The 49ers meet their old rival the Dallas Cowboys tonight in what many would view as the most important game of the preseason. Most teams roll out their starters through most of the first half, if not into the third quarter. For the 49ers, the potential Marvel Smith retirement will have people tuning in a little more to Barry Sims and Alex Boone's playing time. Speaking of which, I'll have more on that later today around lunch time.
In the meantime, with the old-school rivalry game going tonight, I had a chance to speak with Dave Halprin over at Blogging the Boys. Dave has been a part of SB Nation since early on and was instrumental in getting me going here at Niners Nation. Here's what Dave had to say about his Cowboys.
Fooch: I'm sure you've been talking about this all offseason, but now that TO is gone, what changes can we expect to see from the Cowboys in the passing game? Related to TO, do you think team chemistry as a whole automatically improves with TO gone or will it be wait and see?
BtB: Expect the Cowboys to try and spread the ball around to all their weapons in the passing game. That’s what they’ve been saying in the offseason and what they’ve been doing so far in preseason. TEs Jason Witten and Martellus Bennett will be involved, along with the running backs, especially Felix Jones. The Cowboys hope more balance in their passing attack will more than compensate for T.O.’s absence.
I think the team chemistry is improved so far, but the real test will be when things don’t go well in the regular season for a stretch of time; will the team pull together and work their way out of slumps and not blame each other? It wasn’t just T.O., we had a group of guys who were unhappy or complainers and got rid of most of them.
Fooch: I was hoping the 49ers would go after Igor Olshansky, but alas it was not to be. What kind of impact do you expect from Olshansky on the defensive line? Speaking of which, what's it like to have a real 3-4 defense? The 49ers have been supposedly implementing a 3-4 for much of the decade.
BtB: I’m a huge fan of the 3-4 defense. It feels like the Cowboys might have the key components in place this season on defense. We upgraded out secondary, especially safety which was a weak spot, in hopes that we’ll produce more turnovers this year. We led the league in sacks last season but didn’t get as many turnovers as you’d expect out of that. Igor Olshansky was signed to replace Chris Canty. He should be very good against the run, he has a history of that. If he can also put pressure on the QB, that will be a big upgrade.
Fooch: What do you guys expect from the running game this year? A lot of fantasy writers are projecting big things for Marion Barber, but then you've still got Felix Jones and Tashard Choice back there. Will it be RBBC or Barber getting the lion's share with Jones and Choice as clear-cut backups?
BtB: We couldn’t be more excited about our trio of running backs. We’ve got some serious talent in that group. If the Cowboys follow what they’ve shown in preseason so far, Marion Barber will be the starter but they will use Felix Jones pretty liberally in substitution. While Tashard Choice showed he had the talent last year to be a primary back, his spot in the rotation is third and will probably see significantly less touches then the other two. I think of it as a Barber/Jones starting duo, with Choice ready for mop-up duty, an occasional series and always ready in case of injury.
Fooch: Will you really be surprised when Andy Lee (a God among Men) knocks down the jumbotron with a booming punt?
BtB: Nothing surprises me anymore when it comes to the Cowboys.
Thanks again to Dave for taking the time to answer some of our questions.