Three takeaways from 49ers’ divisional round win over Cowboys

Jan 23, 2023, 3:31 PM | Updated: 3:46 pm
George Kittle #85 of the San Francisco 49ers celebrates with NFL Hall of Famer Jerry Rice after def...
SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 22: George Kittle #85 of the San Francisco 49ers celebrates with NFL Hall of Famer Jerry Rice after defeating the Dallas Cowboys 19-12 the NFC Divisional Playoff game at Levi's Stadium on January 22, 2023 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Two down, two to go for the San Francisco 49ers.

The 49ers got the best of the Dallas Cowboys Sunday, outlasting them, 19-12, to advance to the NFC Championship game next weekend. San Francisco will take on the Philadelphia Eagles at their field Sunday, making it an incredibly tough matchup for either team.

But before we get ahead of ourselves, here are a few takeaways from the latest installment of 49ers v. Cowboys.

George Kittle is as reliable as ever

When the 49ers’ offense struggled to get momentum, George Kittle provided the match that sparked the team’s lone touchdown Sunday.

The tight end was the leading pass-catcher for San Francisco against the Cowboys, hauling in five receptions for 95 yards in the divisional round. His biggest catch of the game came midway through the third quarter though.

Running a play-action bootleg to the left, quarterback Brock Purdy looked for his first few options before redirecting back to Kittle over the middle. Finding some space up the seam, Purdy threw a dart that Kittle was able to get a hand to, causing it to bounce in the air. Coming off his facemask more than once, Kittle snatched the ball out of the air for a 29-yard gain.

An incredible catch that jumpstarted the whole offense, working a 10-play, 76-yard drive down to the endzone. Taking six minutes off the clock, running back Christian McCaffrey walked into the endzone for a two-yard score to give the 49ers the lead in the fourth quarter.

“Oh yeah, explosives can jumpstart you better than anything and he definitely wasn’t the primary on that and they defended the play very well and [QB] Brock [Purdy] came back to the inside and [TE George] Kittle just saw an opening and went down there and Brock let it rip and hell of a job seeing him in that spot and then Kittle made a hell of a catch,” head coach Kyle Shanahan said postgame Sunday.

He was right, the ball was never supposed to go to Kittle on that particular play.

Purdy was trying to get it to wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk on the crossing route. When that was taken away, Kittle recognized the space and made a play like only he knows how.

“It was a bootleg. Me and Juice [FB Kyle Juszczyk] are on the backside selling the outside zone away to get the defensive man across our face. Juice is the hot guy. We’re trying to get the ball to either, I think it was Aiyuk or [WR] Deebo [Samuel], Juice is the hot guy and I’m literally not even in the read. I just saw kind of a space and he hadn’t thrown it yet, so I was just going up the field and he gave me a catchable ball and I was just trying to be dramatic, just for tv, man,” Kittle explained.

The bobble may have been a little more necessary than dramatic, but the People’s Tight End loves to put a show on for the fans.

“Yeah it’s just for TV. I was just trying to be a little dramatic you know, get the rating up, that is all we are here for,” he said sarcastically.

Coming on strong to close out the regular season, Kittle will need to be a focal point next week in Philly. If he gets it going early, it could be a long night for the Eagles defense.

“It’s going to be cold. It’s going to be violent. It’s going to be a blast,” Kittle said.

The offensive line has to be better

More of an indictment on 49ers right tackle Mike McGlinchey, but the offensive line has to be better at protecting Brock Purdy.

Purdy finished with only 214 yards through the air and zero touchdowns against Dallas. The reason: Pressures. The Cowboys got 13 pressures on San Francisco’s O-Line, resulting in Purdy being under duress on 48.5% of his drop-backs Sunday. Dallas finished with only two sacks, but it was a great day for the visitors in the trenches.

Then we have Micah Parsons versus McGlinchey.

The Cowboys’ pass rusher was dominant to say the least, overpowering the right side of the line on multiple occasions Sunday. Parsons may have only finished with four tackles, one QB hit and 1 pass defended, but his impact was clear from the jump.

Yeah, that’s a 290-pound lineman getting tossed around like a rag doll by Parsons.

The 49ers’ O-Line rallied in the end, but they’ll need to be better against the Eagles and Hasson Reddick if there want to generate a more potent offense.

“They definitely have a lot of ability to get up the field and turn the corner and adjust,” McGliuchey said about the Dallas pass rush Sunday. “Cowboys LB Micah Parsons can convert off a burst better than anybody I’ve faced. He can change direction as good as any player in the NFL. He’s a dog man. It was a group effort. We kept him off the quarterback for the most part. It was a long fight but we got it done.”

The 49ers’ defense reigns king

San Francisco has been at the top of defensive metrics for most of the season. So naturally, we were curious how they would fair in a matchup with the second-best defense on the other side.

The 49ers delivered once again, this time with interceptions.

The first one came in the opening quarter. Cowboys QB Dak Prescott steps back to throw toward WR Michael Gallup but completely misses cornerback Deommodore Lenoir lurking the play from behind. Tossing a soft comeback pass, Lenoir poaches the ball and takes it back to the Cowboys’ 21-yard-line.

Unfortunately, the 49ers were unable to capitalize fully, settling for three points to give them the lead at the end of the first quarter.

The second INT was the biggest of the game. Prescott and Dallas were driving downfield to close out the first half when he threw a lackluster ball to WR CeeDee Lamb in the flat. Reading the play, 49ers safety Jimmie Ward got to it first, tipping the ball to linebacker Fred Warner for the second INT of the day.

A momentum-swinging play resulted in another field goal for the home side, giving them the lead, 9-6, at the break.

The defensive line came alive in the second half, clogging up run lanes and getting pressure on Prescott. Dallas had lost RB Tony Pollard to an ankle injury, leaving them with only Ezekiel Elliott in the backfield. Going 10 carries for 26 yards, it was clear that stopping the run game was pivotal for the red & Gold.

“We stopped the run, which I think was huge,” Shanahan said. “It allowed us to be pretty sound in our coverages. I know we gave up that big one when we were backed up, but I just think we made them work for everything and when you take away the run game and you don’t have to be too risky in your coverages, it makes it hard to get explosives and our guys just kept doing it all game and we were able to contain them and keep them out of the end zone except for that drive.”

Holding their opponents to zero points in 21 out of 48 quarters since their Week 7 loss, DeMeco Ryans has the defense hitting on all cylinders right now.

And they’ll need to be at their best if they want to walk out of Philly with the win next week.

“It’s a different animal. We’ll lock in, get on some film and start preparing, but it’s a different team, and a different animal. They’re different players and they’ve got a different offensive scheme. So now that we’ve got past this, we can take a look at them and prepare,” DE Nick Bosa said Sunday.


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