Cowboys Countdown to 49ers

As we get ready for the Cowboys-49ers 3:25 (CT) kickoff from Levi's Stadium, here are 10 stats to keep an eye on as the Cowboys try to advance to 3-1 for just the second time since 2009.

10: Dak Prescott's rank in adjusted yards per pass attempt -- The fourth-rounder out of Mississippi State has 7.95 yards per pass attempt, good for 10th-best in the league. By comparison, Tony Romo's career yards per pass attempt is 7.8, and he has only surpassed the 8.0 barrier four times (2006, 2009, 2011, 2014) in his career. Furthermore, Romo has only ever surpassed the 8.0 mark in 2007 (10.57), 2008 (9.32), and 2011 (8.88). Prescott's 7.95 adjusted yards per pass attempt is 15th-best in franchise history among quarterbacks who started and/or played the first three games of the season. Probably just as impressive is that Prescott is the only rookie thrower on the list. With Bryant possibly out, the ability to keep that stat above 8.0 will be challenging. In the Giants game, Prescott's only loss, his adjusted yards per pass attempt was 5.08.


9: San Francisco's rank in giveaway points -- Despite the 49ers topping the NFL with 45 takeaway points and having a plus-26 on the turnover points differential, they are the 10th-porous team in terms of giveaway points, an oddity that does not exist among any of the other top-5 teams in the points-off-takeaways category (Eagles, Falcons, Broncos, Cardinals). This spot is two below Washington but four ahead of Chicago. In other words, the 49ers giveaway points is right in the middle of what the Cowboys have already faced. The Cowboys defense has to come up with some extra possessions because the numbers indicate the 49ers defense may yield points thereafter. Dallas ranks 12th in the league with 14 points off takeaways.


8: Number of games Dez Bryant has missed since 2015 -- Much was made about how Garrett and company posted a 1-11 record without Romo under center last year. However, the club's 2-1 record in 2016, all without the four-time Pro Bowler, have assuaged those concerns. The next inconvenient fact is Garrett and company went 1-6 without Bryant lined up at the X. And so much for "next man up" -- Dallas had two 100-yard receivers in those seven games, and one of them was running back Lance Dunbar. The reality is when Bryant is out of the lineup, the opposition stacks the box, shuts down the run, and dares the rest of the Cowboys receiving corps to win their one-on-one match-ups. Fans would like to see Brice Butler outperform Terrance Williams in this capacity, but the numbers show Butler averaged three catches for 59 yards in his four games without Bryant compared to Williams' four catches for 67 yards in his seven games without Bryant.


Fish will update us on Dez's status as we go today. For now, check out these links: a) Dez once again comes to first to talk about what's cookin' (including his tuna and eggs lunch) and b) This "bone bruise'' stuff isn't what you think it is. We have those details here.



7: Number of 100-yard rushers 49ers DC Jim O'Neil has allowed since 2015 -- Do you think Ezekiel Elliott is as good as Todd Gurley, Latavius Murray, Justin Forsett, Ronnie Hillman, Chris Johnson, Fozzy Whitaker, and Christine Michael? If so, Elliott has a good chance to have another 100-yard game, the likes of which a Cowboys rookie running back has not done since DeMarco Murray in Nov. 6-13, 2011 in games against Seattle and Buffalo. O'Neil's defense this season has surrendered 4.0 yards per carry, tied for the 15th-worst in the NFL. Zeke currently hovers at that mark with a 3.9 yards per carry. One of the teams tied with San Francisco is Chicago, a team Elliott gained 140 yards against on 30 carries.


6: San Francisco's rank in red zone conversion -- With a 70 percent red zone conversion rate, the Niners place sixth-best in the NFL right now while the Cowboys defense ranks 15th-best overall with 53.9 percent red zone conversion rate. At home, where the 49ers have not been since Week 1, they have a 100 percent red zone conversion rate. On the road, with their only game in Washington, the Cowboys have a 33.3 percent red zone conversion rate, tied for sixth-best in the league. If the Cowboys need an edge in this game, it has to come in the red zone on defense. If they can't stop San Francisco's offense, then they at least need to turn away their drives into field goal attempts rather than touchdowns.




5: Number of games Jason Garrett will have coached in the Pacific Time Zone -- Redball has a 2-2 record on the West Coast. The only place he has a better winning percentage on the road is on the East Coast where he's 19-11. How does Garrett's 2-2 record compare with the rest of the NFL's Central Time teams? Since 2011, when Garrett coached in his first Pacific Time game (incidentally at San Francisco), his record is second-best only to the Texans' 3-1 mark. All other Central Time teams have sub-500 records on the West Coast, which just goes along with the old Garrett adage that the Cowboys need to be ready to play in the parking lot and on the moon. Garrett is currently 25-21 on the road with a 3-3 record against the NFC West.


4: San Francisco's rank in offensive holding beneficiary -- Opposing offenses have held eight times against the 49ers defense, a rank that places San Francisco at fourth in the NFL in benefiting from such penalties. The Cowboys have to be careful since they have three different active players Sunday who have incurred at least one holding call (Travis Frederick, Chaz Green, Jason Witten). Compound that with the fact referee Terry McAulay, who officiating his first game of the season Sunday, called the fifth-most offensive holding calls per game in 2015 with 3.9. With Bryant sidelined, or at best hobbled, Dallas will be down one playmaker to erase any offensive holding calls should they get behind the chains.


3: Dak Prescott's third-down conversion rank -- The rookie quarterback has led Dallas to 16 first downs by his arm through the first three games of the regular season. And this isn't a stat that can be corrupted by a fill-in playing 10 snaps like passer rating. Ranked in the top-5 with Prescott are Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco who are ahead of him and Matthew Stafford and Cam Newton who trail him. Prescott has found where to put the ball on third down to move the chains. Factor in that San Francisco has the 10th-worst third-down passing defense in the league at 42.9 percent, and Sunday could be a good day again for the pride of Mississippi State. By comparison, Brandon Weeden through his three starts last season had a 71.5 percent completion percentage but just seven first downs.




2: Number of times Blaine Gabbert has been sacked -- The former first-round pick for Jacksonville is tied with Jimmy Garappolo for the third-fewest among starting quarterbacks this season. Such a fact does not bode well for a Cowboys defense that ranks the 11th-lowest in the league with just five sacks, nor does Gabbert's 3-1 record when suffering a sack or fewer since 2015. On the flip side, Gabbert is 1-6 when taken down two or more times since becoming a Niner. Against Tampa-2 defenses, Gabbert does average two sacks.


1: Total wins rookie quarterbacks have against Jim O'Neil -- Our man, Matt Postins, posited Prescott is about to face the toughest front-seven challenge yet, and it seems entirely logical. Since becoming a defensive coordinator with the Browns in 2014, O'Neil has schemed against three rookie quarterbacks and they all have a combined 1-2 record against him with a 77.4 passer rating. On average, they have gone 24/40 for 248 yards, a touchdown, a pick, and get sacked four times. And these numbers haven't come against the likes of Tom Savage or Zach Mettenberg. The two losing quarterbacks were Derek Carr and Marcus Mariota, two highly regarded, capable rookie signal callers. Blake Bortles was able to eek a win despite his 40.3 passer rating, but only due to Brian Hoyer committing four total turnovers. Prescott is going to have to be more careful with the football because it's still dubious whether he has the defense to cover for any rookie mishaps.


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