ReFo: 49ers @ Cowboys, Week 1

Return to form for a 49er and particularly rough outing for a Cowboy top off Steve Palazzolo's look at this season opener.

| 3 years ago

ReFo: 49ers @ Cowboys, Week 1

REFO-WK1-SF@DALIt was an inauspicious start for the Dallas Cowboys who seemed to be playing catch-up with the San Francisco 49ers right from the opening kickoff. An early fumble by running back DeMarco Murray was returned for a touchdown by 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver and then quarterback Tony Romo’s first ill-advised throw set up the 49ers for an easy 4-yard score. San Francisco was up 21-3 while running only five plays from scrimmage and the game never got much closer.

For Dallas, it really just came down to the turnovers as they moved the ball, particularly on the ground, but fumbles and interceptions proved costly. The 49ers deserve credit for making the plays on defense and combining that with an efficient offense behind the accuracy and decisiveness of QB Colin Kaepernick.

With one game in the books, the preseason concerns surrounding the Cowboys’ defense are still valid, though they hung tough given the difficult circumstances, while the 49ers are tapping into their depth more than they’ve needed to in recent years as 18 defensive players played at least 10 snaps.

Here’s a look at the rest of Week 1’s key performances.

San Francisco 49ers – Performances of Note

Justin Smith, DE: +5.0

Breakdown: A disruptive force from the first snap of the game, Smith looked like his old self picking up two sacks, batting a pass and re-directing running plays the entire afternoon. Both sacks were fairly easy as Smith took advantage of Romo pulling the ball on a run play, hanging LT Tyron Smith out to dry, and the second came on a miscommunication on a stunt. Still, it was an impressive performance for Smith who carried the 49ers’ defensive line.

Signature Stat: Smith was the only 49ers defensive lineman to grade positively against the run as he gave left guard Ronald Leary fits. The +5.0 grade marks Smith’s highest grade since his +5.7 effort against the Chicago Bears in Week 11 of 2012.

Colin Kaepernick, QB: +3.7

Breakdown: It was an impressive showing for Kaepernick who was firing lasers all game long, whether under pressure or in a clean pocket. He made very good decisions and took advantage of some soft coverage from the Cowboys’ secondary.

Signature Stat: On back-to-back plays in the first quarter, Kaepernick hit WR Anquan Boldin in the numbers on a post route and came back to shed a sack to find TE Vernon Davis up the sideline for a 29-yard touchdown.

Ahmad Brooks, OLB: -5.5

Breakdown: It was a terrible start for Brooks who picked up two illegal hands to the face penalties, a neutral zone infraction, and a missed tackle, all within the first five minutes of the game. He later whiffed on Murray in the backfield for a second missed tackle and even an impressive sack against Tyron Smith late in the third quarter couldn’t salvage Brooks’ grade.

Signature Stat: Brooks committed eight penalties last season, tied for the lead among 3-4 outside linebackers. He’s well on his way to leading again with his three after Week 1.

Dallas Cowboys – Performances of Note

Tony Romo, QB: -4.6

Breakdown: Interceptions don’t always tell the entire story, but Romo’s three were all well-deserved. Whether eschewing a wide open deep post to throw into triple coverage or lofting up a prayer to the end zone that found 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis, the decision making was as poor as we’ve seen from Romo as he finished at 23-for-37 for 282 yards and three interceptions.

Signature Play: The first interception was pretty bad, but the second one was an extremely curious decision. Working from the 49ers’ 5-yard line, the Cowboys called the quick play action with WR Dwayne Harris running a slant behind the linebackers, an NFL staple. For some reason, Romo ignored his wide open first read, rolled out of the pocket, and threw one up for grabs in the end zone that found Willis for his second turnover of the game.

Starting Secondary: -8.1 combined

Breakdown: The Dallas defensive front was the major concern coming into the season, but it was the secondary that let the defense down on Sunday. Whether it was wide open receivers running through the secondary, easy conversions due to soft coverage or their six missed tackles, Dallas has some work to do on the back end.

Signature Play: The 29-yard touchdown to Vernon Davis in the first quarter came due to a breakdown in the secondary that left the tight end wide open for the easy score.

DeMarco Murray, RB: +2.2

Breakdown: After the early costly fumble, Murray settled down and had a really strong game running the ball. His +2.2 rushing grade is among the league’s best this week as he showed great burst hitting the holes in Dallas’ zone blocking scheme while also showing good elusiveness in forcing six missed tackles.

Signature Stat: Murray’s six missed tackles forced are the most since he had seven last year in Week 3 against the St. Louis Rams.

PFF Game Ball

49ers DE Justin Smith set the tone for the 49ers defense and carried their depleted defensive front on his way to a +5.0 grade.


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| Senior Analyst

Steve is a senior analyst at Pro Football Focus. His work has been featured on ESPN Insider, NBC Sports, and 120 Sports.

  • Das Dweeb

    Can’t argue the game ball to Justin Smith, who was truly a force – and as the article states, the only Niners D-lineman who had a good game. But considering how the offense bailed out the very poor defense by playing so efficiently the Cowboys were forced to stop handing off in the second half, I’d give Kaepernick a share of that gamer. He played one of his best games as a pro. Not only did he visibly go through his progressions a number of times that TV viewers could see, but he made great decisions, threw accurately, and ran out of trouble all day. Co-game balls, I say. And hope they can plug that leaky D-line or good running teams are going to be a real problem.

    • Das Dweeb

      Oh, and by “very poor defense,” I mean “very poor run defense.” The pass defense played quite well, especially considering the injuries to both starting corners and some truly mysterious officiating.

    • Izach

      Personally I think kap did real well but as PFF has pointed out before his style of play mixed with the skill level of his weapons and the scheme they all play in deserves a lot of credit. He hit wide open guys all day I didn’t really see a contested pass at all. I did like his escape ability as well physically kaps got it no denying that

  • ChickenHunter

    The 49ers gave up the run on purpose to get their nickel & dime packages on the field to make up for all the injuries. Plus the majority of the yards in the second half were on purpose to kill the clock in garbage time. You could tell the effort wasn’t there because they were trading yards for time off the clock and making sure no one else got injured.

    • Izach

      Didn’t they have more DBs injuries? Doesn’t make sense what you said less DBs so put more out there. I wasn’t charting the Defense so I’m sure they did what you said but I don’t think that’s why they did it

      • Jake

        I’m not sure what he meant exactly but it was obvious that they were
        gearing towards more coverage in the secondary and sending fewer pass rushers… why Romo always had time to throw and they were having success running the ball. I think Vic Fangio alluded to that after the game.