Dallas Cowboys vs. San Francisco 49ers Week 2 Preview: What to Watch for Dallas

Jonathan Bales@thecowboystimesAnalyst ISeptember 16, 2011

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - SEPTEMBER 11:  Defensive cordinator Rob Ryan (R) talks with his brother Rex Ryan (L) of the New York Jets prior to the Jets playing against the Cowboys during their NFL Season Opening Game at MetLife Stadium on September 11, 2011 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

Taking a look at some things to watch and DOs and DON’Ts for Dallas in its Week 2 matchup with the 49ers...

Will Rob Ryan continue to blitz on nearly every snap?

Last week, Ryan dialed up far more pressure than I anticipated.  The results were varied, with the Cowboys generating a fair amount of big plays, but allowing some as well (they did not give up the “home run,” however). 

All in all, I was impressed with the defense’s effort on Sunday night, particularly without the top three cornerbacks for much of the contest.  Let’s see if Ryan continues to blitz this week in San Francisco.

How effectively will Dez Bryant play?

Bryant will likely give it a go for Dallas, but his actual health is still not quite known.  He doesn’t have a serious injury that will nag him all season, but it could still hinder him this week.  We should know how the coaching staff feels about Bryant within the first quarter or so, depending on the number of targets he receives.  Both he and Miles Austin have prime matchups.

Will Jason Garrett run the ball more in the red zone?

Most fans clamor for Garrett to run the ball more at all times, but I actually think the overall pass rate should increase a bit.  Inside the 10-yard line, however, I’d like to see Garrett run the ball more often, particularly on first and second down.  In that range, the real estate available on which the offense can work is small enough that the advantages of passing the ball are minimized.

The Cowboys’ 2010 red zone success improved dramatically over that in 2009 due to smart play-calling from Garrett.  You can see my study on that here.  Expect the Cowboys to take advantage of the Niners’ weak cornerbacks to move the ball up the field, then rely on the power running game and Jason Witten to get the ball into the end zone.

Will David Buehler garner touchbacks?

As I said in my review of the Cowboys’ Week 1 game, Buehler’s value to this team is effectively nothing if he doesn’t consistently kick the ball into the back of the end zone.  A lot of his success this week might be determined by the wind.

How often will the 49ers test Alan Ball?

Orlando Scandrick and Terence Newman will be out again, meaning Ball will start opposite Mike Jenkins.  Even with Jenkins’ injuries, the 49ers figure to test Ball early and often.  Judging from last week’s effort, San Fran will probably run at him as well.

DOs and DON’Ts

DON’T let the play clock drop to one second too often.

Here’s the study on the Cowboys’ play clock woes.  It needs to be fixed.

DON’T respect any wide receiver except Braylon Edwards deep.

Even though Edwards hasn’t lived up to his potential in the NFL, he’s still a dynamic receiver who can beat you deep at any time.  I don’t think the 49ers can win unless they get multiple big plays, and only Edwards and Ted Ginn can really do that for them on offense. 

If the Cowboys play a lot of Cover 1 and roll the free safety to Edwards’ side, they should be fine.  That way, they can still blitz often.

DO put Sean Lee or Gerald Sensabaugh on Vernon Davis.

Keith Brooking or Bradie James on the stud tight end will be a problem.  Lee played magnificently in Week 1, and his primary objective this week should be containing Davis.

DON’T let Frank Gore get hot.

Gore is the obvious guy to stop this week.  He’s a talented player, but I don’t think it will be too difficult to limit his production if the Niners can’t pass the ball.  This will be all about pass protection–if San Francisco can protect Alex Smith and find even a little success through the air, it will open up things inside for Gore.

DO throw early and often.

Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown make up one of the league’s worst starting cornerback duos.  With Patrick Willis patrolling the middle of the field, I’d throw it outside quite a bit.

DO run right at Patrick Willis, but away from Justin Smith.

When Dallas does run the ball, they need to neutralize Willis.  The best way to do that is to make his speed and sideline-to-sideline ability a non-factor by running right at him.  They also need to steer clear of Smith, who is one of the top 3-4 defensive ends in the NFL.

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