Momentum shifts ahead of 49ers-Cowboys tilt
The start of the 2016 season looked promising for the San Francisco 49ers as they opened up at Levi's Stadium with a huge win over a NFC West opponent, the Los Angeles Rams. The Dallas Cowboys entered the season missing their leader on offense, quarterback Tony Romo, and started two rookies in the offensive backfield. Then Dallas lost to NFC East rivals, the New York Giants, at home in the season opener.
How quickly momentum shifts in the NFL. Entering Week 4, the Cowboys head to the Bay area on a high to take on the 49ers in a late afternoon start. The Cowboys are riding a two-game win streak while the 49ers fortunes haven't been as good. San Francisco enters this contest on a two-game losing streak and issues at the quarterback position. The 49ers are 30th in passing yards per game (175.3) and only 16 of 46 on third downs, which equates to 34.8 percent.
Said 49ers head coach Chip Kelly, "I characterize the offense as OK. We need to convert. We had eight shots at third-and-five or less that we need to convert on third down so we can stay on the field and continue to keep drives alive.
"Three of those (eight) were runs. You've got to be able to pick it up when it's third-and-two and third-and-three and be able to run the football to be successful in this league, and we're not doing it on a consistent basis right now."
Fans and media of the 49ers are wondering why, with current starter Blaine Gabbert's issues at quarterback, quarterback Colin Kaepernick isn't getting a chance to play.
"Everyone wants to know why Kap isn't our No. 1," Kelly said. "I don't think Kap is 100 percent right now; that's what I'm saying. I don't think he's ready to go full time. Kap will be the first to tell you. His playing weight has been around 225 (pounds), and he's not at that right now. So he's going out there and continuing to work, continuing to get better."
The Cowboys put the 2016 offense in the hands of rookie quarterback Dak Prescott and rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott. There was tons of uncertainty heading into the season on if the youngsters could handle the load. But both players had the trust of the Cowboys front office and coaching staff. Confidence in that move has paid off tenfold for head coach Jason Garrett.
Said Garrett, "We haven't just put the handcuffs on him (Prescott), if you will. We just let him play, and he's done a good job handling that work. He's seen a lot of different fronts, a lot of different covers, a lot of different pressures. The guys who can process that and see what they need to see and go through the progressions and make good decisions are the ones who play best regardless of how old you are and how many games you've played."
Prescott continues to grow as a player and a leader. The Mississippi State product has not thrown an interception in any of his first three starts. That stat line reads 99 passes to zero interceptions. Only fellow rookie signal-caller for the Philadelphia Eagles, Carson Wentz, has a longer streak at 102. The fourth-round rookie quarterback has passed for 767 yards, completing 66.7 percent of his passes.
Elliott hasn't had the hot start most fans thought he might, but the Ohio State Buckeye product has rushed for 274 yards and two touchdowns. His pass blocking and blitz pickup has been impressive though. That blocking will need to stay sharp as the Cowboys enter the 49ers game without starting left guard La'el Collins. The second-year pro has a torn ligament in his big right toe and is out an extended period of time.
A positive for the banged-up Dallas offensive line is the return of left tackle Tyron Smith. The Pro-Bowl player missed the win over the Chicago Bears with a back issue. His return will lessen the loss of Collins. The Cowboys will need Smith to play at a high level because he will be matched up at times against outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks.
Brooks took over third place on the 49ers' all-time sack list when he raised his career total to 47.5 with a sack against the Seahawks. Brooks still trails defensive tackle Bryant Young (89.5) and Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive end Charles Haley (66.5).
While the rookies for the Cowboys have shined, wide receiver Dez Bryant only has 11 catches for 150 yards. Those numbers may stay the same for a while. Reports out of Dallas are that the Pro Bowl player has a hairline fracture in his right knee. His status against the 49ers is uncertain.
Updated September 28, 2016