The Dallas Cowboys host the SanFrancisco 49ers this Sunday to kick off their season, a true test against one of the best rushing attacks in the NFL. That makes shutting down Frank Gore and the rest of the ground game key to victory for the Cowboys. Gore has rushed for at least 1,100 yards and eight touchdowns the last three seasons. And with capable fill-ins like Kendall Hunter and rookie Carlos Hyde, forcing the 49ers to throw the ball is crucial.
Yes, it does sound odd to say the Cowboys need to force a team to pass against them to win. The defense allowed 286.8 passing yards per game last season and managed the fourth-fewest quarterback sacks (34). But that is imperative to Dallas coming away with a victory in Week 1. The team must force Colin Kaepernick to beat them with his arm, not his legs or anybody else’s for that matter.
Kaepernick’s winning percentage since becoming the starting quarterback is in large part due to his team’s defense and running backs. The 49ers finished 12-4 last season and made it to the NFC Championship game with the NFL’s fifth-best defense and third-best running attack.
On the other hand, Kaepernick finished with a 58.4 completion percentage, 21 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He did not throw for more than 200 yards in ten starts last year and had more than 300 yards just twice. The 26-year-old even finished one game with just 91 yards through the air.
Kaepernick has shown flashes of greatness and is capable of beating the Cowboys this Sunday. However, his track record as one of the elite in a quarterback-driven league is still unproven. Dallas must take advantage of that by stacking the box and stuffing the run. And with Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr back and healthy, the home team should like their chances against Kaepernick.
Michael Crabtree is listed as questionable and his absence would give the Cowboys a greater chance against the pass. Although San Francisco would still have Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis, not having another receiver of Crabtree’s caliber could prove to be a difference in this game.
No matter what, any offense has a chance of being successful against the Cowboys. However, if Dallas can eliminate one facet of the 49ers’ game plan, it could end in a winning start to the 2014 season.
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