*WHAT: Dallas Cowboys (0-1) at San Francisco 49ers (1-0)
WHEN: Sunday, 3:05 p.m. (CT)
WHERE: Candlestick Park, San Francisco, Calif.
TELEVISION: Fox Sports (Tom Brennaman, Brian Billick and Laura Okmin)
Josh: I think the game comes down to Rob Ryan and Jim Harbaugh, which I guess is an acceptable answer here, no? Harbaugh's hands are really tied with Alex Smith at quarterback. He'll try to help him play error-free. Either Ryan schemes up some things that force Smith to make mistakes, or the 49ers will try to ride the running game and sit back waiting for Tony Romo to make one.
Nick: One of the 49ers' high-motor guys is defensive end Justin Smith, the fourth-overall pick by the Bengals some 10 years ago. But Smith has developed into a quality 3-4 end and he'll give the Cowboys' left guard some problems this week. It might be the reason the club was considering playing veteran Derrick Dockery in place of rookie Bill Nagy, who is doubtful because of a neck injury. Smith had two sacks last week against Seattle, and tied a career-best with 8.5 last year. Whoever lines up opposite Smith, it will be a four-quarter war.
Rob: The Cowboys nearly won last week without a big game from Felix Jones, but his versatility as a runner, receiver and pass protector will be critical against a 49ers defense that can send Jets-like pressure. On the other side, San Francisco's Patrick Willis is one of the league's most disruptive inside linebackers – a sideline-to-sideline player who will try to limit Jones' impact.
- Don't Forget ...
Nick: Don't forget about the weather conditions. Yes, it's mid-September and the temperatures will be cozy in the 60s with bright sunshine. But this is a tricky stadium with a crosswind that will play a factor. Sometimes it's just not possible for David Buehler to get a touchback or for Mat McBriar to kick away from Ted Ginn Jr. The wind will be an issue in the kicking game and it's something rookie Dan Bailey, Buehler and McBriar will need to address in pregame.
- Cowboys Win If...
Nick: Turnovers are avoided. The Cowboys need to win the turnover battle. If they can find a way to protect the ball, particularly Tony Romo, then they should win this game. Preventing the 49ers from easy scores or short fields will force Alex Smith to win the game. I don't think he's good enough to do that.
Rob: I said it again last week and I might say it every week for emphasis: no turnovers. Jason Garrett is 5-4 as the Cowboys' head coach, and the four losses were by a combined 10 points. The games are that close. With or without an injured Dez Bryant, I don't think the Cowboys should be outscored by San Francisco unless they spot them points.
Josh: So long as they don't turn the ball over in the wrong situation, I think the Cowboys have the 49ers outclassed. It'll be tough for San Francisco to keep up with the Cowboys' offense, especially if Bryant is at full speed.
- 49ers Win If...
Rob: Their defense can get off the field enough to keep things fairly close, and if Ted Ginn can affect field position in the return game again – maybe not with two touchdowns, but at least favorable starting position for the offense. The 49ers can't expect Alex Smith to win the game by himself.
- Gut Feeling
Rob: The 49ers averaged 19.1 points last season. Last Sunday they had 19 points until Ginn's two return TDs late in the fourth quarter. Don't underestimate this San Francisco defense, but I do think the Cowboys can score somewhere in the 20s, particularly if Rob Ryan's group can force a turnover or two. The Cowboys should start next week's two-game home stand at 1-1.
Josh: I like the Cowboys to bounce back behind a flawless performance from Tony Romo. I think the disappointing ending last Sunday night, and the national scorn that followed it, will serve as great motivation for Romo, and he'll put up a pretty outstanding season. Think back to 2009, when he threw three picks in the opening of Cowboys Stadium, but played well for the rest of the year, really.
Nick: For some reason, I have a feeling this week's game will be an exact opposite from last Sunday. I have the sense San Francisco might get a fast start with the Cowboys experiencing a small hangover. Over the course of the game, the better team usually finds a way to win and although the records are opposite right now, I tend to think the 49ers will have a hard time continuing to score. I think the Cowboys will win, but will have to work for it.