FRISCO, Texas – There's so much we can say about the success this offense had in San Francisco on Sunday – and I'm going to get to that.
The Cowboys nearly cracked 200 rushing yards for a second-straight week, and Dak Prescott once again played efficient football in the win. That all bears mentioning.
I also wanted to make sure I highlight this Dallas defense, though. As the story has been all season long, the Cowboys didn't play a completely clean game, but did they ever get the job done when they needed to.
Today's film study is going to start heavy on offense, but let's make sure we credit a strong defensive effort, as well.
- It's a shame Keith Smith was unable to keep his balance on that 3rd-and-2 during the opening drive. Doug Free, Zack Martin and Travis Frederick blew open a hole on the right side -- wide enough where Ezekiel Elliott was into the second level before the defense had a chance to react. If Smith didn't rock forward, Ezekiel Elliott was going to be one-on-one with Eric Reid with nothing between him and the end zone. Even though the play was blown dead, it was a great example of what was lying ahead for the 49ers run defense.
- On the Jeremy Kerley touchdown reception for the 49ers, it appeared the initial problem with the Cowboys' blitz was they weren't able to get the rushers home due to the gaps they took. The free rusher was Anthony Brown, but he got held up on the play when he got stuck behind Byron Jones. There were two guys attacking one gap, which the 49ers were able to handle. Another problem appeared to be the depth with which Benson Mayowa dropped. If he was a little deeper it's likely that Dallas would have been able to pick up Kerley across the field. This is a tough spot because Mayowa hasn't done much dropping in coverage since his days in Oakland last season. Just something that happens when you blitz and don't get rushers home.
- I really like how these offensive coaches have taken advantage of the offensive line and their ability to play in space. Scott Linehan called several screen passes during the game that were executed well. His call late in the game to Cole Beasley was the different maker in the victory. My favorite screen was the one on first-and-20 after the holding call on Doug Free. Linehan put both Ezekiel Elliott and Lance Dunbar in the game and motioned Dunbar from the left slot into a position outside right of Jason Witten. On the snap, Dak Prescott faked the ball to Elliott through the line and then Dunbar on the reverse. All of the ball handling gave Zack Martin, Travis Frederick and Ronald Leary a chance to work into position in front of Elliott. Prescott floated the ball to Elliott in the right flat with blockers in front, including Terrance Williams. Elliott was able to pick up 19 yards on the play, and the offense went from a bad down and distance situation to one they were easily able to convert the next play.
- Jason Garrett had a poor challenge last week against the Bears on a reception by Jason Witten – a decision he never should have made. This week, I thought he missed an opportunity on the 49ers' opening drive to make Chip Kelly have to think about making a fourth-and-1 call. Blaine Gabbert completed a pass to Quinton Patton on the sideline in front of Brandon Carr. The 49ers needed 11 yards for the first down, but in studying the play, Patton only managed to gain 10 yards due to the fact that he stepped out of bounds short of the marker. If Garrett would have challenged the spot, he likely would have won. By not doing this, the officials gave the 49ers the first down and three plays later Gabbert hit Kerley for a 33-yard touchdown.
- It's hard to fault Dak Prescott for the way he played in this game, but when he studies the tape, he is going to be disappointed on some of the throws he missed. One of those passes was a miss to Terrance Williams streaking across the field on a post -- which would have been a huge, chunk play. It appears that Prescott saw Williams in the middle of the field, but he just didn't pull the trigger. Jason Witten stayed in to help with the blocking and did a nice job. Where Prescott felt the pressure was from the right side, where Doug Free was unable to hold off Arik Armstead. By the time Prescott tried to move away from the pressure, it was too late to get the ball to Williams.
- The sack by Tyrone Crawford was a game changer for the Dallas defense. Things had not been going well up until that point, and you could feel that they were looking for something to get them going. The coverage in the secondary was outstanding, which allowed Crawford the ability to get home. He was able to take advantage of some poor technique work by Andrew Tiller and Trent Brown. For some reason neither appeared interested in blocking Crawford -- who just managed to power his way inside and right in the face of Blaine Gabbert for the sack, which put the 49ers in a bad down and distance situation.
- One minute Ezekiel Elliott was chopping down Michael Wilhoite on a blitz, and then the next, he was making an incredible jump cut behind the line to pick up a key first down. It's rare in this day to have running backs that are complete players -- but that is exactly what Elliott is.
- It was a terrible break for the 49ers to lose NaVorro Bowman to injury, but without him in the lineup, the Dallas offense had more success running the ball. The best example of this was the very next play when Zack Martin was able to get up on the second level and completely wipe out Bowman's replacement, Nick Bellore. Elliott simply followed Martin through the hole, which resulted in a chunk play of 23 yards. Give the coaching staff credit for taking advantage of the situation with their play calling.
- The one thing that Morris Claiborne can do is high point a football. He actually did a better job of tracking the ball than the receiver, Torrey Smith. In the pocket, Benson Mayowa was able to get inside of Joe Staley as Blaine Gabbert was loading up to throw the ball. Just before Gabbert was able to throw, Mayowa reached out with his left hand and got it near Gabbert's shoulder. It appeared that the pressure by Mayowa affected the way Gabbert delivered the ball. His feet were in terrible position, along with his upper body. He just didn't have any strength or accuracy to get the ball that far down the field, and Claiborne made him pay for it.
- I was pretty critical of Brice Butler and the dropped touchdown pass in the fourth quarter, but after watching the tape, it appears that Rashard Robinson was able to get his hands in between Butler's to pull the ball away. Initially, I didn't think that was the case and it was just a bad play, so I have to give Robinson credit for a touchdown saving playing.
- On the final offensive play for the 49ers in this game, give credit to Jack Crawford, Terrell McClain and Tyrone Crawford for the pressure they were able to put on Blaine Gabbert to force him to the throw the ball short. Torrey Smith was at the sticks, but when he noticed Gabbert in trouble, he came back for the ball -- which made him short of the marker. Once the ball left Gabbert's hand in Smith's direction, Claiborne calmly drove forward and put a shoulder into him to drive him out of bounds. Just a side note: Gabbert really had nowhere else to go with the ball due to the coverage by the rest of the secondary.
- I have to give Nick Eatman credit for this from our Pre-Game Live Show from Sunday – the Cowboys sat out three players that had played in nine Pro Bowls during their careers in Dallas. Tony Romo -- 4, Tyron Smith – 3 and Dez Bryant – 2 .