Cowboys football is back! It always feels like an eternity having to wait for the next football game when going through the bye week. And it’s even worse when the team has lost it’s previous two games. It feels like forever since Cowboys fans have been able to enjoy a victory Monday. When the Cowboys take the field against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, it will be three days shy of a month since their last win.
But who cares about all that. It’s a new day and with it comes an opportunity to start a brand new winning streak. And what better opportunity to kick off that winning streak than facing off against a winless 49ers team. The Cowboys need this one in a big way as a breakdown in the bay would lead to some catastrophic headlines next week. Here are five things to keep an eye out this week against the 49ers.
1. Battle of the Buckeyes
With the news that Ezekiel Elliott will be suiting up for this game, this will pit two former Ohio State Buckeyes running backs against each other for the second time in as many years. Last year, the Cowboys won the battle of the ground game as Elliott had 138 yards rushing, whereas Carlos Hyde had only 74 yards. They both scored a touchdown.
Clearly, Zeke has a bigger advantage with a stronger offensive line and a more potent offense around him, but both teams are going to need to be effective running the ball to keep their quarterback in manageable situations. Hyde has struggled to get going this year, especially recently. He only has 39 yards rushing over the last two games. Last week, the 49ers abandoned the running game as they threw the ball 47 times. That’s exactly what the Cowboys want to happen again this week.
For Dallas, their running game has had their struggles as well. Elliott is getting the same workload he got last year, but his yards per carry have dropped from 5.1 to 3.7 so far this year. They started showing life in the fourth quarter against Green Bay and will be looking to keep pushing along in order to get back to their dominant running ways.
2. Rattle C.J. Beathard
The 49ers made a quarterback change mid-game against the Washington Redskins last week and it worked. Rookie C.J. Beathard sparked the 49ers offense as he helped them score 17 unanswered points to completely erase a 17-0 deficit. San Francisco actually had a chance to mount a game winning drive at the end of the fourth quarter, but came up short. Nonetheless, it was a valiant effort by the rookie.
Now, Beathard will get all the first team reps and be ready to go as he makes his first NFL start against the Cowboys. The question now becomes - can he bring new life to the 49ers offense or will he struggle? Certainly, there is an opportunity to find a rhythm and exploit a Cowboys pass defense that has struggled as of late. Let’s not rule that out. However, Beathard exhibited your typical rookie tendencies with some passes that were off and a couple ill-advised decisions. The Cowboys must take full advantage of these moments.
Whether the corners can jump a route, or the Cowboys pass rush can get in his grill, the defense must capitalize on their chances on Sunday. Beathard isn’t a standout, playmaking quarterback like Aaron Rodgers and let’s all hope the defense doesn’t make him look like one.
3. Can the Cowboys offense keep humming?
Despite losing two straight games, the Cowboys offense has been real efficient. In particular, they are almost unstoppable in the red zone. After some early season struggles, the Cowboys have completed flipped the script and are now one of the best red zone teams in the league. They find the end zone two-thirds of the time once they get inside the 20, which ranks them second in the league behind only Green Bay.
It is very important to not allow the 49ers to hang around in this game. While San Francisco is used to losing close games, Dallas has already had their fill of letting games get away from them in the second half. The Cowboys need to keep scoring touchdowns when they drive the ball into 49ers territory. Don’t leave things for chance to where something fluky could send the Cowboys home with an abysmal 2-4 record. Give fans a breather for a change and put some scoreboard separation between the Cowboys and 49ers.
4. Don’t let the former Redskins beat you
Most people are aware that Pierre Garcon left the Redskins and is now the 49ers top targeted receiver. He will be the WR that will demand the most attention from the Cowboys defense. However, there’s another former Redskin receiver that posses a threat as well. Aldrick Robinson played for Washington from 2012 -2014 and could be a problem if he finds space down the field.
With a rookie quarterback out there, we’re likely to see a lot of short passes and that is perfectly okay. Let Beathard show he can be consistent and convert third downs in order to give his team a chance to score. That’s the safe way to go. What the Cowboys want to avoid is those times when Beathard decides to take a chance and air it out. If the Cowboys don’t keep him contained and allow him to time to step up in the pocket, it could lead to some big plays for the 49ers offense.
5. Ryan Switzer gives us reason to cheer
The Cowboys invested a fourth-round pick for a playmaking punt returner to help the team shore up an area that struggled last season. And so far, things haven’t worked out as planned. Switzer has had a couple of good runs, but all fans remember was his muffed punt when he decided to make a return in heavy traffic. He was thirsty to make a big play and it clouded his judgment.
The kid has alligator blood and is ready to get back on that bicycle again, completely unfazed by his earlier miscue. But unfortunately, Switzer hasn’t had many chances to redeem himself. The Cowboys defense haven’t been forcing too many punts in recent weeks. Well, against the 49ers, he’s going to have some chances. Could this be the week that Switzer takes one to the house?
What will make this even more impressive is that he will get loose against the best punt coverage team in the NFL. The 49ers lead the league in allowing a league best 1.7 yards per return. On paper, this isn’t a favorable situation for Switz, but this kid is going to surprise us sometimes.
Those are the things I will be looking for in this game. What are some things that you will be watching for?