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Three thoughts on the Cowboys

9/5/2014

IRVING -- Three thoughts on the Dallas Cowboys, who open the season Sunday against San Francisco.

1) Tony Romo played one half and 14 plays in the preseason.

Yes, he took a pretty good beating against Miami, but that was only a half.

He will get the full game against San Francisco’s defense, which remains a physical group even though it’s missing several starters because of injury or suspension. He will get hit and hit hard on a regular basis.

This is the truest test for Romo’s back that we will see. If he survives and has no issues getting ready for Tennessee next week, then you should be able to take a deep breath and relax, because it means Romo is really ready to go.

2) We will get a good feel this week for the Cowboys' alleged commitment to the run.

San Francisco did not allow a 100-yard rusher last season and finished fourth in the NFL in run defense (95.9 yards per game).

"The one thing you notice about San Francisco’s defense is that everyone does his job," Dallas center Travis Frederick said. "There’s no hero ball. If they’re supposed to be in a gap, they’re in it.

"This is a week where it’s going to be ugly. They don’t give up big plays in the running game. A four-yard run is a good play this week."

When the running game isn’t dominant, the Cowboys have a tendency to give up regardless of the score. We will see if play-caller Scott Linehan takes a new approach.

3) Middle linebacker Rolando McClain will get a strong test this week.

San Francisco is a physical running team without a lot of frills. Running back Frank Gore won’t be hard to find. He will be between the tackles, which is where McClain does his best work.

The Cowboys need McClain to be a dominant presence against San Francisco’s running game or the 49ers’ offense will score 35 points.

Key number: 48

Since Jason Garrett took over the Cowboys’ offense, they have usually been among the leaders in completions of 20 yards or more.

Last season, the Cowboys had 48 completions of 20 yards or more, tied for only 17th in the NFL. In 2012, they were 9th with 55.

You could certainly argue that last season's play-caller Bill Callahan, brought up in the West Coast offense, and his dink-and-dunk approach contributed to the lack of big plays in the passing game

Linehan likes going deep. He will challenge San Francisco’s secondary.

Player to Watch: Morris Claiborne

The No. 6 overall pick in the 2012 draft is only starting at cornerback because Orlando Scandrick has been suspended for the first four games after violating the league’s substance-abuse policy.

Claiborne missed the entire preseason with knee and shoulder injuries, so he will make his debut in the opener.

Claiborne doesn’t have to be great, but the Cowboys need him to be a solid player against a really good group of receivers. Otherwise, the defense is really going to struggle.