FRISCO, Texas – Twelve quick notes on the game from my vantage point at the Cowboys' headquarters at The Star.
The detailed film breakdown comes on Monday. For now, here are some quick thoughts:
- It was interesting to see the reaction of the Cowboys' offensive players in the postgame, when they were talking about how they believed they would see all kinds of fronts and coverages from the 49ers. As confident a group as they are, it was like they were almost surprised to have the success that they were able to have. Give the offensive coaches a great deal of credit for putting together a game plan that didn't allow San Francisco to dictate how this game was going to play out. Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan and his group had answers for everything the 49ers threw at them.
- If you were looking for the play that turned things around for the Cowboys in the first half, the sack off the twist-stunt from Tyrone Crawford was huge -- but the roughing the passer call on Jaquiski Tartt gave them new life. From my history in this league, Terry McAulay has always been the one referee who tends to take hits on the quarterback personally. It was clear that Dak Prescott's forward progress had stopped and the whistle was sounded, but that's a call that these officials don't normally make. It was a tremendous break for the Cowboys, which they were able to turn into points.
- Ezekiel Elliott had a ton of quality runs during this game, but my favorite was the jump cut that he made on 3rd-and-1 in the second half. Elliott had no business getting that first down with how poorly that play was blocked. There was nowhere for him to go inside, but for him to bounce the ball to the outside the way he did tells you all you need to know about his ability. Both of his feet came off the ground and when his left foot hit, he exploded and was gone. I can't wait to see that one on film on Monday.
- I was starting to wonder when we would see Terrance Williams in the end zone again. He had done a nice job of getting open early in the game, but Dak Prescott just couldn't quite get him the ball to reward him for his route running. Despite those early misses, Williams was able to come back and put Tramaine Brock in a bad spot to execute a perfect back-shoulder fade. Prescott threw the ball in a spot that allowed Williams to adjust in such a way that he was able to secure the ball and work his body across the goal line for the score.
- Anthony Brown has quietly been playing well for Orlando Scandrick in the nickel. It was Brown's breakup of Blaine Gabbert's pass to Jeremy Kerley in the middle of the field that got the defense off the field right before the two-minute warning in the first half. The 49ers were forced to punt and Bradley Pinion shanked the ball, which gave the Cowboys offense outstanding field position to tie the game right before the half.
- I lost count of how many times I thought Chaz Green was too early off the ball. Green must have some incredible peripheral vision to see the snap because he was not flagged one time. To quote Jason Garrett, Green has "not been perfect," but you have to be impressed with where he is compared to where he started the season. This is something to keep an eye on, because I am not sure this would happen -- but if you remember, there was a season when the coaching staff alternated Doug Free and Jermey Parnell at right tackle in order to see what they had in Parnell. Again, I am not saying it will happen, but if and when Tyron Smith comes back from his back issue, it might be an opportunity to get Green a look on that right side.
- Did you notice how the Dallas offense played with pace in this game? There were several snaps when Linehan had Prescott got the offense to the line before the 49ers had a chance to change personnel. Prescott used to play this way at Mississippi State, which is another little wrinkle that makes him feel comfortable in the offense.
- It was nice to see Anthony Hitchens have a better game. He didn't allow himself to be blocked, and that was the biggest difference. I really believed that we were close to seeing Justin Durant take over full time for him due to the fact that he just wasn't making enough plays in the scheme. There were a couple of snaps where Hitchens was able to finish off Carlos Hyde before he had a chance to get going -- which is no easy task to pull off.
- Congratulations to the front office for not giving away Ronald Leary before the start of the season. From what I saw, Leary, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin were outstanding inside. As a group, they were able to control the middle of that 49ers defense. A large part of the success that Elliott had were cuts that he was able to make off their blocks. To have success running the ball you have to be able to secure the down linemen and then get bodies on the linebackers on the second level, which is what Leary, Frederick and Martin were able to execute. It was hats on hats all day for these three.
- It wasn't a sack, but the pressure by Jack Crawford on fourth down sealed the victory. If Crawford doesn't bust his rear to get around the corner on Joe Staley, Gabbert could have stood in the pocket and likely found an open receiver to convert. By making Gabbert have to move to his right, it reduced the amount of the field in which he had to operate. Gabbert had no chance but to fit the ball in to Torrey Smith, who was nowhere near the first-down marker. I believe that the pressure made Gabbert panic and forced him into that throw.
- I hope that Lance Dunbar knows that the next time he's pinning a punt inside the 5-yard line, unless the ball is rolling toward the end zone, there is no reason to go to the ground. The 49ers were able to take advantage of the ball coming out to the 20 and drive for their second touchdown of the day. It was a costly mistake by a player who I think has really good football intelligence.
- I see you, J.J. Wilcox.