There’s no question the Dallas Cowboys will have their work cut out for them when they travel to San Francisco on Sunday to take on the 49ers. The 13-4 49ers are in the midst of a now 11-game winning streak, a shocking feat given they’re playing with their third different starting quarterback this season.
San Francisco’s success comes from having strong play at nearly every position, elite coaching, and game breaking playmakers who can score from anywhere on the field. Two of such playmakers are running back Christian McCaffrey and receiver Deebo Samuel.
McCaffrey, a once criticized mid-season addition, has been lights-out for the 49ers. In his 11 regular season games since joining the team, he accumulated 746 yards on the ground, 464 through the air and 10 total touchdowns.
In Kyle Shanahan’s run-heavy offense, McCaffrey is expected to get a steady workload of carries and targets against Dallas on Sunday.
Deebo Samuel is a playmaker the Cowboys are quite familiar with. The 6-foot 215-pound game wrecker has elite strength and speed, making him a weapon wherever he gets the ball on the field. In last year’s postseason matchup against Dallas, Samuel had a dreadfully efficient, 10 carries for 72 yards and a touchdown.
Cumulatively, McCaffrey looks like the bigger threat since Samuel only had 864 total yards and five touchdowns. But McCaffrey gets considerably more opportunities than Samuel, so bigger totals are expected. It’s about who does the most with their opportunities and for that we look at rushing yards over expected.
While both players offer significant risk to the Cowboys on Sunday, one stands out more than the other.
Clearly neither player can be taken lightly, but Samuel stands out as the much scarier weapon. Granted, his sample size is small, but his rushing yards over expected are in elite territory. At 1.8 yards over what his blockers are giving him, he’s as dangerous as they come in the NFL.
For reference, Tony Pollard who is top-10 in RYOE, is offering less than a third of his production over expected. McCaffrey is racking up the tough yards and can be a weapon in multiple ways but he’s basically taking what’s given to him and rushing at expectation levels.
The takeaway is when Samuel lines up in the backfield or motions vertically across the formation, the Cowboys defense has to take extra notice and play him accordingly because he’s a far more dangerous weapon.
This was born out in the wild-card win over the Seahawks. McCaffrey had 119 yards on the ground, averaging a nasty 7.9 per carry. But Samuels’ three carries for 32 yards were for an explosive 10.7 yards a rip. Samuels finished the game with nine touches for 165 yards while McCaffrey had 17 for 136. It’s quite the conundrum for Dallas to have to prepare for both.