The San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys get reacquainted on Sunday, in their first matchup since Dallas won at Candlestick back in 2011. We took a few minutes to chat with Blogging The Boys about their beloved Cowboys.
Niners Nation: The Cowboys defense is getting crushed by pretty much everybody. What are the strengths of it, and how strong exactly would they be?
Blogging The Boys: It's just really hard to say how the Cowboys defense will play this year. I don't think anybody expects they will be a good, top-level defense; the question is can they just be average or not really bad. You would think the cornerbacks would be a strength. Brandon Carr was a big-time free agent and in the past has shown he can have really good games. Last year, especially later in the year, it fell apart for him. Morris Claiborne is a high draft pick who is supposed to be good, but he's been injured and very inconsistent so far. Orlando Scandrick has actually played the best of the bunch, but he's suspended. The Cowboys two top corners have the potential to be good, but will it show?
At defensive end, George Selvie came in and played the strong side and was a big surprise. He ended up with seven sacks and solid play all year long. He'll line up next to free agent defensive tackle Henry Melton, who if healthy and not too rusty after recovering from an ACL and other nagging injuries, could be a real force in the middle. Finally, the wild card, Rolando McClain at middle linebacker. Is he back? He has the talent, but is his mind ready to play at a high level again. As you can see, lots of ifs for the Cowboys defense.
NN: What kind of balance will we see on offense? The 49ers have all kinds of passing and rushing talent, but they seem like a team destined to focus on the pass.
BTB: I think most Cowboys fans would like to see a little more balance on the Cowboys offense; the team has been really pass-focused in recent seasons, sometimes to their detriment. I think the team would like to run more for a few reasons. One is the obvious, DeMarco Murray is a dangerous back with a high YPA, so use him. The second is a good run game sets up good play-action fakes, something that works well for Dallas even if they don't do it enough. Running the ball successfully would lessen the danger you put Tony Romo in by dropping back to pass all the time. And finally, if you're leading a game in the second half, try to kill some clock with the run game. We might have won a few more games last year if we had successfully done that. The Cowboys are still likely to be slanted towards the passing game, but they should certainly try to balance that out more this season. In the preseason, they did do that. Now the question is will it carry over?
NN: Are there any injuries 49ers fans should be aware of?
BTB: The Cowboys are actually as healthy as they have been for a while. Starting defensive end George Selvie has a shoulder issue but expects to play. Same with corner Morris Claiborne. Terrell McClain, who is supposed to be part of the rotation at the 1-technique on the d-line, is likely to miss the game. #2 wide receiver Terrance Williams sat out Thursday's practice with a back problem but will play. Rookie right guard Zack Martin has a foot injury but it's not serious. As long as Selvie and Claiborne play as expected, the Cowboys are pretty healthy.
NN: Who is new to the Cowboys that you're excited about, and who left that gives you worries?
BTB: Henry Melton is the guy I'm most excited about. If he can regain the form he had with the Bears, then he will be the disruptive force we need in the middle of the defensive line at the 3-tech. In Rod Marinelli's defense you need a very good 3-tech and hopefully Melton will be that. I'm also interested to see how Rolando McClain performs, he has the physical skills but can he translate it into good play? On offense, rookie guard Zack Martin already looks very good, like a seasoned vet, the offensive line is pretty solid now.
As for who left, obviously DeMarcus Ware. Even though he had had a couple of injury-plagued seasons where his stats were down, and he's aging, he's still DeMarcus Ware, sad to see him go. He is one of the all-time greats but I'm just not sure if he was built to be a hands-down end in a 4-3, something the Cowboys started running last year. His career my take an upward spike in Denver. Also, Jason Hatcher left, he had a fantastic 2013 season. The hope is Henry Melton will cover for him. And two guys who didn't leave but are injured. Sean Lee is one of the best when healthy, but he's out all year. Also, second-round rookie DeMarcus Lawrence was supposed to add a pass rush to our defense, but he fractured his foot and is out until midseason.
NN: Jason Garrett seems to be perpetually on the hot seat. Will he last the season? What would you say are his strengths as a coach?
BTB: There is a certain amount of pressure on Garrett this season, but I think he could still survive not making the playoffs as long as the team doesn't totally bottom out. Jerry Jones has come out and said that, but Jerry can change his mind at a moment's notice, so you can't totally rely on that. Some of the tings that Garrett has done in the positive column is he's made player accountability a big thing. Things had gotten kind of loose under Wade Phillips and Garrett has added more discipline to how the team goes about practice and games. He's also helped turn over the roster, which is now one of the youngest in the league while simultaneously keeping the Cowboys in playoff contention each year. He's trying to set a long-term foundation for success by creating a disciplined culture combined with drafting what he considers "the right kind of guys". Whether he'll be around long enough to see it pay off is the big question.
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