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49ers-Cowboys preview: The Dallas run defense could be the key to an upset

The 49ers and Cowboys square off in Week 7. We chatted with Blogging The Boys in preparation for Sunday’s matchup.

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New York Giants vs Dallas Cowboys Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The San Francisco 49ers host the Dallas Cowboys this weekend, and it marks a big step forward in the C.J. Beathard “era.” Kyle Shanahan benched Brian Hoyer during last Sunday’s game, giving Beathard 2+ quarters of opportunity. After the game, Shanahan said Beathard had shown enough to claim the start job, and accordingly will start on Sunday vs. the Cowboys.

The 49ers face a Cowboys defense that has been struggling in a big way. Football Outsiders ranks Dallas No. 30 overall, and No. 23 and 32 against the pass and run, respectively. FO ranks the Dallas’ defensive front No. 12 in pass rush, but No. 29 against the run. Pro Football Focus ranks the Cowboys defense No. 25 in their grading system.

All of this is to say, the 49ers might have an edge in this one, if they can take advantage of it. We took a few minutes to chat with Dave Halprin from Blogging The Boys, and naturally I wanted to hear about the defense. The Cowboys offense will present a sizable challenge to the 49ers, but if San Francisco is going to spring the upset, it will likely be due to their offense finding some consistency.

Beathard will need to avoid mistakes, but it could be on the ground game to keep this thing close. Dave focused on the struggles of the ground game, and while they are getting some players back, it remains a weakness to exploit. Here’s what Dave had to say.

In my opinion, the Cowboys are suffering from the lack of quality linebackers, along with a soft interior defensive line in the running game. The biggest deal has been the absence of Sean Lee over the past two games. Besides the total breakdown of the whole team against the Broncos, the defense was playing pretty well to start the season. They only gave up three points to the Giants in the first game, and limited the Cardinals to 17 points in the third game. Then Lee injured his hamstring and the floodgates opened with two 35 point games to the Rams and the Packers.

The Cowboys were very stingy against the run last year. This year, they have been bad. In addition to Sean Lee missing two games, Anthony Hitchens, who was supposed to be the starting middle linebacker, fractured his tibia in preseason and only returned in the last game. In their absence Jaylon Smith has been asked to handle a lot, and he's just not ready yet. His recovery from a gruesome knee injury to return to the field is an inspiring story, but he just doesn't have the lateral movement he needs right now. He has been picked on in the short passing game and he's been unable to fill the lanes in the running game like he needs to. Other linebackers like Justin Durant and Damien Wilson have also struggled.

Additionally, the Cowboys 1-tech defensive tackle Stephen Paea just retired mid-season because his knee problem was just getting worse and worse, and his level of play was dropping. The Cowboys didn't have a quality backup there, especially since David Irving was suspended for four games, and even then his specialty is pass rush. You put all of that together and the Cowboys haven't been able to stop the run recently, and that is putting them behind the chains and in bad positions. Offenses were having their way with them. Fortunately for Dallas, it looks like Sean Lee is returning this week, Anthony Hitchens is getting healthy and David Irving is getting back into the groove. They may just be a little better going forward.