49ers vs. Cowboys: Dallas' Game Plan and Why It Has a Chance for a Home Run

Clarence Hill@clarencehilljrFeatured ColumnistSeptember 5, 2014

Look for QB Tony Romo to feed RB DeMarco Murray, setting up big plays down the field to WR Dez Bryant
Look for QB Tony Romo to feed RB DeMarco Murray, setting up big plays down the field to WR Dez BryantRonald Martinez/Getty Images

Very few people think the Dallas Cowboys have a chance to win Sunday’s season opener against the San Francisco 49ers.

Such pessimists are like Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who admittedly says his team is entering the 2014 season with its back against the wall.

And when its the 49ers against which you're trying to start off your season with a win, it may as well be the Great Wall of China.

The 49ers are 41-14-1 the past three years under coach Jim Harbaugh, having won two division titles, two trips to the NFC title game and one trip to the Super Bowl. They are again one of the powerhouse teams in the NFC and considered the one with the best chance of dethroning division rival and defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks.

Contrast that with a Cowboys team that is 29-27 in four-and-a-half years under Jason Garrett, including three straight 8-8 season and four straight seasons missing the playoffs.

The Cowboys have done little to improve a defense that finished last in the league in 2013 and gave up the most yards in team history and the third most in NFL history.

It is little wonder no one is giving the Cowboys much of a chance.

But all they need is a chance. And like baseball's big bopper Dave Kingman of yesteryear and Adam Dunn of today, the Cowboys can offset the defensive strikeouts with a high-powered offense that is capable of hitting the home run.

Led by quarterback Tony Romo, receiver Dez Bryant, running back DeMarco Murray and a powerful offensive line that features three first-round picks, the Cowboys have the firepower to give the 49ers problems.

And while San Francisco’s success the past few years have featured one of the league’s top defenses, it’s heading into the season opener less than full strength. The 49ers will be without two defensive stalwarts in linebackers Aldon Smith (suspension) and Navorro Bowman (knee). They will also be without a key defensive lineman in tackle in Glenn Dorsey (torn bicep).

And they will feature an overhauled secondary after saying goodbye to three former starters this past offseason—cornerbacks Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers and safety Donte Whitner.

The team has confidence in their replacements: Tramaine Brock and Chris Culliver at cornerback and Antoine Bethea at safety will be counted on to contend with Bryant and a strong cast of Dallas receivers.

But still that’s a lot of turnover from a strong defense that ranked fifth overall last year, including third in scoring, fourth against the run and seventh against the pass.

So there is no better time than now for the Cowboys to catch the 49ers.

The Cowboys like their offense's chances of scoring against anyone. And a unit that finished fifth in scoring and 16th overall in 2013 is expected to be more precise and more potent this year behind new offensive play-caller Scott Linehan, who has history of getting the ball to his playmakers.

On Sunday look for the Cowboys pound the 49ers with the running game first. Murray rushed for the third most yards in the league last year over the final eight games, and the Cowboys plan to build on that momentum in 2014.

The strength of the offense is a powerful offensive line that added top pick Zack Martin at guard in this year's draft to go along with 2013 first-round pick, center Travis Frederick, and left tackle Tyron Smith, a 2011 first-round selection.

The Cowboys want to use the running game to take some pressure off Romo and his surgically repaired back. But appears to be 100 percent and ready to build on a most efficient 2013 season, which featured 31 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions.

Look for the Cowboys to use the running game to set up play action for shots downfield to Bryant, who along with Murray represent 1A and 1B of the team’s offensive philosophy under Linehan.

Bryant’s 25 touchdowns the past two years are the most for any receiver in the league, and his 40 touchdowns since coming into the league in 2010 are surpassed only by Detroit’s Calvin Johnson.

Linehan comes to Dallas after serving as Johnson’s offensive coordinator the last five years in Detroit where he made a habit of feeding his playmaker the ball and exploiting mismatches. He will do the same with Bryant in Dallas and that should start in the season opener against the 49ers and two somewhat inexperienced cornerbacks in Brock and Culver.

The key is using the run to set up the pass and keeping Romo upright. The absence of a premier pass-rusher like Smith on the other side of the ball should help the Cowboys.

Again the Cowboys readily acknowledge they have deficiencies on defense. They will be focused on stopping the run and putting quarterback Colin Kaepernick in unfavorable down-and-distance situations.

But they believe they can win this game with a ball-control attack that makes the most of its opportunities down the field.


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