The heavyweight bout between the Dallas Cowboys and the San Francisco 49ers looked more like a classic Mike Tyson knockout in the early rounds of a 1980s fight. The Niners left little doubt and any time Dallas posed a threat, Kyle Shanahan’s squad answered.
Let’s get right to the overreactions and hot takes.
It would be a disappointment if the 49ers didn’t win the Super Bowl
The 49ers didn’t give us an opportunity to second-guess who the most dominant team in the NFC was Sunday night. But they have the best offense and defense in the league...by a long shot:
ANY/A Value after SNF. The 49ers are so much better than everyone else. pic.twitter.com/aEc4Sx5HRp— Justis Mosqueda (@JuMosq) October 9, 2023
That’s a metric called adjusted net yards that incorporates passing yardage, sacks, touchdowns, and interceptions. This is a stat that is strongly correlated to scoring points, although it is influenced and inflated due to explosive plays.
The Niners are blowing the rest of the league out of the water in point differential, too:
NFL point differential leaders— Kyle, a Madson (@KyleAMadson) October 9, 2023
1. 49ers +99
2. Bills +79
3. Cowboys +51
4. 49ers in the 2nd half +50
5. 49ers in the 1st half +49
6. Chiefs +48 https://t.co/uKwATTkJ3Y
First half. Second half. Offense. Defense. You name it, and the 49ers are clicking on all cylinders.
This is the most complete team that Kyle Shanahan has ever had. This is also the deepest and most talented. Yes, the 49ers made it to the Super Bowl in 2019, but the offense didn’t hit their stride until adding Emmanuel Sanders, and was nowhere near as potent as this year’s unit.
Think about how aggressive Shanahan was on Sunday night against the Cowboys in the face of a ferocious pass rush. Then think about how the passing offense looked against the Vikings and Packers in the 2019 playoffs. They’re playing two different sports.
Gone are the days of calling running plays on 3rd & 14. The offense is looking to convert, no matter how long the yardage is needed to gain a first down. It helps that they have a quarterback who can make a defense pay — more on him later.
Best teams ever tracked by DVOA through 5 games.— Aaron Schatz (@ASchatzNFL) October 9, 2023
* Team had bye so this represents Week 6 not Week 5.#49ers #FTTB
Just below this list are four other SB winners -- 1985 Bears, 1990 Giants, 1997-98 Broncos -- and the current 3-2 #BillsMafia pic.twitter.com/hmDsavZcST
The Niners are no longer a team that has an offense being propped up by Shanahan’s scheme who happens to be riding the coattails of its defense. Speaking of, let’s talk about the defense.
Dallas was one of the most effective offenses in the NFL. They didn’t gain ten yards on a single drive until the second quarter. The Cowboys, who were primed to make an impact after having their offensive line back intact, were held without a first down on seven of their eight first half drives.
Fred Warner made plays. Nick Bosa caused chaos. Plus, Javon Hargrave and Arik Armstead made Dak Prescott uncomfortable all night long. Remember, Dallas had their starting offensive line back. This was supposed to be a team that would have no trouble scoring!
You’re not allowed to overreact to what happens in October. But this is a team that looks destined to win the Super Bowl. They aren’t making the same mistakes as other teams.
The Bills have lost to Zach Wilson and just lost to Jacksonville in Week 5. The Ravens lost to Kenny Pickett. Miami failed their one test on the road against Buffalo. The Eagles are undefeated, but I’m not buying them as a contender. The Chiefs don’t have any receivers. The Lions are legit, but we’re talking about Jared Goff on the road in a playoff game.
When you look around the NFL, there’s a team that’s head and shoulders above the rest of the crop. That’s the 49ers, and it would be a disappointment if they didn’t win a Super Bowl this season. That’s the expectation and why you aggressively add a Christian McCaffrey and Javon Hargrave.
Brock Purdy’s value is top-5
Brock Purdy hadn’t been tested yet. That was the narrative heading into Sunday night.
Well, against what many believe to be the best defense in the NFL, Brock Purdy had the highest passer rating of any QB in Week 5. Kyle Shanahan said that Purdy had one bad throw (a throw behind Brandon Aiyuk early in the game), but was otherwise flawless.
The arguments used against him all offseason no longer hold up. You can’t call him a dink-and-dunk quarterback. Purdy finished third among all QBs in average completed air yards for Week 5, and is third on the season, too.
Dallas threw every look at Purdy. They blitzed him. Played coverage. Ran combination coverages. Fire-zone blitzes. Creeper blitzes. It didn’t work. Nothing made Purdy uncomfortable, as he continued to be the same player that this offense so desperately needed.
Purdy used his legs to buy time for Kittle on the first touchdown. His mobility continues to make a difference. But looking downfield is what separates Purdy, and takes this offense to new levels. It’s as if the defense is baiting Purdy to throw the ball to the intermediate level of the field. That’s playing right into Brock’s strengths.
Purdy leads the league in adjusted EPA per play through five weeks and comfortably over second place (.474 to .329). That tells you he’s capitalizing on the big plays that Shanahan is drawing up.
Equally as important, Purdy leads the league in success rate. That tells us he’s operating Shanahan’s offense precisely how he wants.
Purdy may not have the top-5 physical tools as a Josh Allen or Justin Herbert, but his processing skills are elite. He also possesses more than enough play-making skills necessary to excel at a position in an offense full of playmakers.
Purdy’s value, to this team, is top-5. That matters.
Fred Warner is the most valuable defender on the 49ers
Through the first month of the season, Fred Warner’s impact plays were limited. That changed on the biggest stage, as Warner forced a fumble, had an interception, and had a play where he took away Dak Prescott’s primary read then sacked him in a matter of four seconds.
Dallas decided to take a shot-play on first down when they got the ball back before the end of the half. Warner, as he seemingly does once a game, ran down the field with wide receiver Brandin Cooks 40+ yards down the field 1-on-1.
I’m not arguing that Warner is a better player than Nick Bosa. What I’m saying is the 49ers defense can afford to rush four players and have a less-than-stellar cornerback trio because they have a linebacker who eliminates an entire portion of the field.
DVOA tracks how a defense performs against a specific receiver. The 49ers are No. 2 against tight ends, but aren’t higher than 11th against any other wideout. They’re also No. 1 at defending the middle of the field in DVOA.
Back to that value word, defensive coordinator Steve Wilks can allocate more help elsewhere thanks to Warner’s coverage prowess. Recently, we’re seeing an uptick in Warner’s run defense as he’s made more and more tackles around the line of scrimmage.
Calling Warner the best linebacker in the league is so 2019. No. He’s the most valuable defender on the 49ers.