Skip Bayless seemed to have a difficult time accepting that the San Francisco 49ers beat his favorite team the Dallas Cowboys.
He even tweeted this “the Cowboys are better than the 49ers. They just weren’t ready to play better.” Which seems like a fair point with Dallas winning 12 games and San Francisco 10. As for the second part of the statement that is definitely not the case.
It only seemed that way due to their prolific offense which makes Dallas look better on paper. Since the Cowboys became the first franchise in NFL history to have a quarterback throw for over 4,000 yards, a running back rush for over 1,000 yards, a wide receiver with over 1,000 yards receiving, a defender with 10 or more sacks, and a member of the secondary with over 10 interceptions. Still looks are deceiving.
It is time to take a look at why this is the case starting at each positioning group:
- Quarterback: Cowboys, as Dak Prescott threw for 4,449 yards, 37 touchdowns to 10 interceptions, a completion percentage of 68.8 percent, and averaged 278 yards passing per game. Meanwhile for the 49ers Jimmy Garoppolo shrugged off an injury and a relatively slow start to finish the season throwing for 3,810 yards, 20 touchdowns to 12 interceptions, while completing 68.3 percent of his passes, and averaged 254 yards passing per game.
- Running back: 49ers, Ezekiel Elliott finished the season with 1,002 yards on 237 carries, a yards per carry average of 4.2, a long of 47, and 10 touchdowns. Backup Tony Pollard was a tremendous change of pace back for the Cowboys finishing the season with 719 yards on 130 carries, a yards per carry average of 5.5, a long of 58, and two touchdowns. The 49ers lost starting running back Raheem Mostert in game one of the season, rookie running back Elijah Mitchell took over the starting role. He did not disappoint even though he missed six games due to injury.
He wound up with 963 yards, an average of 4.7 yards per carry, a long of 39, and five touchdowns. Wide receiver Deebo Samuel late in the season became much more of a threat out of the backfield. He finished the season with 365 yards on 59 carries, a yards per carry aveage of 6.2, a long of 49, and set a NFL record with eight rushing touchdowns by a wide receiver. He also threw for a touchdown.
- Wide Receivers: Cowboys, if it were a competition between Ceedee Lamb and Amari Cooper going up against Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk the edge slightly favors the 49ers. Depth is why Dallas owns this match-up.
Lamb caught 79 passes for 1,102 yards, averaged 13.9 yards per receptions, with a long of 49, and finished with six touchdowns. Cooper finished the season with 68 receptions, 865 yards, averaged 12.7 yards per reception, with a long of 41, and eight touchdowns. Cedrick Wilson came on late in the season with several 100 yard receiving games and finish with 602 yards on 45 catches, averaged 13.4 yards per reception, a long of 73, and six touchdowns. Michael Gallup tore his ACL and played in nine games. He finished the season with 445 yards on 35 receptions, averaged 12.7 yards per reception, a long of 41, and two touchdowns.
For the 49ers Samuel is the best wide receiver between the two teams. He finished with 1,405 yards on 77 receptions, averaged 18.2 yards per reception which led the NFL, a long of 83, and six touchdowns. Aiyuk shook off a slow start to the season and survived the doghouse of head coach Kyle Shanahan. The second year wide receiver finished with 826 yards on 56 receptions, averaged 14.8 per reception, a long of 43, and five touchdowns. Rookie Jauan Jennings came on late for Garoppolo to become his favorite target on third downs, yet he finished the season with 24 catches for 282 yards with an average of 11.8 yards per reception, a long of 34, and five touchdowns.
- Tight End: 49ers, this one is obvious. George Kittle is the best all-around tight end in the NFL. Dallas Schultz is a good receiving tight end for the Cowboys.
- Offensive line: 49ers win this one as well. Trent Williams is the best the best offensive linemen in the NFL. Tom Compton who replaced injured right tackle Mike McGlinchey, solidified the line even further with his run blocking ability. Quite possibly the best evidence of the bully ball played by San Francisco is how often Los Angeles Rams Aaron Donald has struggled to make an impact when the two teams play.
The Cowboys did not sack Garoppolo in Sunday’s wild card game.
Tyron Smith for the Dallas Cowboys struggled to contain who the 49ers sent at him. He allowed seven pressures after allowing 11 all season long. Quite possibly the best block came from Elliot who took out two 49ers rushers on a blitz. That is not a good thing for an offensive line trying to protect Prescott.
- Defensive line: 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa is no doubt on the list for Defensive Player of the Year as well as Comeback Player of the Year. He finished the season with 15.5 sacks, 52 tackles with 21 for loss which led the NFL, 32 quarterback hits, four forced fumbles and one pass defended. Defensive tackle D.J. Jones has become one of the players San Francisco must look to extend, he finished 2021 with 52 tackles including 10 for loss, two sacks, two forced fumbles and a pass defended. Arik Armstead came on strong late in the season and finished with 63 tackles including seven for a loss and six sacks. It is also the depth on the line for the 49ers as well that stands out. Arden Key’s play makes it necessary to extend him this offseason. He finished with a career-high in sacks with six-and-a-half. Jordan Willis came back from suspension and added three sacks, and Samson Ekubam played better as the season progressed finished with four-and-a-half sacks.
Dallas’ top two defensive ends Randy Gregory and Dorance Armstrong Jr., combined for 11 sacks, 56 tackles with only seven for loss, 29 quarterback hits, three forced fumbles, two passes defended, and one interception. DeMarcus Lawrence makes the unit stronger, yet only played in seven games. Their defensive tackles really did not stand out.
- Linebackers: 49ers, Fred Warner and Azeez Al-Shaair were arguably the best duo in the NFL. Yet depth was also huge for San Francsico as Dre Greenlaw missed 14 games, Marcell Harris and Demetrius Flanningan-Fowles played when needed.
For Dallas, Micah Parsons was the best defensive rookie in the NFL. His season was outstanding as he recorded 84 tackles with 20 tackles for loss, 13 sacks, 30 quarterback hits, three forced fumbles, and three passes defended. Leighton Vander Esch and Keanu Neal are solid linebackers, yet are not at the level of San Francisco’s.
- Safeties: 49ers, Jimmie Ward and Jacquiski Tartt are unsung heroes of the 49ers secondary.
The best example of this is actually during the wild card game against the Cowboys. Defensive Coordinator DeMeco Ryans does not blitz often, yet in this particular situation he did. He chose Ward who got enough pressure to make Prescott feel uncomfortabl. It worked as he did not get off a good throw to Wilson who made a valiant effort to catch the football.
For the Cowboys, Jayron Kearse led the team in tackles with 101 and finished with two interceptions.
- Cornerbacks: Cowboys, this was by default. Trevon Diggs led the NFL with 11 interceptions and even though he made plays he was also liable to give up big plays to the opposition. Anthony Brown and Jourdan Lewis are solid cornerbacks and both intercepted three passes in 2021.
For much of the season the 49ers struggled when teams looked to throw deep. It was not necessarily receivers making big plays, it was the cornerbacks making contact allowing for obvious pass interference penalties to get called. Josh Norman seemed to have the most flags thrown against him, his only saving grace was that he became good at forcing fumbles. Emmanuel Moseley is argably better than Diggs even with his 11 interceptions, still the only thing that makes the Dallas group better is the overall depth.
- Punter: Cowboys punter Bryan Anger put on a show against the 49ers when he got his opportunities averaging 53.6 yards per punt. He also completed a pass on a fake punt for a first down. 49ers punter Mitch Wishnowsky only managed 44.8 yards per punt, with the most important punt of the game landing in the end zone for a touchback.
- Kicker: The 49ers Robbie Gould earned his money by making two field goals that were over 50 yards and one for 40 yards in the win. Greg Zuerlein also made a field goal beyond 50 yards, yet for much of the season he struggled missing six field goals and six extra points.
Overall San Francisco was better at seven position groups to Dallas’ four.
The win for the 49ers said it all. Elliot carried the football 12 times for 31 yards which was 28 yards less than his season average, Lamb caught only one pass for 21 yards which meant he was 48 yards below his season average, and Prescott was 24 yards below his season average as he threw for 254 yards.
As for San Francisco, Mitchell and Samuel combined for 168 yards on 37 carries and two touchdowns.
Simply put Skip, the 49ers are and were always the better team.