3 keys to beating the Cowboys in Week 7
After losing their last five successive games by a combined 13 points, setting an unwanted NFL record in the process, how sweet would it be for the San Francisco 49ers to get their first win of 2017 against the old enemy, the Dallas Cowboys?
But let's be realistic for a second, a lot needs to happen for the Niners to pull off an upset and significantly dent the Cowboys' playoff hopes, particularly with rookie quarterback C.J. Beathard making his first start.
So, going into Sunday's contest, what should be top of Kyle Shanahan's list of priorities? Here we look at the three keys to victory for the 49ers.
Stop the short passing game
The Washington Redskins found out last week that it can be tough to run on this young Niners defense. Washington averaged just 2.8 yards per carry in Week 6 and, should San Francisco maintain that stout form, Ezekiel Elliott may find it difficult to create yards on the ground.
As one of the better receiving running backs in the game, Elliott should still be able to enjoy success if the Niners cannot shut down the short passing game.
Washington's Chris Thompson shredded the Niners for 105 yards and four catches, and San Francisco heads into Week 7 ranked 30th at defending running backs in the passing game, according to Football Outsiders.
The reintroduction of the incredibly athletic Reuben Foster at linebacker should aid the Niners' cause in that area. But, if the 49ers cannot stop Elliott getting the ball in his hands as a receiver, then it could be a long day for the defense.
Get the running game going again
Though Carlos Hyde had two touchdowns on the ground last week, San Francisco had only 85 yards rushing in Washington, following on from a game against the Indianapolis Colts in which they put up just 66 yards on the ground.
With Dallas ranked last in run defense DVOA by Football Outsiders, this is the perfect opportunity for Hyde and Matt Breida to get the ground game back on track.
And it is imperative they do so to take much off the burden off Beathard, who will be looking to build on the flashes he displayed in the narrow 26-24 loss to Washington.
The Cowboys will likely try to ramp up the pressure on the third-round pick, and a successful running game will be key to slowing down the pass rush and allowing Beathard to get on the move through play-action and roll-outs, the former Iowa signal-caller having shown an ability to make plays on the run.
Have the secondary deliver a season-best showing
Though it has not always been easy to run on San Francisco in 2017, for too long opposing offenses have had little problem passing on the 49ers defense.
The Niners are giving up 262.3 passing yards per game this season, good for 26th in the league, and the secondary figures to have its hands full against a Dallas offense boasting plenty of weapons.
Dez Bryant missed the Cowboys' 24-17 Week 4 win over San Francisco last year but will feature on Sunday and should provide a significant challenge for a corner in Rashard Robinson who has played very well the last three weeks.
Cole Beasley, whose 47-yard reception iced that 2016 contest, will give K'Waun Williams a similarly daunting challenge in the slot while future Hall of Famer Jason Witten should also be a focus of a defense ranked first in the league in defending tight ends by Football Outsiders.
Though the Cowboys lost their last two games, their offense had evidently found their groove again before the bye, topping 30 points against the Los Angeles Rams and Green Bay Packers, and if San Francisco is to stymie that attack and emerge victorious, then the secondary will need to produce its best performance of the season.