Dallas Cowboys vs San Francisco 49ers: An “Official” Breakdown

Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, San Francisco 49ers Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, San Francisco 49ers Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /
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(Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images) /

The NFL postseason is finally here! Perhaps the best part of this year’s rendition is our beloved Dallas Cowboys will get in on the action starting Sunday versus our longtime rival, the San Francisco 49ers.

This series has had some legendary moments but none will have more at stake than this year’s version: tough QBs, brilliant offensive minds, intense defensive minds, star trench players, and incredibly gifted skill positions, Sunday’s game should be one for the ages.

When San Francisco beat the Los Angeles Rams last Sunday afternoon, it provided quite a significant change in the playoff landscape. The Cowboys expected to be the number four seed in the conference likely entertaining a rematch against the Arizona Cardinals at home for the first round of the playoffs.

San Francisco beating Los Angeles coupled with the Seattle Seahawks beating Arizona propelled Dallas to the three seed in the NFC; it was significant because while the Cowboys only have home-field advantage for their first-round matchup, they wouldn’t have to play against the Green Bay Packers until the NFC conference championship.

Also, the second part of this is that Dallas ended up with a different foe for their first-round matchup.

This week, the team, fans, and analysts have had to switch lanes from studying the Cardinals to the 49ers, a task that presents a very different set of challenges. Fans, due to the many resources out there, are knowledgeable about the differences between Kliff Kingsbury’s and Kyle Shanahan’s offense.

Kingsbury loves using lighter personnel and spread looks running from 10 (1 RB, 0 TE) and 11 (1 RB, 1 TE) personnel. Shanahan loves his fullback Kyle Juszczyk and tight end George Kittle and uses them to create mismatches at the line of scrimmage to run however he wants to often from 21 (2 RB, 1 TE) or 12 (1 RB, 2 TE) personnel.

However, the personnel differences are only one of several differences between how both offenses operate. As it relates to the Cowboys, both teams are efficient at running the ball and it’s incredibly problematic for Dallas because Dallas’s run defense is still not very good. It’s certainly an improvement from last year, but it’s still league average as the Cowboys boasted the 16th highest rushing defensive DVOA this season. (This week could not be a worse week for the Cowboys to be missing IDL Brent Urban)

In fact, that’s perhaps the greatest criticism of this current Dallas Cowboys squad. Analysts have pointed out ad nauseam that Kyle Shanahan’s ability to run the ball effectively could end this team’s playoff run before it even starts.

The counter to this is San Francisco’s quarterback situation isn’t as strong as Dallas’s but that never mattered to the 49ers when they ran through the NFC in 2019 with their QB Jimmy Garoppolo throwing less than 30 attempts across two games.

There is a good amount to break down in preparation for this matchup so I will try to detail the tendencies and personnel of the San Francisco 49ers and how the Cowboys should attack in opposition.

Consider this an “official” breakdown for this Sunday’s matchup between the Dallas Cowboys and the San Francisco 49ers.

Let’s get started, shall we?