The Cowboys picked up their first victory of the week before Sunday when Ezekiel Elliott received a temporary injunction from a New York federal court in the latest development in the running back’s on-again, off-again six-game suspension. For now, it means that Elliott will be on the field against San Francisco and should see plenty of work.
Dallas has lost three of its last four and it's probably because of a porous defense that has allowed 35 points or more three times already. The banged-up group has had trouble stopping the run, while Elliott had some success on the ground himself, albeit in close losses to the Rams and Packers. This takes pressure off of second-year quarterback Dak Prescott to have to win the game himself.
San Francisco is still looking for its first win of the season, but the 49ers have had plenty of chances to change that. They have lost three straight games by three points or less. They just finished a murderous road stretch where they played at Arizona, Indianapolis and Washington over a three-week stretch. In each of those contests, there were chances to win. The last one against the Redskins saw a quarterback change as first-year head coach Kyle Shanahan replaced veteran Brian Hoyer with rookie C.J. Beathard. As expected, Beathard made some mistakes, but also some good throws to wide receiver Pierre Garcon.
Coming off a bye week, focus shouldn't be an issue for the team out of the NFC East. The Cowboys do have a huge matchup in Washington next week, but this team needs wins and can't afford to look ahead. San Francisco meanwhile, better enjoy the comforts of home, because the 49ers head to Philadelphia next week. They do have a nice stretch of home games coming up though.
Dallas at San Francisco
Kickoff: Sunday, Oct. 22 at 4:05 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: Cowboys -6
Three Things to Watch
1. Young and old alike
As mentioned above, the Cowboys' defense is a vulnerable unit. This week, Dallas gets C.J. Beathard, who will be making his first career NFL start. The 49ers will have the week to install plays for him in practice so the game plan may look a little different then it did against Washington. In the backfield, San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan has said that he will give running backs Carlos Hyde (above, right) and Matt Breida early and then ride the hot hand the rest of the game. Hyde is the veteran, but Breida has given them spurts of solid play as well. It has been a pass-heavy approach over the last three games, all on the road, but that may not be the best strategy. Pierre Garcon had a great game last week against the Redskins, but he needs help. Two injuries to watch here are Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee and 49ers fullback Kyle Juszczyk, who each play a big role to their respective unit's success.
With such a young team, San Francisco could go in a bad direction with all of these close losses. The 49ers should see it as a positive that even with such a young team (and coaching staff for that matter), that they have been able to stay competitive and stay in games until the end. Of course, you could also see it as being very frustrating and deflating. One would hope that being in front of the home fans for this one will give this team a boost, especially if San Francisco can grab an early lead. Dallas, meanwhile, has had two weeks to hear how bad the defense has been and deal with all of the questions surrounding Ezekiel Elliott's status. Those watching practice this week said he was running angry so he could be fired up come Sunday. The bye week mitigates any disadvantage that the Cowboys would have coming to the West Coast.
3. Balanced play-calling
In four of their five games so far, Dallas has attempted more passes than runs. Last year, this was a rare occurrence as the team was able to run it on anyone and everyone. If I were head coach Jason Garrett, I would have spent the bye and this past week figuring out how to get back to the offensive balance that helped the Cowboys go 13-3 and claim the top seed in the NFC last season. San Francisco has thrown it more in all six games this season. Considering the 49ers are starting a rookie quarterback on Sunday, that's a good indication as to why this team is 0-6. Hyde is capable of running well and Breida is a nice change-of-pace option in the backfield. It appears that both teams would be better off if they opted for more balance and tried to wear the opposition down with time-consuming drives. We'll see if either takes that approach on Sunday.
This has been a crazy season so far with the underdogs barking loudly as of late. Unfortunately, this dog will be silent for at least another week as I think the Cowboys take care of business. The bye week gave them a chance to refresh themselves and get back to the ground game. Ezekiel Elliott runs for more than 100 yards and the Dallas defense turns C.J. Beathard over several times. There's not much to this one.
Prediction: Cowboys 28, 49ers 17
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.