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How the 49ers out-coached the Cowboys in 4 plays

Two plays from Brandon Aiyuk against Trevon Diggs and two designs from DeMeco Ryans that gave his best pass rushers 1-on-1’s.

San Francisco 49ers v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

We tend to focus on the area coaches are deficient at and ignore everything else they bring to the table — especially the best of the best. For coaches like Andy Reid and Kyle Shanahan, their clock management and late-game decision-making, in general, can be spotty, at best.

In 49er land, I’ve heard more about Shanahan’s fourth-down decisions — which account for 3% of the game, at most — more than the other facets of the game, like his down-to-down play-calling where he’s constantly putting the offense in advantageous situations.

It feels as though we take a lot of what Shanahan and most coaches do well for granted. Today, I highlight how the Niners coaching staff outcoached the Cowboys in four plays. Let’s start on offense.

Digging into the details

During the regular season, Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs surrendered 922 yards for an average of 11.1 yards per target. Yes, he had 11 interceptions and nine pass breakups. But he also allowed five touchdowns and was lucky it wasn’t more.

Teams have taken advantage of Diggs’ poor eye discipline all year. Whenever you rn an in-breaking route against him, Diggs eyes instantly shoot into the backfield. Instead, he’s looking to undercut the crossing route and make a play.

Shanahan and the 49ers knew this coming in and used Diggs’ aggressiveness against him. In the video below, I highlighted how the offense cleared the field for their best route runner, Brandon Aiyuk, to get open against Diggs:

During the first play, Diggs took the bait:

As Aiyuk is crossing the field, Diggs is starring in the backfield with no clue as to where Aiyuk is.

In the breakdown above, I mention how the 49ers do an excellent job of using a play-action fake paired with a half rollout — which buys Aiyuk time to get across the field. Then, by using max protection and leaving Kyle Juszczyk and George Kittle into bock, you buy yourself another 1-1.5 seconds for Aiyuk to get up the field.

You’re not blocking DeMarcus Lawrence or Micah Parsons for 4.5 seconds. That’s how long the play took. The added wrinkles of the play are the reasons it was successful.

DeMeco’s designs

We keep telling you that DeMeco Ryans is the man, but we haven’t told you why. That changes below.

The 49ers have monsters up front that cannot be blocked. Ryans realized he didn’t have to blitz or be aggressive against Dallas because he was creating pressure with four players. Dak Prescott finished the game 16-for-34 for 206 yards and a -.30 EPA per play.

When you’re generating pressure with four, you can get creative on the back end and also sit on the Cowboys predictable routes at the sticks:

I want to discuss two separate stunts the 49ers ran and how they executed. The defensive line manipulated the Cowboys' protection all afternoon. How? By running games with their line. The opposite color flashed, Dak held the ball, and good things happened for the defense.

When you run a stunt, the goal is to get the offensive line at different levels. On Nick Bosa’s sack, Dallas’s right side of the line was at different levels. Ryans wasted Zack Martin, their best lineman, by picking him off with a stunt. The breakdown in the video below digs into the details more about Bosa’s timing, Arden Key crossing the center’s face, and how the play ends up working.

The second play shows how Ryans was creative and found ways to get multiple 1-on-1’s with his best pass rusher in Nick Bosa for one and another 1-on-1 against their worst pass blocker — which was the left guard.

I counted six times where the 49ers beat Connor Williams; the Cowboys left guard. He was the mark, and good coaches beat a dead horse. Ryans did that all game, and I can’t wait to see who the mark on the Packers is.