It’s shaping up to be a great Divisional Round game when the Dallas Cowboys and the San Francisco 49ers renew acquaintances on Sunday. These two teams have a long history of playoff football, and in the 90s were bitter rivals in the NFC. Just last year, the 49ers bounced the Cowboys from the playoffs, so Dallas is looking for some payback.
We spoke with SB Nation site Niners Nation to get a little more info on the 49ers.
Blogging The Boys: Brock Purdy has had an amazing run. Give us the scouting report on him. Strengths, weaknesses, style of play, etc.
Niners Nation: The scouting report on Brock Purdy goes a little bit like ten percent luck, twenty percent skill, fifteen percent concentrated power of will, five percent pleasure, fifty percent pain, and a hundred percent reason to remember the name.
More specifically, Purdy’s biggest strength (and what’s elevated the Niners offense to new heights) has been his ability to extend and create plays out of structure by using his deceptive quickness in and out of the pocket. We obviously aren’t talking about the all-world athleticism of Lamar Jackson, but it’s enough to get the ball to one of the team’s YAC monsters when the pocket isn’t perfect.
He’s also unlocked another dimension of the offense with his willingness to target the intermediate to deep areas of the field. To be fair, he doesn’t always have the arm talent to do so with the zip or accuracy of the league’s best, but within Shanahan’s system, which gets guys wiiiiiiide open, that doesn’t always matter.
When it comes to weaknesses, Purdy’s knack for scrambling can hurt him as he has a tendency to bail out instead of climbing the pocket, which can spoil a possible big play. Furthermore, as I alluded to earlier, his arm strength leaves a little to be desired on throws that require a fastball or better downfield placement. Lastly, and I’d say this is more than forgivable, Purdy has passed up surer short gains in pursuit of the big play, like in the Wild Card round when he missed Deebo Samuel streaking uncovered across the middle to try to hit Brandon Aiyuk one-on-one on a deep route. I love the impulse, but learning the lesson to take the layup might make the offense even deadlier.
BTB: Obviously the Christian McCaffrey trade has worked out. What has he brought to the offense and how are the 49ers using him most effectively?
NN: First and foremost, McCaffrey filled a somewhat shocking need for the Niners in the early season: Running back. The injury to Elijah Mitchell left the position devastatingly thin, and when the whole system runs through the run game that’s, uh, not good. Enter CMC. His combination of speed, vision, and agility works anywhere, but they particularly translate well to Shanahan’s creative play designs.
Beyond just being really good at his main role, McCaffrey possesses the skills of a top flight pass catcher. This provided another immediate upgrade as the check down, which has consistently kept the offense ahead of the chains. Meanwhile, his versatility has unlocked the skill position group as a whole. Expect him to line up out wide with Deebo Samuel in the backfield or that pair to flank Purdy in the shotgun or anything else Shanahan can dream up.
BTB: The 49ers defense is among the best in the league, but where are they vulnerable? How should Dallas attack them?
NN: Well, the options here are slim, but I’ll run them down. A. Use the defensive line’s aggressiveness against them by deploying the screen game or QB runs. 2.) Attack Deommodore Lenoir, the corner who replaced Emmanuel Moseley after his ACL tear. The second year player has not managed to match the level of the original starting #2 CB and appeared vulnerable, especially against upper echelon players like Davante Adams. Lastly, if you’re going to run the ball, it should be between the tackles. Arik Armstead and Javon Kinlaw, the team’s best players on the inside, can play high and get themselves pushed around every now and again. Of course, Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw are waiting right behind them, which is a whole other problem to solve…
BTB: Who are a few players we might not know much about that have really come on this season and become integral to the 49ers’ success?
NN: Allow me to start with the least sexy answer possible, the interior offensive line. That’s right, baby! Between the tackles Trent Williams and Mike McGlinchey, the Niners turned all three positions over to new starters and they’ve all performed well above expectations when they all appeared as big question marks this offseason. Second year player Aaron Banks looked out of shape and overmatched in minimal playing time as a rookie, Daniel Brunskill last saw extended game reps as a member of the San Diego Fleet in the AAF, and Spencer Burford seemed like a developmental fourth rounder from a school that makes small schools look big – the University of Texas San Antonio.
Defensively, Tashaun Gipson Sr. has proven a valuable piece of the secondary. The safety nearly accepted that his career might be over when he wasn’t signed back in August before nabbing five interceptions, which led the team. His steady play also allowed the Niners to move Jimmie Ward to nickel corner where he’s continued to put the clamps on anyone lining up across from him.
BTB: DraftKings Sportsbook has the 49ers as 4-point favorites. Does that seem like a fair spread? How do you think the game will go on Sunday and what’s your final score prediction?
NN: Given the Niners and Cowboys were the only two teams to win convincingly on Wild Card weekend, I think four points does make sense. Dallas has a quarterback and offense that can challenge San Francisco’s secondary, while their defense can bring pressure that could rattle a rookie making his eight career start. To further answer your question, yes, fans everywhere deeply resent the Minnesota Vikings for revealing their fraudulent ways before we had a shot at them.
I could see this game playing out a number of ways; shootout, defense stalemate, or anywhere in between. The one way I don’t see it going would be the kind of blowout that we witnessed last week. Call me a homer, but right now it just feels like the Niners offense has hit a stride the likes of which we’ve never seen and they haven’t played their best game yet.
Final Score: 49ers 34 Cowboys 27