Dallas Cowboys vs San Francisco 49ers: An “Official” Breakdown

Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, San Francisco 49ers Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, San Francisco 49ers Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /
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Nick Bosa Mandatory Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports
Nick Bosa Mandatory Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports /

Defensive Tendencies

Run Stopping

The 49ers’ defense is, quite literally, the exact opposite of the Dallas Cowboys defense. San Francisco is currently 16th in passing defensive DVOA but 2nd in rushing defensive DVOA. They line up only with four-down linemen but their defensive production would likely indicate the opposite.

The front four of San Francisco are consistently able to gain leverage on their opposition by using their length and power and they can blow up different types of runs. Their second-level defenders are quick and instinctual in the run game quickly moving towards the ball after the snap filling gaps before the offensive linemen can complete their combo blocks.

Their alley defenders are incredibly disciplined and play tough constricting the outside lanes. Running on this team is hard and it’s something for years the Cowboys tried to achieve doing things the same way.

The best solution to this would be to diversify the run game throwing Counter runs and OZ runs as tendency breakers from the team’s stable dose of Dives and Duo runs. Counters would allow the Cowboys’ OL to down block in the direction of the defender’s momentum, running the opposite direction and forcing the linebackers to make the play.

The Cowboys have had success against good defensive lines at running outside zone with the interior consistently reach blocking interior defenders. The more the Cowboys can do this, the better chance the Cowboys have at turning one handoff into a really long gain. That said, running the ball will be hard against this team.

However, there is a pretty drastic difference once they have to defend the pass. Under Robert Saleh, the 49ers’ pass defenses were usually tough to beat. It might be because the defensive backfield has a lot of young players, but this pass defense consistently gets beat in the intermediate and deep areas of the field usually hovering around their experienced linebacker corps.

They primarily rush four – with their defensive line that isn’t much of a surprise – and will often drop the back seven into Cover 3 or Cover 4 coverages. Paying too much attention to the quarterback, they allow receivers to manipulate their blind spots and fit in soft spots all across the backfield. By also rushing four, chips from tight ends and running backs can buy the quarterback enough time to read downfield and complete passes.

With the Dallas Cowboys offense based on exploiting matchups, expect the team to run intermediate zone-beating concepts until the 49ers’ defense starts to run some man coverage. The 49ers are okay at disguising coverages often playing what the pre-snap look shows; this should give quarterback Dak Prescott the confidence to allow things to develop down the field as he knows what’s coming.

When the 49ers play man coverage, crossing routes exploit their defenders’ inexperience fairly quickly. A man coverage look should mean an immediate deep pass because CeeDee Lamb and Amari Cooper should handily generate separation quickness down the field against this young secondary.