IRVING, TX - AUGUST 26: Quaterback Tony Romo #9 of the Dallas Cowboys calls a play during a preseason game against the San Francisco 49ers on August 26, 2006 at Texas Stadium in Irving, Texas. The Cowboys won 17-7. (Photo by Layne Murdoch/Getty Images)
Dallas will look to build on a 30-10 drubbing of the Titans in the Cowboys Stadium opener last week as they welcome the San Francisco 49ers to town for the third, and historically the most entertaining, game on the preseason schedule.
The first team offense will be without Roy Williams, who hurt his shoulder in a collision with Orlando Scandrick in practice on Thursday. This may slow the team somewhat, but it also provides Miles Austin and Sam Hurd a golden opportunity, and outside of Williams, the unit is completely in tact. San Francisco's defense improved after Mike Singletary took over, installing a simple 3-4 last season, and the unit finished 13th in total defense. The 'Niners are solid but not spectacular up front, as they don't have a fear-inspiring pass rusher.
Likewise, San Francisco's secondary is a solid and experienced group, but they lack depth; a torn ACL suffered during a summer mini-camp will shelf Walt Harris for the season, leaving veteran Dre Bly to start opposite Nate Clements.
Dallas' defense will face an offensive front that surrendered a league-high 55 sacks last season, which seems to corroborate DeMarcus Ware's statement this week that he feels like he's "going to get to the quarterback regardless." The only offseason addition to the boys up front is Marvel Smith, who came over from Pittsburgh and will assume duties at right tackle.
All in all, this is an unremarkable group. Singletary razed the offensive coaching staff in the offseason, which included bringing in Jimmy Raye as the coordinator. Fullback Moran Norris, third-round draft pick Glenn Coffee and Frank Gore should make the run a more palpable weapon for San Francisco this year, in Singletary's system, which stresses the ground game.
With Michael Crabtree threatening to sit out the 2009 season, Isaac Bruce and Josh Morgan seem to be the 'Niners' greatest receiving threats. Bruce may be playing his last season though, and Morgan has yet to emerge as the kind of playmaker the coaching staff thought he was when they drafted him in 2008. Vernon Davis is a freak athlete, but has yet to produce numbers on par with his athleticism.
Orlando Scandrick will be one to watch, as he is getting the start opposite Terence Newman for the first time in 2009. Scandrick has had a stellar preseason, and is looking to win the role permanently from fellow league-sophomore Mike Jenkins.
Special teams is still a concern for Dallas. Sam Hurd has nullified two big returns with holds in the first two preseason games, the coverage has been sub-par due to sloppy tackling and Nick Folk is 0-2 in field goals this preseason.
The bottom line: Dallas is a superior team on paper, but that doesn't mean this won't be a test. Singletary is a deft motivator who will have his guys going hard from snap to whistle every time. He has instilled an attitude of smashmouth, effort-heavy football in San Francisco, a mindset more often seen in places like Pittsburgh and Chicago.