In what can be defined as one of Dak Prescott’s best games, one week removed from of his his worst games, the Dallas Cowboys finally put the ‘undefeated against Dallas’ Tom Brady narrative to bed. The team is now looking at the Divisional Round where the Cowboys face a stingy 49ers defense, while having to do so on a short week. So how does each offensive position on both teams fare in a head-to-head battle?
Dak Prescott vs Brock Purdy
It’s been a rollercoaster the last two weeks with Dak. In the final week of the regular season we witnessed what was one of Dak’s worst games, only for this week to be one of his finest. He showed pinpoint accuracy and ball placement tied with exceptional poise and courage to hang in the pocket to find his receivers downfield. An unexpected part we got to witness this week was his scrambling and rushing work. Not only did Dak throw for four touchdowns he also ran for 24 yards and one score to finalize his stat line. A play that was very reminiscent of the scoring play by Peyton Manning nearly a decade ago against Dallas, where he ran a bootleg to the left and took it all the way in. Dak now owns the highest passer rating (143.3) by a Dallas Cowboys player in the playoffs.
So Mr. Irrelevant is not so irrelevant, or so it seems. What Brock Purdy confirms for the San Francisco 49ers is that talent in the NFL Draft can be found under any rock. But also that the 49ers roster is not traditional and built to not be a quarterback reliant team. Everything so far that Purdy has exhibited has been on point. Some rosters like the 49ers need the quarterback to make sure and not lose them the game.
Purdy has the prototypical size for the position, and enough athleticism to escape the pocket and scramble if required. His natural touch and capable arm strength has been on display since seizing the starting role for the 49ers, and his ability to make tricky throws off-script is something he’s continued in the NFL since playing at Iowa State.
His issues which have carried over from the college level is most noticeably his ball placement and accuracy. Last week is a good example of that where he had 18 completions on 30 throws, but since starting at San Francisco he’s managed his deficiencies well and has yet to lose a game. With three fewer games under his belt than Jimmy Garoppolo, Purdy is now equal with him in passing touchdowns as well as interceptions. Everything for Purdy is best described as above average, but nothing in his repertoire is classed as elite. Dan Quinn needs to get his defense rolling as effective as it was against Tampa Bay to get Purdy off balance and out his comfort zone.
Ezekiel Elliott/Tony Pollard vs Christian McCaffrey/Elijah Mitchell
Against Tampa Bay both Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard went for 104 yards and averaged jointly an average yards per carry of 3.6. What was crucial was minimizing negative plays against a very capable defensive line, and the running back duo truly did limit those. Until the fourth quarter both Pollard and Zeke had only one negative run play each and those effects were felt in the teams time of possession, which was over 35 minutes. To do the identical plan likewise against an even stricter defensive line versus the run will be crucial this week, even if that’s at the cost of having to manufacture them in other ways.
The trade the 49ers made for Christian McCaffrey was an all out gamble based on the teams rushing philosophy and his injury history. So far that gamble is paying dividends. Since Week 14, McCaffrey has gone over 100 yards total in every game apart from one. Plus he’s scored a rushing or receiving touchdown in every game during that time. His dual-threat ability in rushing and receiving, along with his acceleration and top speed makes this a scary threat to face. Elijah Mitchell is marked as the second running back on the roster, but truthfully it’s Deebo Samuel in his do-it-all role on the offense.
Lamb/Gallup/Hilton vs Samuel/Aiyuk/Jennings
Separation was the problem against Washington for the wide receivers. At Tampa this was less of an issue, but we also saw Dak making those tighter window throws and the receivers maintaining the ball on some high risk passes. Michael Gallup’s catch in the endzone for a razor thin touchdown is a good example of this, along with T.Y. Hilton’s third-down catch in the middle of the field during the second quarter was another moment in the game where this was also apparent. CeeDee Lamb was again dominant gaining 68 yards and hauling in a touchdown. He averaged 17 yards per reception which led the team on players with more than one reception. The key this week will be the wide receivers being able to dominate against a secondary that has allowed the fifth-most receiving yards in the last three games.
Where the 49ers receiver corps excels is in its physicality. Deebo Samuel leads the league in forced missed tackles, Brandon Aiyuk has the forth-most and if we added McCaffrey to the list he would have the third-most among receivers. Deebo is a terror with the ball in his hands and is both fast and physical. He had 110 yards after the catch last week, meaning that in the post season he’s over double the yardage of the second most receiver in YAC. Let’s hope Trevon Diggs has the willingness to tackle this week as the ball will be coming his way a lot. Jauan Jennings is dealing with an ankle injury so keep close watch on him this week on the report.
Dalton Schultz vs George Kittle
The crazy part at this section is we all know who wins in a head-to-head between these two players. But we can’t ignore how dominant Dalton Schultz was last week even though he did face the fifth-worst defense versus tight ends. Schultz was physical at the point of attack. Then he manipulated the Bucs secondary on his way to seven catches, ending just shy of another 100-yard game while adding two touchdowns on the day. Hitting seam routes and splitting safeties was his main calling card and it wouldn’t be a bad way to utilize him again this week.
But then there’s George Kittle. He finished the regular season with the fifth-most yards amongst tight ends and second-most touchdowns at his position. Bare in mind he did that over 15 games when he missed the first two weeks of the season. A substantial and reliable blocker that manhandles defenders with unrelenting aggression. When people talk about the top two tight ends in the league, Kittle is guaranteed to always be one of those two names.
The closest matchup on offense between these two teams is right here. Which ever team has the most effective offensive line this week will be the crowning victors and moving onto the Championship game. That may seem like a bold statement to make but the way these defenses are set up on both sides, and also how closely these offensive lines stack up against each other, this makes this position group the one to watch during the game.
Jason Peters left the game early with what is being cited as a hip injury. His status for this week is now in question. But watching Tyler Smith playing left tackle looks so considerably better suited to his skills. He’s more sufficient, more reactive and when faced with a team’s primary pass rusher he seems much more able to get his hands over quickly and engage. Only Tyler Smith and Zack Martin played a perfect game last week, allowing zero sacks and zero pressures (per PFF) while also never getting penalized. Smith did all that while getting shifted out of position and having to regain his rhythm in a new order on the line. The only sack allowed to the Buccaneers was from Tyler Biadasz, but he was faced with a heavy assignment of Vita Vea where most men would find consistency issues.
Meanwhile the 49ers can boast an allowance of zero sacks and only three pressures all game last week against the Seattle Seahawks. Sure, it’s the Seahawks, but still a mightily impressive accomplishment in the NFL. Trent Williams has been closing his side at left tackle to virtually nothing all season. He’s allowed one sack all year and averages less than one pressure per game. A lot of success for Brock Purdy originates from the assurance and proficiency this line offers, getting pressure to him from the Cowboys pass rush will be a central key to victory this week.
Which team has the better offence?
This poll is closed
San Francisco 49ers