Game breakdown: 49ers/Cowboys

Taking a look deep inside Sunday's game between the 49ers and Dallas Cowboys at Candlestick Park, with snapshot game details, series history, game plans, matchups to watch, injury impact, personnel updates and a look inside both camps before the battle between longtime NFC rivals.


KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:05 p.m. PT
SITE: Candlestick Park in San Francisco
SURFACE: Natural grass
RECORDS: 49ers 1-0, Cowboys 0-1
LAST WEEK: 49ers defeated Seattle Seahawks 33-17; Cowboys lost to New York Jets 27-24
TV: FOX (Thom Brennaman, Brian Billick, Laura Okmin)


SERIES HISTORY: 26th regular-season meeting. 49ers lead series, 14-9-1, but not counted in that tally are playoff games, where the Cowboys hold a 7-2 edge. The 1981 NFC title game between the two teams was an iconic game that featured "The Catch." Much of the drama has drained from this game, particularly during the 49ers' current eight-season playoff drought. The teams have only faced each other five times since 2000, but one of the contests included Terrell Owens' pose on the Dallas' star in 2000, which still stirs passions. Dallas won the last meeting 35-22 in 2008 and has won two straight and three of the last four in the series.

KEYS TO THE GAME: 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh has firmly stood behind QB Alex Smith, and the seventh-year player will get an opportunity to attack a very beat-up secondary. RB Frank Gore is the centerpiece of the offense, but the Jets averaged just 2.8 yards per carry against Dallas in Week 1. Cowboys QB Tony Romo made a pair of critical mistakes late against the Jets, but he was also constantly flushed out of the pocket behind a young offensive line. Dallas needs to establish better balance with the ground game before pushing the ball downfield.

FAST FACTS: The Cowboys are trying to avoid going 0-2 in consecutive seasons for the first time since 2000-01. ... The 49ers were 1-for-12 in third-down conversions last week.

BY THE NUMBERS: 8 -- The 49ers are one of eight teams who own the series advantage against the Cowboys. The others are Baltimore, Cleveland, Denver, Jacksonville, Miami, Oakland and St. Louis. 6 -- Number of times the Cowboys have faced the 49ers in the NFC Championship game.

QUOTES TO NOTE
"This may draw a little criticism, but I thought Tony played one of the best games I've ever seen him play. You can make a big case that the way he played for three quarters was how we got there at the end and looked like for sure we were going to get the win. But he played outstanding. (Romo) is one of the best assets we have to get us where we want to go. When you got somebody that can master it you got something special. He is close. Don't drop Romo. He's going to be our ticket." – Cowboys owner Jerry Jones on quarterback Tony Romo
"We're going to be dirty, muddy and stinky." – TE Delanie Walker when asked to preview the 49ers offense

49ERS GAME PLAN: The Jets shut down the Cowboys running game by covering up the center and both guards with defensive linemen. The 49ers might consider doing the same thing. Cowboys coach Jason Garrett admitted his young offensive line will go through "growing pains." They have two rookies in the lineup with left guard Bill Nagy and right tackle Tyron Smith. The Jets were able to sack quarterback Tony Romo four times. Facing two rookies on the Seattle line, the 49ers recorded five sacks without much blitzing. The 49ers could follow a similar strategy particularly because Romo is excellent at beating the blitz.

COWBOYS GAME PLAN: The Cowboys want to be more balanced and will try to force the run more against the 49ers. It's one reason they are considering making a change at left guard with Derrick Dockery in for rookie Bill Nagy. They will try to make plays down the field to big play receivers Dez Bryant and Miles Austin. Defensively the Cowboys must stop the run and force Alex Smith to beat them through the air.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH
--- 49ers OTs Anthony Davis and Joe Staley, who played well against Seahawks Chris Clemons last week, vs. Cowboys OLB DeMarcus Ware, who is one of the best pass rushers in the league. Ware typically goes to the side without the tight end, so expect the tight end to line up on the right so Ware is isolated against Staley, who's the better pass protector.
--- 49ers S Donte Whitner, who did a good job against Seattle's Zach Miller vs. Cowboys TE Jason Whitten, who caught six passes for 110 yards last week.
--- 49ers special teams, which sprung Ted Ginn Jr. for two scores last week vs. Cowboys special teams, which had a punt blocked last week. Ginn is the one to stop on the 49ers after returning a punt and kickoff for a touchdown in the season opener. The Cowboys will try to offset Ginn by using kickoff specialist David Buehler, who had 51 touchbacks last season and two in the season opener. The Jets averaged 19.5 yards on four kickoff returns and the Cowboys up just 4.3 yards a return on three punt returns.
--- 49ers RB Frank Gore vs. the Cowboys run defense. The Cowboys did a great job against the Jets in the season opener giving up just 2.8 yards per carry. But the Jets only ran the ball 15 times. The Cowboys were horrible against the run last season so they will need a bigger number of carries to see if they have fixed the problems. Given the issues the 49ers have at quarterback, the Cowboys will get a huge dose of Frank Gore on Sunday.

Inside the camps


COWBOYS

After starting 0-2 last year en route to a 1-7 record at the midpoint and a 6-10 finish, the Cowboys know they need to bounce back from their season-opening loss to the Jets with a win against the 49ers.

While it's a new year, old feelings die hard and the Cowboys don't need to get caught up in a "here we go again" mentality.

"We, as I said, had a chance to get a prize in New York (against the Jets)," owner Jerry Jones said. "We want to get by that and get it off and I'm probably the last one to get by it, but we have got to get it off our minds. Consequently we all know that based on what happened last year, we need to get a better start to be trite. That means we have to win a game, so it's important."

Said quarterback Tony Romo: "It's important. The story right now is obviously about the way the game finished last week. As we move on into the season, that will change, and it's up to us to go out and make a different story, and we're going to do that. This week, we're ready to go."

49ERS

Cornerback Carlos Rogers sent an urgent message to his girlfriend recently. He wanted all his notes on the Dallas Cowboys, a team he used to face twice a year as a member of the Washington Redskins. His girlfriend obliged with a FedEx package and Rogers has since been sharing his scribblings with his teammates.

The 49ers last faced the Cowboys on Nov. 23, 2008 and were humbled 35-22 in a game that was never close. Rogers hopes to impart some insight on Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, who torched the 49ers for 341 yards passing, three touchdowns and no interceptions that day.

Romo was again prolific in the Cowboys' heart-breaking 27-24 loss Sunday night to the Jets. He passed for 342 yards and two scores but fumbled on the Jets' 2-yard line and threw a late interception that led to the winning field goal.

"One thing we always said about him is that he will give us two chances," Rogers said of Romo. "The games that we won, when he gave us those two chances, we took advantage of them."

After his performance Sunday night, Romo faced the wrath of the angry Dallas faithful, so much so that owner Jerry Jones felt the need to publicly support his quarterback, as did many of the Cowboys' players. Romo appeared steely in his conference call with local San Francisco writers, not more than 20 hours after the loss to New York.

"I have to come out ... and make sure what happened last week won't happen again," he said. "And I'll do that."

Romo appears to be one of the best blitz-beating quarterbacks in the league and the 49ers hardly blitzed at all in the Seattle win. But Rogers believes you still have to go after the Dallas quarterback.

"If you put pressure on him and give him different looks, you have a chance," Rogers said.

Personnel news


COWBOYS

--- FB Tony Fiammetta was re-signed to the roster after the team cut WR Laurent Robinson. Fiammetta was cut last week because the Cowboys needed an extra receiver on the game for the season opener. But Robinson strained his hamstring in practice and couldn't play.

--- CB Frank Walker was signed to roster to shore up the injury-depleted cornerback position. He played with coach Jason Garrett on the Giants in 2003 and is considered a veteran who can come in and contribute immediately.

-- WR Dwayne Harris will likely take over as the primary punt returner because the team will limit Dez Bryant on returns to just special situations to prevent injury.

--- TE Martellus Bennett returned to practice Wednesday and will play against the 49ers after missing the final two preseason games and the season opener with a sprained ankle.

--- WR Dez Bryant missed practice earlier this week because of a quad strain. He is listed as day to day and is expected to play against the 49ers.

49ERS

---S Madieu Williams' hit on Seattle TE Anthony McCoy drew a personal foul penalty, but according to defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, the NFL deemed the hit legal. Williams leveled McCoy by striking him in the back with his shoulder. The referee said Williams struck McCoy in the head.

--- S Donte Whitner sent out a tweet last week about how he anticipated facing Seattle tight end Zach Miller. Then Whitner helped hold Miller to two catches for 19 yards. Whitner draws a stiff assignment with Cowboys TE Jason Whitten, who caught six passes for 110 yards in week one, but no tweet this week.

--- Former Cowboys S George Teague said in Dallas Cowboys Star magazine he gets constant congratulations for knocking former 49ers WR Terrell Owens off the Cowboys star at midfield. Owens infamously stood on the star in a Sept. 24, 2000 game after scoring a touchdown. "It's pretty much daily," Teague said of how often he's recognized for his deed.

--- OLB Parys Haralson could get more snaps as a down pass rusher. Haralson was only on base defensive downs last week, but nevertheless came up with two sacks.

--- QB Alex Smith is adhering to the new company-line about revealing as little as possible. Smith was asked if he calls two plays in the huddle. "I really don't want to get into specifics or game plans," he said. Smith is committed to running more. He did it seven times against Seattle and his ability to move out of the pocket allowed him to find TE Vernon Davis for a 27-yard completion.

--- ILB NaVorro Bowman was coveted by the Cowboys, who put a first-round grade on him two years ago. "It's funny you should say that," Bowman said. "I heard something about that." Bowman made six unassisted tackles and had two tackles for losses against Seattle.

--- WR Ted Ginn Jr. could do more from scrimmage and still be the team's main return man according to 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman. Ginn said he's hoping for more snaps from scrimmage this week.

--- WR Kyle Williams might also be active for the Cowboys should Michael Crabtree be sidelined. Williams was the team's best receiver in preseason and was inactive for Seattle.

--- CB Shawntae Spencer is going to have to work his way back into the starting lineup. He only played special teams against the Seahawks after missing all but two days of training camp with a strained hamstring.

--- G Chilo Rachal struggled in the opener after being the team's best linemen in the preseason.

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