SUPER weekend is upon us, and there is no more electric matchup among this week’s list of games than the one the 49ers will play against their longtime rival, the Dallas Cowboys. According to DraftKings SportsBook, Dallas is currently favored by three points. Winning on the road is never an easy task, especially in the playoffs, but the 49ers are a team built to give a team like the Cowboys problems. Here’s how San Francisco can pick up the slack.
Establish the run early and often
It’s easy if the 49ers can run the ball effectively. They are one of the toughest teams in football to beat. They’re been 22-1 since 2019 when they can run the ball 30+ times, and although I do not think there should necessarily be a combined goal to hit that number in this match, it does mean just how dominant this team is in able to be if they can run the ball into the throat of their opponent.
Dallas has an explosive offense, and the more the 49ers can control the clock, the less time they will leave for Dak Prescott and the Cowboys offense to put points on the board. We saw as recently as the second half last week just how much the 49ers’ defense benefited from the extended rest that resulted from the crime that brought together long drives that were fueled by an efficient rushing attack.
The Cowboys’ defense is based on converting and maximizing the mistakes of their opponents, and the more often the 49ers lean on the run, the less likely they are to damage the ball. However, Dallas ranks 23rd in the league in yards per allowed carry (4.5 yards), and there is a noticeable weakness on the outside when its cornerbacks are forced to defend the run.
Here’s how the Cowboys cornerbacks rank this season among qualified cornerbacks in run-defense class, per Pro Football Focus
Trevon Diggs – 81st out of 82
Jourdan Lewis – 70th out of 82
Anthony Brown – 47th out of 82
The 49ers scheme is heavily based on explosive outdoor runs, and the dynamic weapon that Deebo Samuel is making one of the biggest mismatches in the sport. If the 49ers are constantly able to put the cornerbacks of the Cowboys into conflict and force them to tackle in the open field, they need to generate a healthy amount of production throughout the course of this game.
Get pressure with the first four
The 49ers’ defensive line was completely in the back of the season and somehow miraculously managed to replicate their 2019 total with 48 sacks. The additions of Arden Key and Samson Ebukam allowed the 49ers to unlock an absolute elite grouping at clear passing passes (3rd and long, two minute drill, etc.). Since Key’s move to the interior in these situations, the 49ers’ defensive line has been as effective as any unit in the league when it comes to getting opposing quarterbacks.
With four or fewer rushers, the 49ers fit the rushers:
3rd in QB print rate at 29.4%
3rd in pocket percentage at 7.4%
If they generate pressure with four or less, opposing quarterbacks are held to:
56% completion percentage
74.3 passer rating
Now on the other hand, opposing quarterbacks as they can not generate pressure while rushing four or less:
73% completion percentage
95.1 passer rating
The Cowboys have one of the better offensive lines in football, so this matchup should be one for centuries. This battle in the trenches could very well define the outcome of this game. Quickly, I will remind anyone reading this that for the 49ers to start at Prescott, they will have to deal with issues against the run on early downs. The 49ers’ defense would have to face the challenge, as they have been one of the better defensive works in the entire league to end the season.
Win the turnover battle
I apologize for choosing something so clichéd and obvious, but it matters so much more than the average game because of the teams involved in this particular matchup. The Cowboys lead the NFL in turnover forced (34) and turnover differential (+14). So much of her success this season is based on her ability to maximize her possession after an opponent’s turnover, as Dallas ranks # 1 in the league with 121 points of turnover this season.
Coincidentally, the most common denominator in the 49ers’ seven losses this year was that they coughed up the ball. In 15 starts this year, Jimmy Garoppolo is 9-6. In the 9 victories, Garoppolo turned the ball over only four times. In the 6 losses, Garoppolo is responsible for 11 turnovers. If Garoppolo can take care of the ball (I think you will he, and I will mention that in my predictions with the other staff writers).
The 49ers currently have a -4 turnover difference, but an interesting note is that they have the same number of gifts as the Cowboys (both teams have turned the ball 20 times this year) despite Dallas being +18 in point difference compared to those 49ers . Now, of course, turning the ball will help any opponent, but this Cowboys team BREAKS it off. They are borderline dependent on it, and if the 49ers can play a clean sheet, they will effectively take the sting out of the Cowboys defense.
Embrace the role of being the underdog
I do not want this to contradict what I just said about the 49ers having to play a clean game, but I think they can do that while still getting loose and taking some risks in this game. This is the first time under Kyle Shanahan that the 49ers will play a away game in the playoffs, and I think they should totally pay into it by coming out if they have nothing to lose.
The pressure is much more on Dallas to handle its business for its home crowd, and I think that makes the 49ers good to get out of the jump. Whether it’s some shooting games early on the offense or planning some exotic pressure on the defense, the 49ers MUST be aggressive and embrace this underdog mentality as they try to make an unlikely run through the NFC playoffs.