As easy as it is to discredit the Dallas Cowboys and their predictable postseason failure, the Green Bay Packers were the superior team from the opening drive. Let’s get into the biggest takeaways from Sunday’s game as we look ahead to the San Francisco 49ers hosting the Packers.
Jordan Love will be the second-best quarterback the 49ers have faced since the bye week
This comes off as an overreaction. The Niners defense has faced plenty of capable quarterbacks since Week 10. Here’s the list:
Geno Smith x 2
Love put on a show against the Cowboys, going 16-for-21 for 272 yards and three touchdowns. He made several plays under pressure. One area where Love excels is hunting the big play. Eight of his 16 completions went for at least 15 yards.
That’s been Love’s MO all second half. He’s generated the second-highest EPA per play in the NFL since Week 10. Love has grown as a player on an every-down basis. That’s what’s made Green Bay so lethal.
He’s made off-platform throws look routine. The touchdown below was yet another example:
JORDAN LOVE ROMEO DOUBS— Endzone Brasil (@Endzone_Brasil) January 15, 2024
MAIS UM TOUCHDOWN DOS PACKERS!pic.twitter.com/jooPAJURhp
Love’s been the second-best quarterback by success rate since Week 10. Sunday’s game is an extreme example, but Love has consistently been one of the best quarterbacks in the most critical situations down the stretch. His obliviousness to a pass rush is the kind of trait necessary to beat a superior team like the 49ers. This kid is the real deal.
There are still more questions than answers about the Packers defense
The Cowboys punted twice and threw an interception on their first three drives. It was 27-0, and the game was over before it started. Dallas had five possessions in the first half and scored once.
Dak Prescott led four scoring drives in six possessions in the second half. Five of those drives were at least 60 yards. Dallas’s offense did whatever they wanted to through the air. There wasn’t an offense in the NFL that was as efficient or effective passing the ball this season as the 49ers.
The most significant difference between the Cowboys’ and 49ers' offense is their running game — specifically in the backfield. Tony Pollard runs full speed in one direction, generally up the back of his offensive line. Christian McCaffrey exercises patience, lets his lineman do the work for him, and then explodes out of the other side of the line of scrimmage.
With a bye week to prepare, Kyle Shanahan isn’t coming up empty-handed on four of five possessions against anybody with how the 49ers offense is currently constructed. The game got out of hand before the Cowboys could catch up. They faced little to no resistance in the second half.
The Packers’ defense struggled in most games during the second half despite playing a below-average schedule of offenses. Dallas is considered an elite offense statistically, but they’re over-reliant on one player. San Francisco is the only offense with better numbers since Week 10 than the Cowboys. The Niners have four players capable of scoring whenever they possess the ball.
Shanahan has Green Bay’s defensive coordinator Joe Barry’s number. I’d expect Shanahan to use his skill players’ athleticism to their advantage and repeatedly force the Packers to tackle, as in previous matchups.
The Packers’ receiving core can give any secondary fits
Matt LaFleur is a Shanahan-protege. He’ll inevitably dial up a couple of plays to confuse a secondary. Green Bay scored on Shanahan’s patented “Y-Leak” trick play. They also hit an explosive play on another gimmick.
The Packers benefited from coverage busts against the Cowboys. Green Bay also has a skilled receiving core flying under the radar. Christian Watson being out of the lineup allowed the other wideouts to develop. Watson only had one reception on Sunday. Romeo Doubs, Luke Musgrave, Dontayvion Wicks, and Jayden Reed are all better fits for a “Shanahan” system.
Doubs and Reed were Love’s favorite targets this season, with Wicks and Watson close runners-up. Musgrave is a tremendous target at tight end and could have had a Sam LaPorta-esque season if he were healthy for 17 games.
The Packers receivers are young, but they’re pretty talented and versatile. They are also all tall:
Doubs - 6’2”
Reed - 5’11”
Wicks - 6’1”
Watson - 6’4”
Musgrave - 6’6”
Ambry Thomas is in the 56th percentile in height among cornerbacks in the NFL Draft. Deommodore Lenoir is in the 30th percentile. In Thomas’s defense, he has upper-echelon arm length and athleticism to offset his height.
In an ideal scenario, most of Doubs' targets are against Charvarius Ward. Lenoir matching up against slot fades, and deeper routes down the field will be one of the keys in this matchup. He’s the only one of the three cornerbacks who lacks long speed.