of a 16-game schedule.

In college, a powerhouse team can have 4-5 easy games to force its will on a weaker opponent. Offensively, schemes are installed, plays run with a high level of efficiency, yards get gained and touchdowns scored. Defensively, it’s much of the same, and a team develops its identity rather quickly.

In the NFL, the evolution never stops. Each team has to adapt and adjust as the season develops.

In light of last Sunday’s 33-17 win over Seattle, the 49ers left a lot of questions unanswered. Their run-first offense barely broke 200 yards, and though quarterback Alex Smith completed 15-of-20 passes, the pass total came to 124, and they failed on 12 of 13 third downs.

At the same time, the defense limited Seattle to 219 yards, with 55 coming on their last touchdown. Take that play away, and Seattle would have finished with 100 passing yards, remarkable for a team so leaky in coverage a year ago.

But it’s too early to say the 49ers' defense is developing into a dominating force.

So when does a team know what kind of team it is?

"That goes through the entire year," 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman said. "All year. It never stops. Every defense plays you a little different. There’s a blitzing team, a coverage team, a Tampa-2 team, a 4-3, a 3-4, a zone team. So for every player during the year, you get to see how he reacts. Some weeks he has really tough matchups, some weeks it goes to other player. It takes time to get a feel how the entire group matches up with the team you’re playing. It’s constantly evolving."

Sunday's game at Candlestick Park against Dallas portends to be a crucial match for both. The Cowboys are coming off a difficult 27-24 loss to the New York Jets.

"They’ll come looking for blood," 49ers receiver Braylon Edwards said. The 49ers, in turn, have a chance to prove to the rest of the league that they’re ready to play to their talent level.

From my time in the 49ers' training facility, here are six things to watch for in Sunday's game against Dallas.

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