It’s always a special occasion when the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers square off, as together they comprise an age-old rivalry that transcends geography, but it’s a particularly exciting fixture this year as both teams are major contenders in the NFC. With stars like Christian McCaffrey and Brock Purdy set to take the field, let’s take a look at some player props for the clash between these rivals on Sunday Night Football (10/8/23).
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This is an old-school battle between two ground-based offenses and two of the best defenses in the league; let’s see who may or may not be able to have an offensive breakthrough and find an edge for their team.
Brock Purdy Under 245.5 Passing Yards (-110 BetMGM)
This isn’t meant to disrespect Purdy, who by now, has surely proven himself at the very least capable of succeeding within a stacked Niners offense, as he leads all passers in EPA per play, but this is going to be a tough game for him.
The Cowboys pass defense is one of the most formidable units in the sport, as they rank first in both pass EPA and pass DVOA. They’re second in the league with seven interceptions thus far, and while they haven’t played too many great offenses yet, the numbers don’t lie; even with cornerback Trevon Diggs out, they’re an airtight defense.
Part of the reason that Dallas can weather the loss of one of their top corners, other than the fact that he’s not truly a lockdown player anyway, is the nature of their pass defense. It’s not centered around defensive backs inhibiting receivers, the key is to force passers into bad positions with a positively lethal pass rush.
PFF considers the Dallas pass rush to be the third-best unit in the game, led by the transcendent Micah Parsons, and DeMarcus Lawrence on the edge, both of whom have a pass rush win rate over 25%. Even interior linemen Chauncey Gholston and Osa Odighizuwa, who has already accumulated three sacks this year, have contributed in a big way in the pass rush.
And of course, the Niners have an advantage that most teams don’t have; if the air game isn’t an option, simply hand it off to Christian McCaffrey against a less-elite Dallas run defense. The threshold for them to abandon the pass is a good bit lower than it is for other squads, so unless the Cowboys manage to build a huge lead- which is fairly unlikely, as we’ll discuss more in a moment- don’t be shocked to see the Niners operate a very ground-heavy approach in this one.
Purdy has crossed this number in half of his starts this year, but neither was against a pass defense anywhere close to the caliber of Dallas’s; expect a rude awakening for the Iowa State product.
Christian McCaffrey Over 112.5 Total Yards (-115 BetMGM)
Yes, I just harped on how the pass game could suffer for San Francisco while the run game should thrive, but hear me out; the strength of the Dallas defense could be a major positive for McCaffrey in the passing game too, so we need to take his total yards prop instead of just his rushing total.
That being said, if the Niners are forced completely to the ground, this one will hit anyways; as the NFL’s rushing yards leader, McCaffrey is more than capable of ripping off well in excess of 100 ground yards in a game. The Dallas run defense is 27th in success rate, so it’s very easy to imagine McCaffrey having a big day carrying the rock.
Let’s talk usage; as always, game script is a key in this prop. Head coach Kyle Shanahan has talked about limiting McCaffrey’s wear and tear this year, but his usage has only risen, as he’s cracked the number of 112.5 from scrimmage in every game, usually by a fairly comfortable margin. We can assume that he’ll get some respite towards the postseason, but this early in the year, in primetime against a major rival, that’s not happening.
Lastly, let’s touch on that air game angle. We’ve already discussed the fact that the Cowboys defense is based around generating pressure. Ideally for them, this means mistakes, but for well-coached quarterbacks- which Purdy most definitely is- it means screens, outlets, and checkdowns; all of these types of attempts often go to McCaffrey. With the physical Deebo Samuel out, McCaffrey has even more of a monopoly in this area, giving him a great opportunity to hit the over in this prop, even if the Niners do attempt to throw the ball often.
Brandon Aubrey Over 1.5 Field Goals (+105 BetMGM)
Finally, we’ve come to the obligatory special teams prop of the day. Let’s get the low-hanging fruit out of the way; Aubrey has ripped past this number in every game, often quite comfortably, including a five-field goal performance against the Jets. He hasn’t missed a kick yet, so if he’s given the chances, we can trust him to drill them home.
But will he be given those opportunities? The answer is a resounding yes, as Dallas’s offense is an alarming 30th in the league in red zone scoring percentage, turning only 36.8% of their trips inside the 20 yard line into touchdowns. This comes after they were the best red zone unit in the league a year ago, showing the gravity of the loss of offensive coordinator Kellen Moore.
This number will bounce back to a degree eventually, but not against the Niners defense. The Dallas offense has been given short fields and even supported by defensive scores often to start the year, but left to fend for themselves this game against the mistake-averse Niners, you’re going to see some drives stall out for Mike McCarthy’s squad, and Aubrey will be the direct beneficiary.