Niners-Cowboys Game Could Be Shootout

San Francisco's offense may come to life in opener vs. weak and thinned-out Dallas defense

The 49ers spent this offseason adding pieces to their wide receiver corps, hoping to make it a more explosive bunch.

It’s possible they may see the benefits in Sunday’s season opener against the Cowboys in Texas, where the teams play at 1:25 p.m. (PDT).

In fact, expect quite a few touchdowns – from both teams.

Oddsmakers have made the 49ers 4-pont favorites and have set the over-under for points scored at 51 or 51½, expecting it to be among the top three highest-scoring games of the first weekend of play.

That’s as much about the two defenses as the offensive firepower on both sides, however.

The Cowboys had the third-worst defense in NFL history in 2013, allowing 415.3 yards per game and go into Sunday’s opener without top linebacker Sean Lee (out for the season) and starting corner Orlando Scandrick (suspended). Plus they lost two of last year’s top defenders, Jason Hatcher and DeMarcus Ware, to free agency.

The 49ers also go into the season missing Aldon Smith (suspension) and NaVorro Bowman and Glenn Dorsey (injuries) and with a revamped secondary that will include rookie Jimmie Ward as the slot cornerback in the nickel defense.

So, Sunday’s game could turn out to be a shootout between the 49ers’ Colin Kaepernick and San Francisco’s power running game against Dallas QB Tony Romo and his athletic receivers, such as Dez Bryant.

“He’s always going to keep his offense and the team in the game,” Kaepernick told the Bay Area media this week, when asked about Romo and the Dallas offense. “They have the ability to put up a lot of points, so we have to be ready for that.”

Niners head coach Jim Harbaugh also believes Romo makes the Cowboys very dangerous. Romo, after all, led Dallas to a victory over Harbaugh’s team early in Harbaugh’s first season of 2011.

“It’s a great challenge,” he said. “We have great respect for Tony Romo. We treat him like all the greats of the game that are playing today.”

Yet Kaepernick believes that just because the 49ers are missing some key players on defense, that doesn’t mean that unit will fall flat. It still has Patrick Willis, Justin Smith, safeties Eric Reid and Antoine Bethea, plus depth to make up for the absences of Smith, Bowman and Dorsey.

“We have great defensive players still on that field,” he said.

One key for the 49ers might be their running game. San Francisco’s offensive line should be able to handle Dallas’ front seven, which could allow Frank Gore and Carlos Hyde to control the game’s tempo and help keep Romo off the field. The 49ers were third in the NFL in rushing in 2013, while Dallas was 27th in run defense. It could be a mismatch.

Though the 49ers’ first-team offense looked shaky in the preseason, getting just two field goals in seven possessions, Dallas might be the perfect launching pad for San Francisco.

“That (defense) might be a good cure, an elixir, so to speak for Colin Kaepnernick to continue to find that rhythm,” said Paul Gutierrez, who covers the 49ers for

With the defending Super Bowl-champion Seahawks already looking dynamic in their season-opening victory over the Packers Thursday night, the 49ers no doubt want to come out and make a statement of their own Sunday that they will be a very large factor in the NFC West race, too.

Some electricity by the San Francisco offense and some jolts by the defense Sunday could make that happen.

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