Dallas (+3.5) @ San Francisco
Power rankings: Dallas 4, San Fran 3
Keys to the game: When Dallas has the ball
The Cowboys are sitting at 6th in the NFL in offensive EPA/play. While Dak Prescott's performance registers as middle-of-the-road with a 71.3% completion rate, 7.6 yards per attempt, and a 73.2 PFF grade, the supporting cast around him is undeniably elite. The offensive line is expected to get back LT Tyron Smith (knee), making this is the first week that all 5 projected starters are together. LG Tyler Smith hasn't given up a pressure in two games and has been a force in the run game, RG Zack Martin is steadily maintaining legendary status, and RT Terrance Steele/C Tyler Biadasz are both solid. Meanwhile, the combination of CeeDee Lamb, Michael Gallup, Brandin Cooks, and Tony Pollard provides elite weaponry. And that doesn't even include TE Jake Ferguson - a 2022 4th rounder out of Wisconsin who has 7 targets in each of his last 2 games.
They will have their work out for them against the 49ers defense that sits at 9th in EPA/play. The 49ers have one of the better defensive lines in football - they pressure the quarterback 40% of the time, 3rd most in the league, despite blitzing just 23% of the time, 21st most. Nick Bosa is PFF's top graded edge rusher with 20 pressures (8th most) and a pass rush win rate of 28.9% (3rd most). Tackles Javon Hargrave and Arik Armstead is a solid duo up front, but both are pass-rushers first and run-defenders second. Dre Greenlaw and Fred Warner are an excellent linebacker duo, giving the 49ers are formidable front 7. Their secondary is anchored by a strong safety tandem in Talanoa Hufanga and Tashaun Gipson, but their corner room remains their one weak spot. Although Chavarius Ward is solid, both Deommodore Lenoir (outside) and Isaiah Oliver (slot) have had issues. CeeDee Lamb runs most of his routes out of the slot, where he'll have an advantage over Oliver. The 49ers pass-rushing strength up front hasn't translated to the run game - they are 5th in pass defense DVOA and 18th in run defense DVOA. Tony Pollard and CeeDee Lamb should be a focal point of the Cowboys strategy.
When the 49ers have the ball:
The 49ers' offense is currently a force to be reckoned with, ranking an impressive 2nd in EPA/play. Their success is a result of a well-crafted scheme and a group of skill position players known for their after-the-catch prowess. Brandon Aiyuk, having a breakout season in his 4th year, has showcased his ability to accumulate over 120 yards in two out of three games. Alongside Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, and Christian McCaffrey, they form a formidable group that should strike fear into opposing defenses. Quarterback Brock Purdy, although lacking physical tools to single-handedly take charge, excels in the game-manager role, accurately finding open receivers while ensuring the ball stays out of harm's way.
However, the Achilles' heel of the 49ers' offense lies in their offensive line, aside from the exceptional LT Trent Williams. The remaining positions have shown weaknesses, and offensive line play often hinges on weaknesses rather than strengths. This provides the Cowboys with a clear strategy to target these weaknesses.
To counter the 49ers' offense, the Cowboys must utilize their formidable edge rushers, Micah Parsons and Demarcus Lawrence, who have proven to be the best pass-rushing duo in football, ranking 4th and 2nd in PFF grades, respectively. There are 5 edge rushers in the NFL with a pass rush win rate of 25%, and Parsons and Lawrence are two of them. Additionally, despite the loss of CB Trevon Diggs, the Cowboys' secondary has found strength in 2022 5th rounder DaRon Bland, who has shown promise, allowing a mere 34.5 passer rating into his coverage, including 2 pass breakups and 3 interceptions. While the Cowboys' secondary faces a formidable test, they can rely on their pass rush to take advantage and disrupt the 49ers' offensive flow.