The Dallas Cowboys defense came into Week 5 top-5 across the board, and in most cases top-3, in seemingly every metric that carries weight.
All the 49ers did was score three touchdowns in the first half — it should have been four had it not been for a fumble — and three touchdowns on their first three possessions of the second half.
Kyle Shanahan had an outstanding game-plan that kept Micah Parsons off balance. But it was the familiarity with Cowboys’ defensive coordinator Dan Quinn as well as his vanilla schemes that ultimately led to the Niners offense moving the ball at will.
This is an odd sentence to type, but the Cleveland Browns are a different beast than the Dallas Cowboys — defensively, anyway.
Cleveland’s defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz deserves a common-sense trophy for what he’s done this season. The Browns fired former 49ers secondary coach Joe Woods this past offseason. Schwartz came in and did the opposite of what Woods was doing, and wouldn’t ya know it, Cleveland went from a bottom-five unit to, in my opinion, the best defense in the NFL.
Part of the reason Schwartz should win an award is for his usage of Myles Garrett. If you were naming the most athletically gifted players in the league, Garrett might be at the top of the list. The only player with a higher PFF grade as an edge rusher than Garrett plays on the 49ers. Garrett has the highest win percentage as a pass rusher, though. He gets my vote for Defensive Player of the Year through five weeks.
Here’s Shanahan on Garrett:
“I mean, he is one of the most talented guys I think anyone’s seen. And the style they play on defense is very similar to ours. They rush the passer every play and then react to everything else. Him combined with Schwartz’s scheme and the guys around him, it’s a problem. It’s obvious why they’re a top defense right now.”
The most notable difference between the Browns and Cowboys defenses is that Dallas has an athletic front, but Cleveland has an athletic defense. Once the 49ers got past the front four of the Cowboys, there was little to no resistance.
The Browns have speed to burn at each level, and are significantly more athletic in the secondary. Plus, they have legitimate run threats along the interior in Dalvin Tomlinson and old friend Maurice Hurst.
The Browns are first in the league by a comfortable margin in EPA per play allowed. They’re seven percentage points better in success rate than second place. Whether it’s on the ground or through the air, the Browns have proven to be the stingiest unit in the NFL.
DVOA adjusts for opponent, and Cleveland is nine percentage points better than second place there, too. But, in the same vein as the 49ers, Cleveland hasn’t played a difficult schedule.
They played Joe Burrow in Week 1 when Burrow looked a shell of himself. Then Kenny Pickett, Ryan Tannehill, and Lamar Jackson. Neither of those offenses are in the same stratosphere as the Niners.