Things were supposed to be different. Although many in the national media weren’t picking the Dallas Cowboys to win against the San Francisco, and even the most ardent fans of the team were uneasy about Sunday night’s game, no one in their wildest nightmares could have imagined Dallas would drop the stinker they did on national television. Yet, they did just that. The Cowboys were dismantled by the San Francisco 49ers by a score of 42-10.
Dallas couldn’t find anything to go their way and failed to gain a modicum of traction against their longtime rival. From the opening whistle, the 49ers were better in practically every facet. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in the organization who fared well against the 49ers. This rout of the Cowboys merits being dissected and understanding how things went as terribly as they did. Here are the three big reasons the Cowboys lost against San Francisco.
Kyle Shanahan won the mental chess match with Dan Quinn
49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan and Dan Quinn have a history with one another. When Dan Quinn was head coach of the Atlanta Falcons, Shanahan served as the Falcons offensive coordinator. Both coaches know each other very well. On Sunday night, Shanahan had Quinn’s number and kept his unit off balance.
The 49ers are known for creating mismatches on offense for a few reasons. Their skill players have diverse talents and can play in multiple formations. Deebo Samuel and Christian McCaffrey can seamlessly change from wide receiver to running back. The ability of those players to be fluid chess pieces for Shanahan afforded him the luxury of isolating Samuel against a linebacker or McCaffrey against the Cowboys’ bigger safeties.
Quinn struggled because his star defender, Micah Parsons, was rendered invisible. Parsons’ speed and explosiveness were used against him as the 49ers sometimes left him unblocked only to run into a fullback or tight end tracking back into the backfield, or being pulled from the opposite side. Parsons, as usual, lined up in several places, but ultimately none of it mattered.
The Dallas pass rush did not impact the San Francisco passing game. Parsons is the leader of that group, but his supporting cast, DeMarcus Lawrence, Sam Williams, and the like, also failed to disrupt Brock Purdy. Purdy had a clean pocket and torched the defense for four touchdowns before taking an early exit early in the fourth quarter.
Losing the turnover battle
In a study conducted by the Harvard Sports Analysis Collective, it was found that a team that wins the turnover margin in a game wins 69.6 percent of the time.
The Cowboys gave the ball away four times to the 49ers versus one fumble recovery that was a terrific effort by Jourdan Lewis to rip the ball from the arms of Christian McCaffrey. Besides that, the defense never came close to the football. After Tony Pollard’s fumble, Dak Prescott threw a flurry of interceptions, with each one worse than the last. The Cowboys were outmatched by the 49ers, having lost their previous three matchups.
Adding fuel to the fire is an ugly pick parade by Prescott on a national stage for every detractor to extend both arms forward and say, “See?”. Not all of the interceptions were going to impact the outcome directly. Still, Prescott unnecessarily opted to reinforce the stigma of being a turnover machine, making things go from bad to worse. For an offense that has been lackluster despite averaging 30 points per game, it’s the worst type of regression.
Coaching/lack of discipline
You can combine these two aspects because they go hand in hand. As mentioned earlier, the offense needs more potency. The Dallas rendition of the West Coast offense is designed for quick, short passes. However, it seems exclusive to that. The Cowboys aren’t driving the ball downfield with any regularity. Another concern is the route concepts that are being deployed.
On more than one occasion, multiple receivers were in the same area on a passing play. On a check-down throw to Rico Dowdle, Jalen Tolbert was just a few yards behind Dowdle. Then, on a play where Prescott was sacked leaving the pocket on a third down, the Cowboys ran a mesh concept against man coverage, and the receivers ran into each other with neither getting open. Whether the issue is the design or the execution, it matters little because neither was good enough on Sunday.
Imagine you’re coaching the Cowboys. You’re down 14 in the second half and facing a 3rd and 4 from your opponents’ 32-yard line. Do you:
a) Call a slant/flat concept with Ceedee Lamb and Jake Ferguson
b) Take a deep shot to Michael Gallup, knowing you can go for it on 4th down.
Mike McCarthy chose neither and decided to call an unsuccessful running play on third down before sending out Brandon Aubrey for a field goal. The Cowboys then allowed the 49ers to score a touchdown on the ensuing drive, trading a field goal for a touchdown.
Where the discipline was problematic was the self-inflicted mistakes that resulted in unnecessary penalties. Dallas’ inability to get off the field on third down assisted the 49ers to extend drives. Jayron Kearse committed a horrible offsides, and Donovan Wilson/Kearse were involved in another third-down penalty.
However, most of the blame must fall on McCarthy’s shoulders. He seemed reluctant to attack the 49ers’ defense despite having a healthy offensive line for the first time in two years.
His decision to end the first half without aggressively trying to get points was telling and foreshadowing of him passing up a 4th-and-4 with his team trailing by 14. Granted, Dak Prescott could have been better, but McCarthy didn’t seem to have a successful game plan.
The 49ers committed to take away CeeDee Lamb, but McCarthy never adjusted and needed a backup plan. The team traded for Brandin Cooks; once again, he was not featured in the offense. That mistake falls on the coaching staff. Something with this offense and these coaches have to change. This Texas Coast offense is looking like Texas Toast.