clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

3 keys to a 49ers victory: The Niners must sustain their offensive output

The 49ers will look to remain undefeated against the Cowboys on Sunday.

Arizona Cardinals v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images

The San Francisco 49ers are hosting the Dallas Cowboys in Week 5 on Sunday Night Football, looking to remain undefeated to begin the season against arguably their toughest matchup yet.

Meanwhile, the Cowboys improved to 3-1 with a seasoned 38-3 victory over the New England Patriots, recording yet another dominant defensive performance en route to victory.

Heading into the game, the 49ers are seen as 3.5-point favorites, according to DraftKings Sportsbook, with the over/under placed at 45 points.

Here’s what you need to know about the 49ers’ opponent on Sunday.

Opponent Preview

The Cowboys come into the game standing at 3-1, with their lone loss coming on the road against the Arizona Cardinals, whom the 49ers beat in Week 4 in a 35-16 victory.

Dallas boasts the fourth-best scoring offense in the NFL at 31 points a game, while allowing a league-best 10.3 points per outing, resulting in the second-best average point scoring margin in the NFL behind just the Buffalo Bills.

Offensively, the Cowboys have been solid, averaging 360 yards per game (11th in the NFL), but their efficiency hasn't been as high, as Dallas has elected to develop more of a balanced attack, while Dak Prescott’s 5.4 air yards per attempt is significantly lower than his 2022 mark of 8.2 air yards per attempt.

With the Cowboys changing offensive coordinators in the offseason from Kellen Moore to Brian Schottenheimer, their approach has changed, with an increased effort to get the ball out quicker in the passing game in order to keep Dak Prescott in cleaner pockets, where he’s been more effective.

The statistics back that up, as Dak Prescott has improved his time to throw from a league-average 2.72 seconds in 2022 to 2.49 seconds in 2023, which ranks fourth in the NFL.

As a result, tackling in space will be integral for the 49ers, as will be third down conversions, as the Cowboys boast a league-leading 51.6 percent conversion rate in 2023, which has helped them sustain more drives, despite having middling efficiency thus far.

However, the bread and butter of this Cowboys team is their defense, as they lead the league with a 2.3 average turnover margin a game, while giving up just 10.3 points per outing.

Dallas’s specialties have remained similar on a year-to-year basis, as they boast the second-best sack percentage in the NFL, led by Micah Parsons’s four sacks on the season.

While their run defense has been susceptible, giving up the 17th-most rushing yards per game and the 26th-worst yards per carry, the Cowboys have allowed just 148 yards weekly through the air, holding teams to a measly 5.5 yards per attempt.

In what should set up to be a high-profile affair on Sunday night, the 49ers are in for a treat against a tough Cowboys defense that has gotten their hands on the football in numerous ways to begin the season.

Keys to the Game

Turnover battle: Turnovers win or lose games.

Through four games, the 49ers have yet to lose the turnover battle, as San Francisco has lost just one fumble through four games, while the defense has forced four takeaways, leading to the NFL’s sixth-best turnover margin thus far.

The Cowboys, on the other hand, have been stellar when it comes to the turnover battle, as the defense’s ability to force takeaways has aided the offense in scoring points, leading to some high outputs thus far this season, including last weekend’s 38 points against the New England Patriots.

San Francisco has done a good job in limiting the turnovers this season, and should come out on top if that occurs again on Sunday. However, if any team were to upset them in the turnover column, it would be the Dallas Cowboys.

Run Game: Both of these teams run the football at a high rate, with the 49ers ranking second in the NFL with a 52.6 percent run rate, while the Cowboys stand fifth with a 48.6 percent rushing play percentage.

San Francisco has built their offensive identity on a balanced approach, with the run game seeing significant levels of success courtesy of Christian McCaffrey’s elite play and head coach Kyle Shanahan’s scheme.

The numbers have remained similar in 2023, with the 49ers averaging 153 yards per game on the ground (3rd in NFL) and 4.6 yards per attempt (7th in NFL).

Meanwhile, the Cowboys have revitalized their ground attack with an increase in volume for lead back Tony Pollard, who has taken over a bell-cow role in Dallas following the departure of longtime starter Ezekiel Elliott.

The Cowboys have rushed for 141 yards per game on the ground, good for seventh in the NFL, but it’s come with much less efficiency, as Dallas has rushed for just 4.1 yards per attempt, which ranks amongst the bottom half in the NFL.

What makes the run game intriguing in this game is the 49ers’ success in defending the run, while the Cowboys have been mediocre in that category through four games.

Dallas will need to compile more offense to win this game, and that means seeing success on the ground, which will be tough against the 49ers.

The run game could be the difference in this one between the 49ers and the Cowboys.

Tale of two halves: There have been some intriguing scoring trends between the 49ers and the Cowboys this season.

Scoring-wise, both teams have found ways to start strong, with Dallas ranking second in the NFL with 20.5 first-half points per game, while the 49ers are fourth at 18.8 per game.

That changes in the second half, as the 49ers fall to ninth with 12.5 second-half points per game, while the Cowboys drop to 17th with 10.5 per game.

Defensively, the Cowboys give up 8.5 points through the first 30 minutes on average, good for ninth in the NFL, while the 49ers are around the middle of the pack with 10 points allowed per first half thus far.

However, both teams lock it up at the end of games, with the Cowboys allowing just 1.8 points per second half, ranking first in the NFL, while the 49ers are second with just 4.5 points allowed during that same period.

Looking at the trends, both teams build off strong first halves offensively with elite second halves defensively to create a wide scoring margin throughout the game.

Ultimately, this game could boil down to whether one team starts quicker than the other, as it may be tough to rebound from a slow start against one of these opponents.