The Dallas Cowboys came away with a 41-33 victory over the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday thanks to some good plays on both sides of the ball. Yesterday, we took a look at some of the footage from the offensive side of the ball, but in this article we focus our attention on the defense. With a four-takeaway effort, the defense (and special teams) came through with some big plays, so let’s see what we can learn after further review.
DeMarcus Lawrence is worth every penny
The Cowboys $105 million edge rusher is often criticized because there is an expectation for him to make more splash plays. After all, that’s a hefty investment for a team to make, and it should produce dividends. It’s easy to lose sight of what Lawrence brings to this defense as he doesn’t fill the highlight reel as much as he does the film review tape. On Sunday, he did a little of both.
First, he made a huge splash play when he got around former ninth-overall pick Mike McGlinchey and was able to reach out for the ball just enough to knock it from the hand of Nick Mullins. Nothing snatches the soul away from a quarterback faster than a sack/strip/fumble lost.
And then Lawrence was back doing Lawrence things. He continues to show up against the run. By pure coincidence the CBS broadcast crew decided to give us viewers a top angle shot at three different goal line plays in this game, and it just so happened those three plays are perfect for a game I like to call - How many blockers does it take to keep Tank from making the goal line stop?
There will be no Cowboys pro bowlers this season for the first time since 1989, but if there’s one guy who’s earned it, it’s Tank. He’s currently the NFC’s highest graded defensive end according to Pro Football Focus.
Donovan, the dual-threat safety
Donovan Wilson has struggled reacting to plays at various times this season which is understandable considering he is still inexperienced. However, it should be said that he’s really shown progress this season. The second-year safety came out of college with a reputation for being a hard hitter as well as making plays on the ball. On Sunday, he was showing out in both the running game and passing game.
To start with, he did a great job fending off blocks from 49ers fullback Kyle Juszczyk to make plays on the ball carrier. And just in case you weren’t aware, Juszczyk is a four-time Pro Bowler.
Even when he didn’t escape Juszczyk, he pushed him back enough to cause the running back to slow down, allowing time for help to arrive.
And his biggest play in the run game may have been one that was easily forgotten about because it ended up resulting in a first-down conversion on a 2nd-and-8 play. Again, he gets mixed up with Juszczyk, and again he sheds the block. He’s able to get away enough to grab a hold of Raheem Mostert’s jersey where he hung on for dear life. And he had enough strength to bring the 49ers running back to the ground. If Wilson doesn’t make that play, Mostert bounces to the outside where there’s a good chance he’s off to the races.
Of course, the splashiest of plays came when he beat the tight end to his spot to come away with the pick. Wilson was real close to having another one as he again closed fast and had both hands on the ball. These are great plays by the Cowboys young safety.
Lewis was quite versatile as well
Cowboys cornerback Jourdan Lewis had a nice game too as he was making all kinds of plays. He started things off with a sack where it appeared he confused the 49ers offense. Lewis starts off by waving his hands in the air as if he’s not sure what he supposed to do. Then, when San Francisco’s receiver Brandon Aiyuk goes in motion, Lewis starts like he’s following him, only to stop and perfectly time his blitz. The 49ers tight end completely loses sight of him, allowing Lewis a clean shot at the quarterback.
He also showed great discipline in staying with his assignments. On this play, the 49ers try to sell a run to the left with Aiyuk again going in motion and Juszczyk also moving that direction. The entire Cowboys defense bites to that side, only Lewis carefully sidesteps his feet allowing him to change directions the moment Juszczyk cuts to his right. If he’s a step late in reacting, this ends up being a walk in touchdown, but Lewis’ ability to read his man allowed him to arrive at the same time as the ball for the pass break up.
Lewis’ quick reaction skills were again on display when he saw Aiyuk immediately step back to catch a quick pass. The Cowboys corner just missiles himself towards the receiver, blowing past the tight end who was late picking up the block, and taking Aiyuk down for a three-yard loss.
It’s nice to have Niswander
Normally, a punt downed inside the five-yard line isn’t cause for celebration, but for Cowboys fans it’s been such a rare occurrence these days that we have to take a moment to acknowledge the leg of the Cowboys new punter Hunter Niswander. He does this thing where he’s able to get the punt to bounce backwards preventing it from rolling into the end zone. He has also shown some good distance and hangtime, which gives his teammates a fighting chance to down the ball.
Don’t forget about...
The 49ers were moving the ball well at the start of the third quarter and they had a chance to take the lead, but they came up short on a 3rd-and-1 play at the Cowboys 23-yard line. The Cowboys defensive line typically struggles in short yardage situations, and what’s even more impressive is the group of linemen that came through on this play. Defensive tackle Justin Hamilton gets off the snap fast and goes right through the 49ers center. The other defensive tackle Eli Ankou stops his blocker in his tracks helping clog the hole. Finally, edge rusher Dorance Armstrong quickly darts inside right where the play is going, sealing off any inkling of a running lane and keeping Mostert from getting the first down. The 49ers had to settle for a field goal, tying the game at 17.
Armstrong, as you might remember, came up huge earlier in the game with a strip/fumble recovering on punt return that gave the Cowboys offense great field position and led them to their first touchdown drive.