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Deebo Samuel, DeMeco Ryans and the Defensive Line vault the 49ers past the Cowboys

The 3 D’s carried the 49ers past the Cowboys in the Big D.

NFC Wild Card Playoffs - San Francisco 49ers v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

The 49ers are coming off one of the more dramatic seven-day stretches for an NFL team that I’ve recently seen. San Francisco punched their wild-card ticket just eight days ago in overtime of the final week of the regular season against their division rival on the road in Los Angeles. They follow that up with an opening-round upset of the Cowboys on the road in Dallas.

Coming into the game, if Kyle Shanahan’s crew was going to pull off the upset, it was going to take a superhuman effort from Deebo Samuel, a monster rushing attack, and lots of pressure vs. Dak Prescott. Safe to say that the 49ers managed to accomplish all three keys en route to a win on Sunday.

Samuel finished the game with 72 yards on 10 carries, three catches for 38 yards, and a touchdown, but it felt like his impact on the field was worth 1,000 yards for the 49ers. The former second-round pick was the best player on the field Sunday afternoon, and he delivered big time.

“When K’Waun got the interception, I looked at [head coach] Kyle [Shanahan]. I was like, ‘Hey, just give me the ball. I got you.’ So I just went out there, and next play I scored,” 49ers’ WR Deebo Samuel said post-game after putting together another marvelous performance.

Shanahan mentioned how that’s extremely motivating as a coach and play-caller for a player to be so confident in their abilities. He also added that the play was designed to go wide to the edges, but he’s never seen a player cut back and break that inside for a huge gain. Once the “wide back” cut back into the lane, his open-field burst took over, and it felt like he hit “turbo” against this Cowboys’ defense.

The former South Carolina receiver became the first wideout in NFL history to rush for at least 72 yards in a playoff game. Every time Shanahan needed a play, he trusted Samuel, and 19 delivered in the biggest way a day after celebrating his 26th birthday.

San Francisco’s defense was tasked with slowing down one of the most potent offenses, and the challenge got even more difficult as the game went on. Early in the first half, superstar Nick Bosa fell right into D.J. Jones’ knee and was held out for the rest of the game with a concussion. Late in the second half, Fred Warner hurt his ankle and watched the final drive from the sidelines.

Defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans had a tall order, and it became taller without his two-best defensive players, but he found a way to get it done. The Cowboys normally average 407 offensive yards per game and 31.2 points per game during the regular season. They finished Sunday’s game with 307 yards (56 on the final drive) and 17 points.

San Francisco’s stout rushing defense continues to suffocate opposing running backs. The 49ers have not given up 100 yards to an opposing running back since November 7th. On Sunday, the Cowboys’ running backs only rushed for 45 yards on 16 carries. As a team, they finished with 77 yards on 21 carries — with 17 coming on a final Dak Prescott scramble.

Ryans deserves a lot of credit for putting together a fantastic game plan. For the first three quarters, the Cowboys had punted five times, thrown an interception, and only scored one touchdown on a shorter field due to a great kickoff return. Heading into the fourth quarter, Dallas only mustered together seven points and 114 total net yards.

The rookie defensive coordinator also made the gutsiest play-call in the season’s biggest moment. On 4th-and-11 with 1:49 left in the game, the Cowboys were truly on their last chance (ignoring the final drive that should’ve never happened).

Ryans — who has only blitzed about 27 percent of the time — decided to bring the house against Dak Prescott. It put his corners in man-to-man coverage against the Cowboys’ receivers, and it worked as Prescott’s pass fell wide of his target, and it landed incomplete. Without Bosa or Warner, Ryans’ blitz call was the perfect counter, and it nearly sealed the win for the 49ers.

Kris Kocurek’s unit was the catalyst for the 49ers’ win on Sunday. Without Nick Bosa, I questioned how effective this defensive line would be. I mean, take away any group’s most valuable piece, and the performance should suffer, right?

Charles Omenihu and Arik Armstead certainly helped the defense feel like it didn’t miss a beat without 97 on the field. Omenihu added three tackles, 1.5 sacks, and three quarterback hits. Armstead added a sack and three quarterback hits as well. The 49ers’ defense finished with 13 quarterback hits in total.

San Francisco pressured Dak Prescott on 46 percent of dropbacks (season-high), and Armstead led the team in pressures in back-to-back weeks in must-win spots. The 49ers delivered five sacks, and nine different players added a quarterback hit on Sunday. It was a total team effort and Kocurek’s development through the season paid off on the biggest stage.

For the 49ers to advance past Green Bay, the 3 D’s — Deebo, DeMeco, and the Defensive Line — will need to continue to be dominant.