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49ers - Cowboys: A "special" key to the game

Earlier this week, the folks at Blogging the Boys broke down some of the key matchups for this weekend.  Their difference maker matchup was special teams and specifically the 49ers return game versus the Cowboys kick off and punt coverage units. 

Last season the 49ers put together a solid special teams unit, but lacked a home run threat in the return game.  Maurice Hicks was decent but never really inspired fear.  That has changed this year with the addition of Allen Rossum.  Rossum is getting a little long in the tooth but he is currently having the best season of his career, with career highs in kick and punt return average.

Special teams can be the place a bad team hangs tough and even Maiocco pointed this out today in his look at the various matchups:

KR/PR Allen Rossum vs. Cowboys coverage units: If the 49ers hope to hang tough, they'll have to get a bunch of hidden yards in the return game from Rossum and Co. The 49ers rank sixth in the league in punt-return average and ninth in kickoff returns. The Cowboys' coverage units are 18th (punts) and 13th (kickoffs), so they will have their hands full against Rossum, who is having an outstanding season.

The traditional stats certainly show a 49ers advantage.  I'll even steal a page out of Florida Danny's book to show you an even greater disparity.  In their special teams rankings, Football Outsiders breaks down the kick and punt coverage, as well as the kick and punt return performance.  Overall the 49ers are currently ranked #1 in weighted special teams and the Cowboys are ranked 30th.  A breakdown of the coverage units versus the return units shows this is clearly a matchup the 49ers HAVE to exploit tomorrow.

Situation SF Rank Dal Rank
SF KR vs. Dal Kicking 3 32
SF PR vs. Dal Punting 9 27

If the 49ers are going to win tomorrow they obviously have to do a lot of things right.  However, all of this could be set up especially well by special teams.  If Allen Rossum can set the 49ers up in good field position, it makes life a lot easier for Shaun Hill and company.  The closer they are to the Dallas endzone, the fewer chances they need to take.  Of course Allen Rossum's punt return capabilities are predicated on the 49ers getting stops on third downs.  I make few guarantees in life, but if the 49ers pull the upset, it will be due in no small part to the return game Allen Rossum. 

Although they ended up losing to Arizona, it was Rossum's game-opening touchdown that sent the Cardinals staggering early on.  Something along those lines would certainly be much appreciated by 49ers fans.

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