The 49ers survived a fourth-quarter surge from the Dallas Cowboys to win their first game in the playoff tournament. San Francisco has continued to show resiliency with its back against the wall. Sunday’s game finished in a hectic fashion, and the Niners will have to clean things up as they travel to Lambeau Field next week.
We look at my five takeaways below.
Nickelodeon's broadcast was awesome
It felt like it was just yesterday that the CTE reports rolled out, and football was looked down upon. The number of people over the age of 6 playing tackle football in the US has dropped by about 60% since 2006. Nickelodeon’s broadcast was a good introduction to football for the youth, and I loved how they had young reporters throughout the stadium.
Young Dylan had more composure interviewing Deebo Samuel on national television than I do writing my articles. Nickelodeon had several features that impressed me from a fan's perspective.
The offense HAS to be better
This may ruffle some feathers, and I get it—a win’s a win. This headline is for Jimmy Garoppolo but let's remember that this is a team game.
San Francisco was able to move the ball with ease on their first four offensive drives to start the game. However, Kyle Shanahan’s offense only scored one touchdown in those four drives. Shanahan’s offense had the chance to put the game away early but field goals helped Dallas hang around.
He watched his offense struggle in the second half as their last touchdown came with 5:50 remaining in the third quarter when Samuel demanded the ball. Garoppolo gave Dallas opportunities as he went 5 of 11 for 39 yards and an interception second half. His second half is likely the reason he got a D- for this week’s position grades. In four playoff starts, Garoppolo has the lowest 4th quarter quarterback rating in the last 30 years (2 start minimum).
The offense did do several things well but the game shouldn't have been close. The Super Bowl window will drastically get bigger with better play from the quarterback.
Ryans’ defense stands strong through injuries
DeMeco Ryans’ defense forced the Cowboys to punt on three out of four of their offensive possessions in the first half. This season, the 49ers are tied for the 4th fewest points allowed on opening drives. Holding the number one scoring offense to 17 points was magical.
Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott was rattled for most of the game as the 49ers sacked him 5 times and pressured him 22 times. It should be noted that Ryans’ defense held Prescott to negative EPA per play (-0.24), total EPA (-13.2), and Completion percentage over expectation (-9.5).
How about the Greensboro, North Carolina native Emmanuel Moseley leading the team in tackles? Moseley cleaned up tackling issues that secondary ran into a few weeks ago. The defense as a whole played good, sound football. My favorite play of the game was the Cover 0 blitz on 4th and 11 with less than two minutes left in the game.
Gould will be a key factor in the playoffs
Robbie Gould’s 11 points were essential in the Niners’ win Sunday. He hit all three of his field-goal attempts, and all of the attempts were 40 yards or more. I’ve stressed the need for San Francisco’s offense to get in the endzone even though they remain the number one red zone scoring offense.
Gould relieves stress when he can hit 50+ yard field goals with ease. He is a major factor for San Francisco to win games as kickers are known to win or lose playoff games.
Field goals will not beat Green Bay
The 49ers opened as five-point underdogs against the Green Bay Packers next week because of the disparity at quarterback. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is playing at an elite level with 37 passing touchdowns to four interceptions this season.
Technically, the 49ers were able to squeeze out a win with field goals, but I don't think the Packers’ offense will be as stagnant.
I think the 49ers' defense can get enough stops but that only matters if the offense puts up points. Touchdowns, in particular, have to be scored to hold off Rodgers—given that the defense can stop him. Packers wide receiver Davante Adams had a field day in the previous matchup against the Niners. Containing Adams is mandatory for getting off the field and allowing the offense to score.
San Francisco’s offense does deserve credit. Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, Jauan Jennings, and Elijah Mitchell all made championship-level plays. The ceiling for this offense remains sky high with the playmakers Shanahan can interchange. No sacks with a dominating rushing attack can't go unnoticed.
Last but not least, special teams have continued to be the weakest phase San Francisco has. The offense and defense showed flashes, and Gould hit big kicks, but the bad defense on the fake punt and kick return worry me. This could be the last season for Richard Hightower.