The Dallas Cowboys against the San Francisco 49ers is the big game this week in the NFL. This is one of the better rivalries in the league, both historically and in the last few years. The 49ers have gotten the better of it recently but the Cowboys will look to reverse that trend on Sunday night. DraftKings Sports book has the 49ers as 3.5-point favorites. We check in with our sister site, Niners Nation, for some details on the game.
Blogging The Boys: Brock Purdy was once known for being Mr. Irrelevant, but is now known for winning football games. Give us the scouting report on him as a quarterback.
Niners Nation: Purdy has come back from his elbow injury in last year’s NFC Championship game with more confidence. He has the complete trust of the coaching staff and his teammates, who have voted him a team captain. Purdy makes his money on throwing accurately with anticipation. It’s no question that Shanahan’s scheme helps open the field up and creates space for the playmakers to operate in space. But Purdy has been able to hit throws this season where the windows aren’t as open. He isn’t forcing things into tight coverage, but he is throwing receivers open. And we have started to see him take more downfield shots to receivers without much separation, trusting them in 50/50 opportunities this season. That’s something we haven’t seen from a Shanahan QB to date. He’s also improved against pressure, but he still likes to create and move out of the pocket, which can disrupt the timing of the offense. He’s shown the athleticism to throw with precision outside of the pocket. Right now, Purdy has silenced many critics because there aren’t a ton of holes in his game. He will never have the rocket arm of Mahomes, Allen, or Herbert. But it’s hard to find a quarterback playing more efficient right now.
BTB: Christian McCaffrey is having an MVP season. What has been the most successful tactic to slow him down that you’ve seen from a defense?
NN: McCaffrey has scored in 13 consecutive games with San Francisco. Simply put, I have yet to see a defense put together a complete gameplan to successfully slow him down. As long as he gets his touches, he’s going to make some plays that elevate this offense. That being said, he didn’t have an easy go against Dallas in the Divisional round playoff game last January. Teams with strong defensive lines and coordinators that commit to stopping the run first will force some negative rushing plays. To bottle him up in the passing game is possibly more difficult. McCaffrey is a mismatch for every linebacker in the league. And using additional resources to keep him covered means leaving another one of the 49ers dynamic playmakers in a one on one situation that can be exploited.
BTB: What’s the biggest weakness of the 49ers defense? How should an offense attack them?
NN: The Niners defense has plenty of difference makers and even though new DC Steve Wilks is still getting comfortable with personnel and scheme, it’s clear this unit is tough to break. The biggest hole right now remains at cornerback. Primarily, the spot opposite of Charvarius Ward (who is a vastly underrated CB1) and the nickel. You aren’t gonna run against this defense with consistent success. If you drop back to pass, you have to make sure you can protect your quarterback and give them time in the pocket. They are blitzing at a higher rate than years past, but Wilks is starting to see they are at their best when their front four is able to pin their ears back and generate pressure. Staying out of third and long situations will be crucial for opposing offenses. But when quarterbacks do find time in the pocket, they’re best served targeting Deommodore Lenoir in coverage. After finishing last season on a hot streak that included a pick on Dak Prescott in the playoffs, Lenoir has shown some regression. He’s allowed 24 catches on 31 targets in primary coverage this year with three penalties already. He hasn’t allowed a score and does have an interception, but his 55.5 coverage grade is worst of any starter on the defense.
BTB: The Cowboys team and fan base seem to be treating this week as a measuring stick game. How are the Niners and the fan base approaching the contest?
NN: There’s no question this matchup is the first big test of the 2023 season for the Niners as well. They have had the second easiest start to the season based on strength of schedule (behind only Dallas, funny enough). San Francisco hasn’t faced a defense close to the level of the Cowboys’ and the previous three contests between these teams have been one score games. Like most fans, we may be irrationally confident heading into this matchup having spoiled Dallas’ last two playoff runs. But to say there isn’t some concern would be lying. There is a lot of respect that has been earned by players like Micah Parsons and Ceedee Lamb. With all the bad blood this rivalry provides, it’ll be fun to get to watch it play out on Sunday night.
BTB: The Niners are 3.5-point favorites according to DraftKings Sportsbook. How do you view that spread and how do you see the game playing out?
NN: The value of home-field advantage has shifted a bit in recent years but many oddsmakers still tell you that playing in your own stadium is worth around a three-point spread. So the game being in San Francisco is seen as a determining factor in the outcome of the game based on the points given. And I think that it will have an impact. Looking at the 2022 regular season and first four games of this season, we can see the Niners do play better at home, posting a 10-1 record at Levis compared to 7-3 on the road. They score more (28.8 ppg - 25.8 ppg) and allow fewer (14.6 - 17.4) scores when playing in Santa Clara in that span as well. It should be a great game, but I expect the 49ers to remain undefeated and I will take them covering the 3.5. But it should be another close game in a great rivalry full of bad blood.
Thanks for the knowledge, Niners Nation.