Cowboys playoff match prediction: 49ers rush game slightly overrated

For the first time since 2018, the Dallas Cowboys are currently four wins since the end of the 26-year drought championship and one loss since the breakup of the season. Playoff football has been a bitter disappointment for the Cowboys since the turn of the century, but that may change this season.

Dallas will start hosting the San Francisco 49ers in a game that does not assume it would be a cake walk. According to DraftKings Sportsbook, where the Cowboys are a three-point favorite, this is the smallest expansion of Wild Card Weekend. So how will Dallas keep its Lombard hopes alive on Sunday?

Cowboys attack

NFL: San Francisco 49ers v Dallas Cowboys

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Dallas was really lucky thanks to the 18th week miracle, which moved it between three seeds. Not only is higher seed always beneficial, but they have avoided defending the Rams and Cardinals. This is a gift for an offense that was inconsistent at best.

Of the seven NFC playoff teams, the 49ers have the fifth best EPA defense per game allowed, the fourth best DVOA defense and are fifth in the percentage of opposing units that end in a touchdown. While we shouldn’t take the 49ers’ defense lightly, Dallas avoided a three-seed bullet.

However, there will be no “running” in this game. The 49ers have one of the best defensive lines in the NFL when they stop running. The 4.0 yards per rush attempt allowed by San Francisco is the seventh best in the NFL and has allowed a minimum of 3.1 yards per attempt on the ground in the league in the last three games. They are the first three in almost every meaningful metric rush defense.

Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard should not expect a big day; The 49ers stop the Cowboys rushing to attack down.

Even more frightening is that due to the dominance of San Francisco’s defensive lines, even rival quarterbacks are terrorizing. The 49ers are in fourth place according to the PFF and are third in the league due to pass attempts that lead to a sack of 8.1%.

Now the Dallas Cowboys have excelled in passage protection this year. Not only did they place third in terms of blocking the PFF’s passage, but they allowed the sixth lowest percentage of passing attempts that end in a sack.

So, here’s what we know. Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard shouldn’t expect anything to hit the ground, the 49ers will put Daka under pressure, but the Cowboys offensive line should give him plenty of time to throw. And if Dak can throw, Dallas can beat San Francisco by air.

Just look at the discrepancy in the 49ers defense by rush versus pass.

Defensive ranking 49ers

Metric / output Rush Defense Ranking Pass the defense rating
Metric / output Rush Defense Ranking Pass the defense rating
PFF 6 16
EPA allowed to play 2 23
TWO 2 16
Yards for a try 7 11

The San Francisco 49ers are the New Orleans Saints with a consistent quarterback. They stop running and are highly effective in pass-rush, but if you can throw them, you’ve found their weakness.

The game plan will be identical to the Buccaneers game. Don’t play on the strengths of the 49ers; Start the play-action early and pass the first and second down. The game is likely to begin with quick passes near the scrimmage line to avoid a throw from San Francisco that would affect the roll.

However, later in the game, the 49ers will anticipate quick throws and start pushing up, so Dallas beats them over the top. That’s when Cowboys pass protection needs to win scrimmage and give Dak Prescott enough time to air it.

Because if one thing is certain, Dak will be fired and ready to play.

Cowboys defense

NFL: San Francisco 49ers v Dallas Cowboys

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Where did we get the crazy idea that the 49ers would be able to cross us everywhere? We must ignore Kyle Shanahan’s previous seasons; This team does not run the ball with incredible efficiency.

Let’s use the same metrics as in the previous section and look at the 49ers offensive rankings by hasty success:

  • Yards per attempt: 16
  • PFF: 19
  • EPA per game: 9
  • TWO: 5

This is not an attempt to disparage the rushing attack of the 49ers; are above average. But the idea that the Cowboys will not be able to stop San Francisco on the ground is completely misguided.

Dallas has previously stopped more effective quick attacks, namely the Eagles, Patriots and Buccaneers, where they allowed these teams an average of 96.3 yards per game. Ninety-six rushed yards per game would be the fifth lowest this season in the NFL if you extrapolated for the entire year.

But what the 49ers do incredibly well is using the run to set up a pass.

San Francisco has 29.4 rush attempts per game, the fifth highest number in the league, and their 8.6 yards per attempt pass is the second highest in the NFL. What the 49ers do masterfully is running the ball, albeit inefficiently, but they are pulling the defense closer and closer to the scrimmage line. At that moment, the 49ers hit a deep ball over the top.

But here’s the warning; Jimmy Garoppolo is not an elite quarterback. Although he has the second best number of yards per attempt in the league, he has the seventh lowest average goal depth and the second highest turnover rate.

While San Francisco can hit a big game once it has stretched its defenses, it’s mainly because their receivers are making yards after being caught. If it’s not a finish for Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk or George Kittle, there’s a good chance the pass will go the other way around.

The game plan for Dan Quinn becomes a little more complicated. He will probably use Micah Parsons in the defensive line to stop the run and prevent the 49ers from moving across the field. Since the San Francisco attack is nothing to intimidate, Dallas puts the ball in Garoppole’s hands.

The secondary must avoid pressure to stay behind and prevent yards after being caught. Garoppolo makes a mistake with the solution of sound and perseverance. From there, the Cowboys’ defense must do what it does best and benefit from it.

Coaching and special teams

Atlanta Falcons v Cleveland Browns

Photo author: 2016 Nick Cammett / Diamond Images via Getty Images

There are many stories of this game from a coaching point of view. Mike McCarthy faces the team that beat him in the playoffs in 2012 and 2013. Dan Quinn trains against Kyle Shanahan, his former offensive coordinator during the 28-3 Super Bowl. This is also Kellen Moore’s first playoff play as an offensive coordinator.

There is no doubt for Dan Quinn that he will be ready to play. In addition to what he has accomplished this season, Quinn has playoff experience and should know how to train this match. Not to mention that he is always ready to run through the brick wall.

For Kellen Moore, that ends the speculation. If he really saves his creativity on the playoffs, as some have pointed out, then the attack should be fine. If this is not the case, we must hope that the inexperience does not manifest itself. Here’s an interesting idea, treat these post-season opponents like NFC East teams.

And then there’s probably the most controversial character of the Cowboys 2021 season, Mike McCarthy. The only thing McCarthy can control at the beginning of the game is aggression. If the Cowboys are willing to be brave, go for the fourth down, go for two and burn the timeouts to score again at the end of the half, the Cowboys should win the game.

Dallas is a better team, but if they play “don’t lose,” it’s a coinflip. Put your fists in their mouths early and don’t let the aggression down. McCarthy has been assertive all year and we need it this Sunday.

The only factor to consider is special teams. Greg Zuerlein was on the news this week as John Fassel expressed his unwavering support for the Dallas striker and will remain employed throughout the season.

If so, the Cowboys must be wary of failing in an early match in the form of a field goal or extra point. Given that the longest section that Zuerlein completed without missing a kick is two games, we should not expect a potential four-match section of perfect kicks.

So, if the missing kick in the post-season is basically guaranteed, unless there is an early departure, the only hope left for the Cowboys fans is that Dallas will get a big enough lead where kicking mistakes are irrelevant.

We know how the match is likely to develop, given the strengths and weaknesses of these two teams. But what we don’t know is the result. While it’s scary to think of a first-round trip, that’s the beauty of the sport.

But what would be even more beautiful is the Dallas Cowboys Super Bowl. It now begins with a match against the 49ers, a rivalry rooted in history. Let’s go to the cowboys.

Analytical projection:

Cowboys probability: 66.1%

Final score: Dallas Cowboys 34, San Francisco 49ers 23

David Berry

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