The Dallas Cowboys are playing the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, and both organizations would like to walk away with a win. Just how they might accomplish that is the subject of today's collaborative post with 49ers blog Niners Nation. Or, more specifically, instead of focusing on why each team could win, we look at why each team might lose, the flip side of the coin. First Niners Nation proposes areas on offense and defense that could be the 49ers downfall. Blogging The Boys presents the same for the Cowboys.
The 49ers biggest concern on offense heading into Week 1 is their offensive line. They will have a new center, with Daniel Kilgore replacing veteran Jonathan Goodwin. It is entirely possible they will be playing with a new right side of the line due to injury and a holdout. Right guard Alex Boone returned earlier this week from his contract holdout, and there is no word yet on if he will even be active for Sunday's game. His replacement would be third year guard Joe Looney. Right tackle Anthony Davis is recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. He anticipated being back for Week 1, but he did not practice on Wednesday. If he cannot play, Jonathan Martin will get the start in his place.
Colin Kaepernick has all the weapons he could imagine, and while Michael Crabtree sat out Wednesday's practice, weapons should not be a significant question. The bigger question is how the right side of the offensive line will hold up. Well, that and Mike Iupati given his immense struggles against the San Diego Chargers in the preseason. If they hold up, Kap should have a field day against this defense. However, if they struggle, Kap could be forced into hurrying a bit more, which can lead to turnovers and some indecision. That is where the Cowboys defense could potentially find success.
Although the Cowboys have a great running back in DeMarco Murray, I have to imagine they will attack the 49ers secondary hard and heavy. The 49ers have talent in the defensive backfield, but they are rolling out a fairly new unit. Even with Antoine Bethea's veteran experience, these guys have not played against each other very much. The 49ers will roll out rookie Jimmie Ward at nickel back, and will have Chris Culliver at outside corner in his first action since Super Bowl 47 (torn ACL last year). I have to think the Cowboys attack those two as much as anybody. I think they can find success, but the Cowboys will test the fresh blood in this defense. It will be interesting to see who they maneuver into the slot against Ward.
That includes inside linebacker Michael Wilhoite. I imagine Patrick Willis gets the work covering tight end Jason Witten, but if the Cowboys are smart, they will figure out a way to attack Wilhoite with either Witten or their running backs. While Wilhoite is a serviceable replacement for NaVorro Bowman, he does not have the same athleticism as Willis or Bowman. The Cowboys offense can find success in many ways, but going after Wilhoite is one area they can potentially find some value.
The Cowboys hope that their offense will be the unit that really sets the pace for the team. They have plenty of weapons for Tony Romo to utilize and over the last few years have shown that they can put points on the board. The offensive line should be a strength with Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin, all recent first-round picks. Given all that's good on that side of the ball, they still have to worry about Tony Romo's health, until proven otherwise. Also, his lack of practice reps and preseason reps could leave a little rust on his game. So keeping him clean in the pocket, not taking too many hits and allowing him to settle into the game is crucial.
The weak links on the offensive line are right tackle Doug Free and the starting left guard, presumably Ron Leary. Those two need to be playing at a high level and working in unison with the rest of the line to make things happen. Whether it is establishing the run game with DeMarco Murray or hitting the 49ers through the air, the Cowboys need all of their offensive line to function well. Keeping Romo clean will be key, and Free and Leary need to make it happen.
Seriously, what is there not to worry about on the Cowboys defense? Everybody knows how bad they were last year, everybody knows DeMarcus Ware, Jason Hatcher and Sean Lee won't be suiting up for Dallas on Sunday. They have yet to establish any kind of serious pass rush in preseason, the linebackers are still being mixed and matched to find the starting three. Injuries and suspension are hurting the secondary. On paper, there is not much to hang your hat on for 2014. The hope is they will surprise people; there are guys coming back from injury and other guys from free agency and the draft who could be players. There are some reclamation projects going on they hope will pan out. But until proven otherwise, the defense as a whole is the Cowboys biggest issue right now.