Faithful, five straight losses by 13 points. As painful as that sounds, it’ll benefit us in April. The best way to look at our record is that we’re competing and showing multiple building blocks. Here are my five matchups to watch during this classic rivalry that dates back to the 70s. The series is currently tied 17-17-1.
5. C.J. Beathard vs. Cowboys D
The 49ers have a new quarterback under center. C.J. Beathard will make his first career start this Sunday versus the Cowboys. Beathard took over for the offense after Brian Hoyer failed to deliver any life through 18 snaps. Beathard finished with an overall grade of 42.2, per PFF. Even though that’s a tough final game grade. He did finish with a passer rating of 89.9 on deep throws (that’s a huge area this offense was lacking).
The Cowboys defense ranks 10th overall and their secondary is giving up 221.8 passing yards per game. Beathard won’t have a huge day in the air, but he’ll have a fair share of opportunities. The Cowboys have only generated two interceptions through five weeks (they were on a bye last week), so I don’t foresee him giving the ball away. If the receiving core can create separation down the field then his stat sheet will be different, but until they can prove that I expect an average day at work for Beathard finishing with 185 yards passing and a touchdown.
4. DeMarcus Lawrence vs. 49ers OL
Lawrence is wreaking havok from the defensive end spot. He leads the league in sacks (8.5) and has the highest pressure percentage (20.3) among the respective sack leaders. RT Trent Brown will have his work cut out for him. If Brown can limit Lawrence, he’ll solidify his offseason hype as one of the league's best tackles.
3. Solomon Thomas vs. Tyron Smith
The Cowboys left tackle is coming off a solid game versus the Packers in week 5. On the flip side, Solomon Thomas is coming off his best game as a Niner. The third overall pick was dominant against the run last week. He had a league-high four stops in the run game and ranks 4th among 4-3 defensive ends since week 2 with nine total run stops. Thomas will have a chance to prove that he was worth a top 3 pick on Sunday.
2. Ezekiel Elliott vs. 49ers LBs
My prediction for this matchup is based on LB Reuben Foster playing. This matchup with also be the deciding factor for the game. Zeke is has produced 77.3 percent of his yards after contact (which ranks fifth among RBs with at least 55 carries). LBs Ray-Ray Armstrong and Brock Coyle have struggled with wrapping up defenders on initial contact. As I mentioned, I expect Foster to suit up on Sunday and he’ll provide a much needed spark to this linebacking core. Reuben Foster versus Ezekiel Elliott will be a fun matchup to watch if he’s cleared to play.
1. Kyle Shanahan’s play-calling
Yes. That’s right. If Kyle Shanahan wants to win this game he’ll need to keep the Cowboys trio of talent off the field. As long as Dak Prescott, Dez Bryant, and Ezekiel Elliott are sideline spectators for the majority of this game. The 49ers can send the Cowboys back to Dallas with an L. Shanahan will need to combine long drives and points to bring this team their first victory of 2017 and winning the time of possession is the key to doing that.