This offseason has seen plenty of people talking about how the 49ers defense is in trouble without NaVorro Bowman and Aldon Smith. When Aldon Smith's suspension was handed down, the discussion went into overdrive, with the national media convinced the 49ers defense is in line for a fairly significant regression.
It is entirely possible the 49ers defense could suffer setbacks with the new players. We know that these players have specific talents, but we do not know how they will come together. This is particularly true in the early going without Smith and Bowman, and potentially McDonald at some point. Dan Skuta and Corey Lemonier will be the primary replacements for Smith. Michael Wilhoite will get the start for Bowman. If McDonald is deactivated or does not play at some point, he could be replaced by some combination of Tony Jerod-Eddie, Demarcus Dobbs, Tank Carradine, and Quinton Dial.
The 49ers head into Dallas this weekend for a matchup against the high powered Cowboys offense. The Dallas defense may be awful, but that offense is no joke. Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, and Jason Witten are the big names in the passing game, but wide receiver Terrance Williams is a guy to watch. DeMarco Murray can do big things in the run game, but I have a hunch we see them attack the 49ers through the air a bit more. This is not a shock for the Cowboys, but I see it even more so given the questions surrounding the pass rush and the secondary. Again, the talent is there, but we don't know how the 49ers defense will come together.
User nickbradley took a look at potential shootouts, and he had the 49ers looking at a decent number of potentially high scoring games. This Sunday will not give us any final answers about this defense, but it will start to give us an idea of what the first nine games could bring. Really, the 49ers first two games against the Cowboys and Bears will tell us a lot. There will be other games as well, but the Cowboys and Bears are certain to bring big passing attacks. If the 49ers can come out of that in decent shape, and potentially 2-0, it bodes well the rest of the way.
Of course, it also depends on how the 49ers offense can respond if the defense does struggle. The 49ers have the weapons to engage in a shootout, but I think it's safe to say Harbaugh and Roman would prefer to focus on controlling the clock, and handling business without getting too crazy. If the 49ers offense does well against the Cowboys, that's certainly good, but it does not tell us as much as if the 49ers offense struggles against the weak Cowboys defense.