Whew. That’s more like it! It’s been 27 days since Dallas fans were able to celebrate a victory and it’s a nice feeling to have again. The Cowboys absolutely annihilated the hapless San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, playing their most complete game of the season and looking like the Super Bowl contender they were expected to be going into the season. The following statistics tell the story:
3 - turnovers caused / 23 - splash plays recorded
The Dallas defense rebounded from two woeful performances with a dynamic, playmaking performance that leaves us wondering to believe our eyes. The numbers were terrific in every way, but most especially in creating turnovers and splash plays.
Dallas generated as many turnovers Sunday as they had the entire season up to this point. The three turnovers was the team’s most since causing four against Tampa Bay last season.
They also had four sacks and eight tackles for loss on the way to a season-high 23 splash plays in the game. In short, the defense wreaked havoc throughout the game, harrassing the 49ers and quarterback C. J. Beathard into mistakes all day.
Demarcus Lawrence and David Irving again led the charge, accounting for two sacks, two fumbles, one fumble recovered, one tackle for loss and one pass defensed. Irving now ranks second on the team in splash plays with eight after only two games played. I’ll admit I was dubious of Irving’s impact when he returned, but he has been better than anyone could have hoped for. Watching Lawrence and Irving work together the rest of the season should be fun
It was also rewarding to see two struggling players get on the stat sheet. Jaylon Smith looked like the heat-seeking missile we hoped to see on display when he blitzed and pile-drived Beathard for a sack and fumble. And Jeff Heath got his second splash play of the season with a tackle for loss. The two combined for more splash plays in one afternoon than they had recorded the entire season.
265 - Dallas rushing yards / 501 - Dallas total yards
The Dallas rushing game has been good in 2017 but had yet to look like the dominating force of nature it had been in both 2014 and 2016. That all changed Sunday as the Cowboys ran 43 times for 265 yards for a healthy 6.2 yards per rush. This is the most rushing yards a Cowboys team has had since week 7 of 2011 against the St. Louis Rams (that was DeMarco Murray’s coming-out-party when he set a team record with 251 rushing yards).
These weren’t cosmetic or garbage-time yards either. Dallas set out from the beginning to establish the run. The team’s first touchdown drive started at the San Francisco 20 and consisted of three handoffs to Ezekiel Elliott. Dallas ran for 14 first downs and three touchdowns. It was a thoroughly dominating performance and gives fans legitimate hope the offense is rounding into the physical, grinding, ball-control, ground-based unit that can wear out opposing defenses.
Combined with the 103 rushing yards allowed by the Dallas defense the Cowboys outgained San Francisco by 162 yards on the ground. That’s by far the best number the team has recorded in terms of rushing yards differential.
Those rushing yards allowed the Cowboys to rack up 500 yards for the first time since the final week of 2015 against the Redskins. (Bonus points to all those who knew that a Kellen Moore-led offense tallied 500 yards). Dak Prescott threw for 234 yards on only 25 attempts and looked exactly like the composed leader he’s been throughout most of his career.
219 - Yards from scrimmage for Ezekiel Elliott
Ezekiel Elliott started the week uncertain he would even play against San Francisco and ended the week with his biggest day as a pro. Elliott ran 26 times for 147 yards and two touchdowns. But it was his 72-yard catch-and-run off a screen pass that electrified a Levi Stadium crowd that seemed to have more Cowboys than 49ers’ fans. Zack Martin threw the key block on the play but Noah Brown and Brice Butler also made nice blocks. Elliott’s 219 yards from scrimmage is the most he’s ever had as a Cowboy.
The stats don’t lie either. Elliott ran hard throughout the day, finishing runs with his customary zeal. He also ran right past defenders on multiple plays and looked very much like the 2016 All Pro.
4 - red zone touchdowns
The one constant in an otherwise inconsistent Cowboys’ season has been the red zone offense. Dallas entered the 49ers’ game having scored seven touchdowns and one field goal in the team’s last eight red zone forays. Sunday they added four more touchdowns on the team’s first four redzone opportunities. That’s 80 out of 84 possible points for an absurd 95% conversion rate.
The team did not score on the last two redzone attempts but that was only because the team was already up by 30 points and had names like Rush at quarterback, Smith at running back, Green at left tackle and Looney at right guard.
Basically the Dallas offense has been perfect in the redzone going back to the Arizona game. It’s unlikely the team can keep up this pace moving forward. However, the triple threat of Ezekiel Elliott, Dak Prescott running and Dez Bryant as a passing target make Dallas a very difficult challenge near the end zone.
2 - Jeff Heath extra points kicked
I’ve been pretty harsh on Jeff Heath so it was fun to see him not only make a play on defense but also show off his athleticism by admirably taking over kicking duties when Dan Bailey was unable to kick.
Heath made two of three extra points and four times kicked off to within the opponents 5-yard line, including a touchback. Punters normally take over when a kicker is injured, so the fact Heath was able to ably fill in says much about him as an all-around athlete. You could tell both he and his teammates enjoyed his unexpected contribution.
Bonus stat: 1 Landry shift
Cowboys’ fans have not enjoyed any laughers this season. Every game has been tense and had its moments of angst. So it was nice when deep in San Francisco territory late in the game the offensive line executed the Landry shift. I love when the team honors the greatest Cowboy ever. One, because remembering the immense contributions of Tom Landry is always a good thing; and two because it means Dallas is comfortably ahead and in control of the game.
An absolutely terrific performance on both sides of the ball and exactly the tonic that was needed after two consecutive home losses.