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Position battleground (offense): Cowboys vs. 49ers head-to-head breakdown

A positional head-to-head breakdown of the Week 5 matchup between the Cowboys and 49ers on offense.

NFC Divisional Playoffs - Dallas Cowboys v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

This week is a huge NFC rivalry game as the Dallas Cowboys square off against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi Stadium in Week 5. In a head-to-head battle, which team has the better offense by each position group?

Dak Prescott
Brock Purdy

The way the Cowboys offense came out to start the game against New England was very impressive. Dak started the game with what you could argue was the best initial series to a game he’s played in recent memory. He was under control, making all the throws and kept the offense on schedule. He finished last week throwing zero interceptions, completing 83% of his passes, and if the offensive line could have held on for a few more seconds, he could have completed more. One stat that came out postgame from Next Gen Stats was how Dak Prescott completed +10.7% of his passes over-expected against the Patriots. This now marks the seventh time Dak has completed +10% or more over-expected in a game in the last two years, the most in the NFL.

This week the challenge is tough for Dak facing the San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers defense is very good, they rank fifth in total yards allowed. They dare teams to throw on them. They spend a lot of their time focusing on the run which means teams take their chances in the passing game. They rank 17th in passing yards allowed, so this will be a game that will rely a lot on Dak’s arm. Watching Arizona last week against the 49ers, there was a massive concentrated effort to shut James Conner and the running game down and we should expect the same this week with the Cowboys running backs. If Dak can get locked in quickly, use the quick passing game to get the ball out before the pressure can get to him, then there’s a chance for this Cowboys offense to get into scoring position early and put the 49ers in chase mode.

For the 49ers, they have the infamous Brock Purdy who became most known for getting the team deep in the playoffs last year despite the fact he was Mr Irrelevant in the draft. One thing we can say about the 49ers is based on the team’s roster and how it’s constructed, they aren’t hugely reliant on quarterback play. What they need is a guy to not mess things up. Brock Purdy is the ultimate trailer that helps deliver where the offensive playmakers are driving. There’s nothing wrong with this and it’s working amazingly for him so far. Purdy isn’t without his flaws however. He got sacked three times last week trying to stand and deliver against the Cardinals, and he’s thrown only four touchdowns the last three weeks. He’s being very clinical as a passer right now, but he’s delivering thanks to elite talent such as Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, Brandon Aiyuk and Christian McCaffery. All these players can completely sweep games on their own let alone as a unit.

Brock Purdy is throwing for an average of 245 yards per game, has zero interceptions and is third in the NFL in completion rate at 72%. They have only scored five passing touchdowns for all their efforts however which is only one more than Dallas. But thanks to the elite level of playmakers available to Purdy, they are statistically better than Dallas in all the major categories.
Win: Cowboys

New England Patriots v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

Tony Pollard/Rico Dowdle
Christian McCaffrey/Elijah Mitchell

Going back and watching the broken play in the redzone where Dak and Tony Pollard collided was unfortunately on the running back. He was meant to run in the right b-gap the offensive line had opened against a light Patriots box, but he was looking to bounce outside. The result was a missed opportunity. Pollard, apart from that redzone mistake, was generally good and did what was needed of him. It wasn’t perfect by any means but he got the job done. We also saw Hunter Luepke become the answer down at the goal line. He now opens his NFL account after scoring his first touchdown. Another huge play on a clever call that saw every Cowboys player get a perfect block was KaVontae Turpin’s 46-yard rush to the right. He was lucky to not have turned it over on the fumble, but the play showed his speed and vision in open field.

One negative to last week’s running back corps that the coaches need a better game plan for is Deuce Vaughn. They tried to have him pass protect at times, which resulted in the sack. He needs a better, more specific game plan from the coaches and to be utilized better.

This week the Cowboys running back unit is facing one of the best run stopping defenses that is only allowing an average of 66 rush yards per game. That’s the third-least in the NFL currently. Nick Bosa is arguably the best run-stopping defensive end in the NFL, but other players like Dre Greenlaw, Fred Warner and Talanoa Hufanga will be names Cowboys fans will hear a lot this weekend as they continually get involved in tackles. Keep an eye on Rico Dowdle as he left the game early last week and is reported to have a bruised hip. This is the same injury that got him placed on injured reserve last year.

Where the game starts and ends for the 49ers offense is by establishing the run. They have the most effective runner in the game to help do that, Christian McCaffrey. There is absolutely no denying it that McCaffrey is the biggest threat the Cowboys defense will face this year, and he can beat defenses in more than one way. He’s not just fast and explosive, he’s also powerful and tough. Then just to add more problems in defending him, he also ranks first on the team in receptions, fourth on the team in receiving yards and second on the team in receiving first-downs. You can also count on Deebo Samuel to find his way in the backfield and rack up sneaky rush yards on handoffs or jet sweeps. But the 49ers are facing a defense that allowed just 53 yards on the ground last week to Rhamondre Stevenson and Ezekiel Elliott thanks to the Cowboys defensive tackles. Elijah Mitchell was absent last week due to a knee injury. It’s unknown if he will suit up this week, otherwise Jordan Mason or Kyle Juszczyk will look to take replacement handoffs when they spell McCaffrey.

You can talk depth about both teams, but it won’t do much good here. McCaffrey leads the NFL in rushing and is second among running backs in receiving yards. Add the firepower of Samuel and Juszczyk, this is a dangerous running team with an effective run blocking offensive line.
Win: 49ers

Arizona Cardinals v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

CeeDee Lamb/Brandin Cooks/Michael Gallup
Brandon Aiyuk/Deebo Samuel/Jauan Jennings

CeeDee Lamb becomes the first Cowboys receiver to score a touchdown this season. But one thing that was clear was that Bill Belichick was making a concerted effort to take Lamb out of the game. Even in the typical Belichick style of taking the main offensive weapon away, Lamb still scored and managed to catch four receptions. Michael Gallup showed up again last week. Watching him you can definitely see he’s not explosive as he used to be off the line, but the physical part of his game and winning at the catch point is still there. Having Brandin Cooks back and making plays was also good to see and he made an important first down in the game. This unit will be facing defensive back Charvarius Ward, who’s allowing a 61% completion rate and a stingy 63.3 passer rating when targeted. He lines up exclusively on the outside so will look to bracket Gallup or Cooks. Defending the slot, if the Cowboys decide to play Lamb there more frequently, is Isaiah Oliver. He’s allowing a 75% completion rate and has the third-most missed tackles on the team. This could be the place to go this week in the quick passing game.

Meanwhile, the 49ers have quite the receiving unit themselves. Brandon Aiyuk is leading the team in receiving yards and currently sits just above Lamb in the wide receiver rankings, with 320 yards. What makes Aiyuk so great is he’s dangerous with his run-after-the-catch skills. The moment the ball gets in his hands he comes alive and can hit open space with tremendous burst and athletic skills. He represents a big big-play threat for the Cowboys outside corners to contain. He is predictable as a route runner however, although recently that’s got better for him, but he’s also not a burner with tremendous speed. So worrying about the deep threat with him isn’t a huge task to take care of.

Deebo Samuel played last week but has been nursing a rib injury which has slowed him down. Coaches have played him cautiously so keep watch for him on the practice report. Samuel is the 49ers Swiss-army knife. He’s another guy who thrives once the ball is in his hands and the coaches scheme him in multiple ways to take the most advantage. He can play slot, out wide or come into the backfield and run thee ball. This is also his biggest downfall. The team uses him so much in a variety of ways that eventually it becomes unsustainable for him and injuries occur. Playing him safe then removes his best ability, which is his ability to lineup randomly on the offense. Jauan Jennings is their third receiver but has been out with a leg injury. He’s set to practice though and worth keeping watch of on the practice report.

The 49ers are not that high in terms of passing and receiving stats. But that’s due to two things. Efficiency on offense and a solid defense. Aiyuk versus Lamb is a close battle, but to break the deadlock you could use last years performances, which gives Lamb the edge. Cooks versus Samuel is a battle that swings in the 49ers favor. Then that leaves Gallup winning his battle. It’s very close if we don’t add in the receiving abilities of McCaffrey, but he’s used so often as a receiver we have to. So that breaks a very close tie.
Win: 49ers

Arizona Cardinals v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images

Jake Ferguson
George Kittle

We got to see a little spice in Ferguson last week. With a lot of attention on Lamb, it became a game for Ferguson to show off. He led the team last week in both receptions and receiving yards. He was vital on getting first downs or helping to close the distance on early downs. He also showed tremendous strength by carrying defenders with him after the catch. His biggest play came when he took the big hit from Kyle Dugger during a catch to the left of the field. The play showed how willing he was to give himself up and his toughness. He’s slowly showing he can be relied upon to help the offense in the receiving game, and he’s proving to be an excellent pass blocker.

Finding space to be a viable option in the redzone is usually a hallmark trait for tight ends, and this was almost the case for Luke Schoonmaker. If he caught the pass in the endzone, we would be talking differently about the success rate the team currently has in the redzone. Peyton Hendershot missed last week’s game, keep watching for him on the practice report.

Jayron Kearse did amazingly against a solid tight end group last week and covered Mike Gesicki well. This week he has the biggest challenge of the season in George Kittle. This season, Kittle currently ranks third in receptions and receiving yards on the 49ers roster, but he has yet to score a touchdown. Kittle is strong and physical and he can get great leverage on blocks. In this way he makes for a fanatic h-type tight end. We’ve all watched Kittle against Dallas come off the ball with efficient pad level and strike the defenders to send them back and find good leverage. The Cowboys need to account for him this weekend but he does have a weakness. His route breaks aren’t always completely clean and can be predictable. Given plenty of preparation watching his routes on tape could result in a Cowboys safety getting to the ball before Kittle does. This would put Purdy into second-guess mode.

Ferguson is on the rise and was instrumental last week against the Patriots. But to say his rise is enough to outclass the skills of Kittle would be crazy. Kittle is one of the best tight ends in the NFL and of all the offensive battles between these two teams groups, this one is the easiest to call.
Win: 49ers

New York Giants v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images


Zack Martin left the game early last week so let’s start there. He has a bruised quadricep and if he misses time again this week then the team could be in trouble. The 49ers can generate great inside pressure and by not having the best guard in the game could be a disaster here. Tyron Smith was also out last week and will have all eyes on him to find out his availability.

The three big defensive tackles for the 49ers, Javon Hargrave, Arik Armstead and Javon Kinlaw are all having a field day creating pressure at the moment. Among defensive tackles, Hargrave ranks second in sacks and fourth in pressures. Then Kinlaw ranks tenth just above Ed Oliver in pressures. Everyone knows the name Nick Bosa and he can create a healthy amount of pressure as well. The Cowboys offensive line, even with the starters not all playing together this season, have allowed the fewest pressures in the NFL. Dak has been sacked six times this year, one the fewest times in the league. Let’s all give a thought to Chuma Edoga, he’s outperformed what everyone thought he would be at Dallas this year.

For the 49ers, they have a line that’s pretty effective and has only given up 32 pressures this year. Trent Williams is among the best offensive linemen between both teams and has given up three pressures this year. But one thing that’s interesting to note is he now has four penalties on the year. Only Terence Steele has more between the two team’s rosters. The place to attack this 49ers line though is on the right. Right tackle Colton McKivitz is giving up the most pressures and sacks, and behind him is right guard Spencer Burford. Both aren’t giving up a lot of pressure, just the most.
Win: Cowboys (based on starting five)


Which team has the better offense?

This poll is closed

  • 26%
    Dallas Cowboys
    (129 votes)
  • 73%
    San Francisco 49ers
    (363 votes)
492 votes total Vote Now

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