The 49ers advanced to the NFC Divisional Round for the second year in a row after beating the Seattle Seahawks in a hard-fought matchup that turned into a you-know-what-kicking on little brother. Seattle had no chance once the 49ers locked in.
Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers can give the Dallas Cowboys the same wrath with better play from these five players below.
Cornerback is the hardest position in football. It demands you to mirror receivers, defend the run, and make witty plays in zone coverage. Deommodore Lenoir’s welcome to the NFL has been tough, but he continues to improve.
Quarterbacks have picked on him in the last two weeks, and it won’t get any easier with Dak Prescott, CeeDee Lamb, and Michael Gallup Sunday.
The cornerback position is all about confidence. Lenoir is a talented player with fluid movement skills, but he second-guesses himself at the line of scrimmage.
Receivers tend to get behind him, whether in press or off coverage. Lenoir is usually in a position to make a play but constantly gets caught in phase. Lenoir can intercept Prescott a few times if he gets his head around.
Lenoir had the game of his life against Seattle. An encore performance against the Cowboys could be the difference in the 49ers making another NFC Championship appearance.
Javon Kinlaw brought some much-needed manpower when he returned to the lineup in Week 16. Kinlaw enters the last year of his contract next season with plenty left to prove. He’s done his job when it comes to plugging the run and taking on double teams, but you’re expected to do more than that when you’re drafted 14th overall.
I doubt the 49ers pick up Kinlaw’s fifth-year option without better play. We saw Kinlaw make splash plays his rookie year before injuries derailed his playing time. A more impactful game from Kinlaw will help the defense get off the field against a high-octane offense.
DeMeco Ryans increased his usage of two high safeties, but he’ll need to close the middle of the field come Sunday. Dallas’ offensive identity is similar to San Francisco’s, as they love to run the ball and make explosive plays through the air. The Cowboys put 135 yards on the ground per game, and Ryans will need to accommodate that.
This puts Tashaun Gipson in a bind as he would be responsible for a large amount of grass to cover. Closing the middle of the field at post safety won’t be easy with Dallas’ plethora of weapons. This is where I lean on Ryans’s creativity to mix man, zone, and some blitzes to keep the Cowboys on their toes.
The increase of two high safety usage could be to give more support to the cornerbacks. However, the 49ers must do some exotic things to allow themselves to get off the field on third down. Closing the middle of the field not only helps stop the run but will also force Prescott to make “hero ball” throws near the sideline and, hopefully, some interceptions.
Brock Purdy’s slithery movement in the pocket spared him from hits and allowed him to make plays downfield. San Francisco’s inexperienced interior offensive line has witnessed ups and downs. but things are better. Right guard Spencer Burford plays well in the run game but needs to step it up in pass protection.
Most of the sacks allowed by the 49ers have come from miscommunication or bad double teams. Burford can help the offensive line by anchoring when in a pass set or finding work when no one is in front of him.
Burford is 22 years old and in an offensive line-friendly scheme. The best thing Buford can do is help keep the pocket tight and have strong striking hands when in a pass set.
Kris Kocurek remastered San Francisco’s defensive line with the Wide-9 front. The front causes heavy stress on defensive ends. Setting hard edges, active hands, mobility when rushing, and relentless pursuit are three things to check off the 49ers’ defensive end list.
Kocurek’s edge group has been underwhelming outside of players not named Nick Bosa. Charles Omenihu came alive for last week’s Wild Card win, but the group needs to win consistently in one-on-one matchups. Ebukam has not put out the best tape in a contract year, but his effort on rushes can’t go unnoticed.
Ebukam must have a better rush plan when going up against Tyler Smith, Zack Martin, or Tyron Smith. The 49ers can put themselves in a position to win if the defensive line can disrupt Prescott on third down.