FRISCO, Texas – If you've been following this team throughout the week, I think you'd agree that most of the outside focus has not been on the actual matchup in San Francisco this weekend.
That's understandable, given all the confusion about Dez Bryant's injury this week. At some point, though, it becomes time to settle in and start getting ready for a game. The Cowboys obviously have their attention turned inward, as Jason Garrett likes to say.
As for the rest of us, here's my weekly primer on what I'm looking for when Dallas and San Francisco kick off on Sunday afternoon -- starting with Dez himself:
- I do not see Dez Bryant or Tyron Smith playing against the 49ers. Bryant needs time to heal both mentally and physically after a difficult week. Smith has made progress but it has come along slowly, which makes him a better candidate to return against the Bengals next week.
- With how the 49ers play their front seven on defense, they will present a huge test for Dak Prescott. I like what they have done through the draft by adding young players like DeForest Buckner and Ronald Blair – not to mention the presence of veterans Ahmad Brooks and NaVorro Bowman. As difficult as it has been for opponents to confuse and rattle Prescott, look for Jim O'Neil to throw some blitz packages at him that involve his linebackers and secondary in order to make Prescott feel uncomfortable. In talking to several players this week, there were some concerns with the way that the 49ers were able to hide their coverages and how that would affect Prescott. Scheme-wise I believe this will be the best defense the Cowboys will have faced at this point in the season.
- Likely for Orlando Scandrick to return to the lineup against the 49ers. Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr will continue to be the starters on the outside while Scandrick will be in the nickel role. Give credit to associate athletic trainer and director of rehabilitation Britt Brown for tailoring a program for Scandrick that allowed him to return much quicker than some initially believed he might.
- Looking for a matchup that the Cowboys offensively have a big advantage in? Cole Beasley working against Chris Davis, who lines up as the 49ers' nickel back. Davis doesn't have the quickness nor the ability to stay with Beasley while in route. I envision another high target game for Beasley much like we saw against the New York Giants.
- I know this will sound funny, but I worry more about Blaine Gabbert running the ball than I do throwing it in this game. What I have noticed about Gabbert, is that he is not afraid to pull the ball down at any point in the drive and just take off with it. Pressure will force him to scramble but what makes him unique is that he has a feel for how to escape it. The 49ers as an offensive line don't allow many sacks and the primary reason why is Blaine Gabbert's ability to run.
- My gut tells me that this is the game where we could see the Cowboys' punt return unit make something happen. The 49ers are one of the worst groups in the league when it comes to defending punt returners. Lucky Whitehead and Cole Beasley haven't exactly been special this year, but I do remember of seeing flashes of Whitehead's ability last season when given solid blocking and some open field. Look for Lucky Whitehead to swing the game the Cowboys' direction with some timely returns.
- Ryan Davis took only eight snaps against the Bears last week and the majority of them were quality. Davis started out working mainly on the left side, but he appears to have some ability as an edge rusher off that right side. It would be easy for whoever goes off that side because of the matchup with Joe Staley. I expect that we will see a rotation of Jack Crawford, Benson Mayowa and Davis taking shots at Staley and whichever one has the most success will be the one that will take that role as the nickel rusher. I could also see Crawford move inside at tackle while Mayowa or Davis are on the field.
- My guess at the Cowboys Inactives for the 49ers game: Tony Romo, Darius Jackson, Kavon Frazier, Mark Nzeocha, La'el Collins, Tyron Smith and Dez Bryant.