49ers Preview: Week 7 vs. Cowboys

C.J. Beathard will make his first start as the quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers against the old enemy, the Dallas Cowboys.

So, no pressure rook.

Beathard was named the starter after leading the 49ers from 17–0 down against the Washington Redskins, finishing with 245 yards, a touchdown and an interception as San Francisco’s rally fell short in a 26–24 defeat.

That loss was the Niners fifth successive defeat by three points, marking an NFL record, and left San Francisco still waiting for a first win under Kyle Shanahan.

The Cowboys come into the game following a bye week and with the bad taste of defeats to the Green Bay Packers and Los Angeles Rams still in their mouths.

Dallas needs to get back to winning ways to avoid falling behind the surging Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC East and the Cowboys will have star running back Ezekiel Elliott at their disposal as his on-off suspension saga rumbles on.

Elliott’s performance against a young Niners defense that is set to get rookie linebacker Reuben Foster back will obviously be key in deciding the outcome of this game, which will serve as another good barometer of how San Francisco is progressing, with last season’s meeting between the two having been decided by just a touchdown.

Keys to the Game

It will be intriguing to see if Beathard can be as effective now the Cowboys have tape on him but, should he post another decent performance, then he will likely have a lot of opportunities to move the ball against a vulnerable Cowboys defense.

Dallas is ranked 30th in the league in defensive DVOA by Football Outsiders. The Cowboys are 23rd in pass defense DVOA and last in run defense DVOA.

The Cowboys actually held both Jared Goff and Aaron Rodgers under 300 yards in their last two defeats, but their secondary is inexperienced and has rookie Jourdan Lewis starting at corner, though the former Michigan man has steadily displayed signs of improvement.

Football Outsiders ranks Dallas last in defending running backs in the pass game and 29th against tight ends, so look for Carlos Hyde and Matt Breida to receive plenty of looks through the air as well as on the ground, while George Kittle should also be featured heavily in the Niners’ gameplan.

Perhaps the most pressing issue for the 49ers will be stopping a Dallas offense that looks to have found its groove in recent weeks, the Cowboys topping 30 points in each of the last two games.

To do so, the Niners will need to maintain their strong play against the run without Arik Armstead, who is out for four to six weeks with a broken hand.

San Francisco is ranked 13th versus the run by Football Outsiders and is giving up just 3.6 yards per carry in 2017.

But, even if Elliott is held in check on the ground, Dallas will be confident of getting him in the game via the short passing game, which San Francisco has had nightmares trying to stop, as running back Chris Thompson’s 100-yard receiving game for Washington last week demonstrated.

Foster’s return may help the Niners in that area but, with the first-round pick likely to be on a pitch count and the Cowboys also boasting an excellent slot receiver in Cole Beasley and a future Hall of Fame tight end in Jason Witten as well as Elliott, it would be no surprise to see plenty of three-safety looks with Eric Reid and Jaquiski Tartt down in the box after Ray-Ray Armstrong and Brock Coyle struggled in Week 6.

Prediction

In an incredible alternate universe, a few bounces of the ball went the other way and the Niners are 5–1. In this one, though, it is tough to pick them to win until it actually happens. It would be nice to finally put any mention of 0–16 to bed, but the agony may well continue with yet another close loss.