The San Francisco 49ers went on the road and held the top scoring offense in the NFL to 17 points. Making that even more impressive is they pulled it off while playing without Nick Bosa and Fred Warner for the final eight plus minutes of the game.
Starting with a week ten upset of the Los Angeles Rams, the San Francisco defense has held opponents to 24 points or fewer.
On Sunday, the defensive front once again set the tone for the 49ers’ defense.
On the opening possession for Dallas, Nick Bosa and Samson Ebukam broke through the Cowboys’ offensive line to drop Dak Prescott on third down for the first of five sacks San Francisco would record on the day.
After Bosa went down with a concussion late in the second quarter, Charles Omenihu stepped in and came up big. San Francisco acquired Omenihu in exchange for a 2023 sixth-round draft pick just before the trade deadline in early November. Against the Cowboys, Omenihu got to Dak Prescott three times recording 1.5 sacks and forcing a fumble.
Arik Armstead and D.J. Jones continued to come up big in the middle of the 49ers’ defense. Both interior defensive linemen were able to record a sack and tackle for loss against Dallas and have combined for 5.5 sacks over the last two weeks.
The biggest play of the day from the pass rush may have come from Jordan Willis. It was a strong pass rush from Willis that forced Prescott to throw early late in the third quarter, leading to an interception by K’Waun Williams.
Deebo Samuel would score on the next play to give the 49ers a 23-7 lead they would not relinquish.
Jimmy Garoppolo’s up and down day
There is no denying that Jimmy Garoppolo had a rough second half against Dallas. His three mistakes: missing Brandon Aiyuk with a throw on third down, throwing inaccurately and getting intercepted in the fourth quarter, and snapping the ball before Trent Williams was set helped Dallas stick around until the end.
At the same time, the 49ers don’t win this game without Garoppolo’s performance in the first half.
Garoppolo completed 11 of 14 passes for 133 yards in the first half while leading the 49ers’ offense to scores on their first four possession of the game.
The quarterback was particularly good on third down in the opening half, hitting on four of five third down pass attempts. Three of the completions led to third down conversions to extend the drives and the fourth helped move San Francisco into position for a Robbie Gould field goal.
How good was Garoppolo’s first half? Garoppolo finished Sunday’s game with the second highest total according to ESPN’s total QBR rating system. Total QBR was designed to incorporate all of a quarterback’s contributions to winning by accounting for a team’s level of success or failure on every play.
If Garoppolo can put together a full game as he played in the first half, San Francisco should have a good chance of upsetting Green Bay.
Special teams ups and downs
Like Jimmy Garoppolo the 49ers’ special teams continue to be inconsistent. On Sunday the 49ers punt return unit twice made mistakes in the second half to extend Dallas’ possessions.
The first mistake came on Dallas’ opening possession of the second half when linebacker Mark Nzeocha was called for roughing the punter, giving the Cowboys an automatic first down. Although the defense would eventually get a stop, the mistake meant the 49ers’ offense would open the half on its own seven yard line instead of the 33.
The second mistake would come early in the fourth quarter when the 49ers allowed Dallas to successfully execute a fake punt on fourth and five near midfield. The 16-yard completion from punter Brian Anger to Malik Turner would lead to a Dallas field goal, cutting the San Francisco lead to 23-10.
As bad as the 49ers were at times on special teams Sunday, they don’t win the game without Robbie Gould.
While the punt return unit struggled, Robbie Gould and the 49ers field goal unit picked them up. Gould connected on field goals from 53, 40 and 52 yards out in the first half to help give San Francisco a 16-7 lead.
Carrying the rock
Elijah Mitchell led the way for the 49ers on the ground with 96 yards rushing and a touchdown against Dallas. The rookie carried the ball 27 times, tied for the second most in 49ers postseason history with Ken Willard and only two behind Raheem Mostert’s 29 carries against Green Bay in the NFC Championship Game following the 2019 season.
Deebo Samuel couldn’t let Mitchell have all the fun. In addition to hauling in three passes for 38 yards, Samuel ran the ball 10 times for 72 yards including a 26-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter that proved to be the game winner. Of Samuel’s 72 yards, 59 of them came on six carries after halftime.
What Samuel has done this season has never been seen before. Samuel’s 72 rushing yards are the most by a wide receiver in a postseason game in NFL history. Samuel’s performance on Sunday, along with his 53-yard effort against Kansas City in Super Bowl LIV gives him two of the three top rushing games by a wide receiver in a postseason game.
The 49ers were hit with injuries during the game to key players. Nick Bosa is in the NFL concussion protocol after colliding with teammate D.J. Jones on a pass rush late in the first half. Kyle Shanahan told Bay Area media during a conference call on Monday the 49ers are optimistic about Bosa being cleared to play Saturday night.
Fred Warner suffered a lower ankle sprain, but as is the case with Bosa, Shanahan expressed positivity that the linebacker should be ready to go on Saturday.
Defensive end Jordan Willis suffered a high ankle sprain and his availability for Green Bay is currently unknown.
There was one injury that was not reported during or after the game, and that involves Jimmy Garoppolo. According to Shanahan, Garoppolo suffered a slight sprain to his right shoulder in the second quarter. The quarterback was able to play through some pain, but he ended up checking out alright and the team expects him to be available for Wednesday’s practice.