The 49ers' defense has allowed only three touchdowns on 21 offensive possessions against the Dallas Cowboys in their two previous playoff games. If not for a muffed punt, San Francisco would’ve held the Cowboys to single digits in the Divisional Round.
The Niners' defense lived in the backfield, as they pressured Dak Prescott on 18 of his 40 dropbacks. That pressure led to two costly interceptions, which changed the game.
I spoke to Jimmie Ward in the locker room after the game to get an idea of the 49ers' plan of attack against a high-octane offense like the Cowboys. Unprompted, Ward said, “Dak isn’t good against zone [coverage].”
Ward spoke about the different types of zone pressures the Niners wanted to get into in hopes of confusing Prescott. It worked. Both interceptions were examples defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans could add to a lengthy resume.
Here’s Jimmie explaining why he believes Ryans will be a head coach after this season:
"I'm pretty sure DeMeco is gonna have a head coaching job after this year. You see it with the play calling. We went out there and shut down a playoff team and one of the best teams in the league this year." - Jimmie Ward pic.twitter.com/k31r6I9wKp— KP (@KP_Show) January 23, 2023
Kyle Shanahan is a master motivator. Earlier this season, Shanahan called out Nick Bosa and the defensive line the night before a game, which led to a dominant performance.
Leading up to this game, Shanahan told his players the Cowboys' defense was playing better than the Niners. Talanoa Hufanga said San Francisco took that to heart:
“Yeah, we went out there, and from the very first snap, the energy was on 10, and so that was kind of our mantra today. A lot of people always tell us, like the veterans, our defense has to beat their defense, and that’s when those things happen, and great teams can win.
So when we look at it like that, you hold a great offense to just under 17 points, under 15 points, you try to hold those goose eggs, that’s when great defense is happening. It’s just a complimentary football team.”
Hufanga echoed Ward’s sentiments about Dak turning the ball over, saying, “you see it on film.”
Showing love to Lenoir
Deommodore Lenoir gave up a 46-yard reception to CeeDee Lamb. It felt like doomsday was coming after, but the defense held. On the afternoon, Lenoir only allowed two other receptions on seven total targets, including an interception and two run stops.
Lenoir’s interception put the 49ers' offense in a position to take control of the game. Here’s Hufanga on Ward’s preparation:
“Taking with him during the week and his preparation has been outstanding. He has really been locked into watching the film and making sure he’s on top of everything. When plays like that happen and he reads them, and he goes out there and just shoots like a gun, just fires and he’s in front of all these receivers and making plays. When things like that happen, it’s just awesome to see.”
I asked Jimmie what’s changed with Lenoir’s confidence during the past few weeks. If you didn’t know any better, Ward’s answer was a shot at the 49ers:
“He’s comfortable. He’s getting comfortable out there. When you leave a player at one position, he’s gonna grow. They don’t have a choice to get better. As long as you stay on the field, you’re going to grow.”
After that answer, Ward explained how a cast affected his play in the slot earlier in the season:
Ward said to “get your popcorn ready” in what will be a heavyweight fight against the Eagles in the NFC Championship game next Sunday.