The Dallas Cowboys were taken to the woodshed against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday night. Despite the game being 60 minutes long, there weren’t a lot of things to like in this one. The offense struggled, the defense struggled, and one of the team’s key special teams players got hurt. Things didn’t get any better after the re-watch. It only confirmed that the 49ers were just a step ahead of the Cowboys for a great majority of the game.
So, why did things go so bad? Let’s see what surfaces after further review.
THE RUN GAME
It all starts with the running game. The ability to run the ball effectively takes the pressure off the quarterback and creates more manageable down and distances. This was a huge disparity in this game. The 49ers could run the ball (170 yards rushing) and the Cowboys could not (57 yards). San Francisco’s offense is filled with high-level blockers across the board. Everyone gets involved. The versatility of tight end George Kittle and fullback Kyle Juszczyk allows them to beat teams in so many different ways. And both Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk are two of the better blocking wide receivers in the league.
Winning is so much easier when you can run the ball. The 49ers put on a clinic run blocking. Winning at the line of scrimmage, getting into the second level, and all hands on deck. The 49ers runners often had a full steam of energy before being contacted. 170 yards on the ground. pic.twitter.com/a33nloTJfB— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) October 9, 2023
Mike McCarthy made a big deal about the importance of running the ball entering the season, but he’s somehow managed to be worse at it than his last two play-calling predecessors. The Cowboys are only averaging 4.0 yards per rushing attempt which is lower than any season Kellen Moore had calling plays and any season that Scott Linehan had calling plays. Whether it’s just poor design or the lack of a collective effort in executing, the Cowboys running game is very ineffective.
The Cowboys on the other hand struggled immensely in the running game. They were getting beat at the line of scrimmage, couldn't seal the edge, and whiffing in the second level. The lack of creativity in the run schemes was embarrassing. The 49ers defenders just teed off. pic.twitter.com/5rLRTiSLDX— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) October 9, 2023
The 49ers were able to keep the Cowboys defense on their heels by executing a balanced attack. The ground game set the tone, but Kyle Shanahan found ways to exploit the Cowboys' weaknesses. Starting with their tendency to be overaggressive, Shanahan repeatedly set the trap for the Cowboys to lean the wrong way and it worked. Many times the defense was left standing in their tracks while a big play opened up behind them.
The 49ers also attacked the Cowboys' weaker players in the secondary. Donovan Wilson had a bad game, not only committing two personal foul/taunting penalties, but also getting turned around multiple times in the secondary. And despite having a touchdown-saving forced fumble, Jourdan Lewis took the bait on a reverse flea-flicker and could only watch as George Kittle blew past him. Both Wilson and Lewis are big hit-or-miss guys and on Sunday Kittle got the best of them.
Kyle Shanahan knows the Cowboys' defense is overaggressive, he knows Donovan Wilson doesn't change direction well, and he knows Jourdan Lewis isn't the fastest runner. He gameplanned to attack the Cowboys' weaknesses and it worked magnificently for them. pic.twitter.com/Xqgr1s7RvB— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) October 9, 2023
What was even more peculiar is that the 49ers still found some huge holes in the secondary for Brock Purdy to work. It was as if the Cowboys’ defense was protecting against the big play, yet still managed to somehow fall victim to it. The 49ers seemed to have all the answers to whatever the Cowboys’ defense threw at them.
I'd like to know how the 49ers had so much open space in the passing game. Don't get me wrong, Brock Purdy was delivering strikes, but it's a lot easier when his receivers are wide open. pic.twitter.com/lMu5JH6byt— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) October 9, 2023
There’s a clear difference in how these teams were able to operate and it can be shown perfectly by these contrasting plays on third and short.
Look at the difference between these two teams on 3rd and short. One team lays back like they're in prevent defense and the other team jams at the line of scrimmage. It's no mystery why one QB had wide open targets and the other had none. pic.twitter.com/QsDEx4ga4p— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) October 9, 2023
There’s going to be a lot of finger-pointing when it comes to the offensive failures. Is Dak Prescott broken? Is Mike McCarthy just not the clever-minded play-caller we were hoping for? Or is there some combination of both? It’s hard to know what the root cause is, but it’s pretty clear that things are not going well for the McCarthy/Prescott marriage.
When the 49ers went up 21-7 with a couple of minutes left in the first half, the Cowboys desperately needed to answer to make it a game again. They didn't.— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) October 9, 2023
This is absolutely inexcusable. Either we are dealing with a poor decision-making QB or a terrible playcaller. You decide. pic.twitter.com/Pge73YrR2B