Why Dallas will provide tough challenge for 49ers defense

San Francisco 49ers defensive end Charles Omenihu (94) lines up during the second half of an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons, Sunday, Oct. 16, 2022, in Atlanta. The Atlanta Falcons won 28-14. (AP Photo/Danny Karnik)

The 49ers defense has been exceptional for most of this season; however, their performance two weeks ago in Las Vegas may be a harbinger of what’s to come on Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys.

In their week 17 matchup with the Raiders, San Francisco allowed 34 points and 500 yards of total offense. Those totals were the most given up by the 49ers defense since the Kansas City Chiefs ran roughshod over them in week seven.

There are several similarities between that Raiders offense and the one San Francisco will face on Sunday. These similarities make Dallas the toughest NFC opponent the 49ers have faced this season.

Those include talented players at all three levels of the offense. Both teams have strong receiving corps, solid tight end play, a commitment to the run game, quarterbacks who can make the defense pay with their legs and offensive lines which do a good job of protecting the quarterback.

The Niners run defense has faltered in recent weeks, allowing over four yards per carry to the Raiders in week 17 and Seattle in the Wild Card game. They will face plenty of rushing attempts this weekend.

“The most important part of our run game is the productivity,” said Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy. “The efficiency comes in the attempts. We’ve got to make sure we continue to give those guys (Zeke Elliott and Tony Pollard) opportunities.”

Staying committed to the run game puts a great deal of pressure on the 49ers linebackers and safeties. In addition to stopping the Elliott and Pollard, this group will need to keep their eyes on Dalton Schultz and fellow tight end Jake Ferguson.

Schultz scored a pair of touchdowns on Monday night in the Cowboys win over Tampa Bay and led the Cowboys in receiving yards last year against San Francisco. Ferguson has more speed than his counterpart and finished the regular season with a pair of receiving touchdowns.

The running ability of Dak Prescott cannot be underestimated. San Francisco has a history of struggling with mobile quarterbacks. Against Las Vegas they allowed Jarrett Stidham to use his legs to keep drives alive. The threat of Stidham running eventually leading to a long touchdown throw to Davante Adams when defenders left the receiver alone to go after the quarterback.

Prescott did a good job of using his legs on Monday night, getting into the endzone on a fourth and goal run around the left side.

Prescott has one of the best pass blocking offensive lines in the NFL in front of him. The big guys up front for Dallas have allowed a sack on just 4.5 percent of their pass plays.

The strong pass protection may provide issues for a 49ers defense built to get to the quarterback. When Nick Bosa and company are unable to get to consistent pressure it usually leads to a long day for San Francisco’s secondary. They allowed Stidham to carve them up for 365 yards. It wasn’t until Kerry Hyder Jr. and Bosa came up with big plays in the second half that Stidham made mistakes. They weren’t as lucky against Marcus Mariota or Patrick Mahomes earlier in the year.

As noted earlier, the 49ers struggled early on against Seattle in the NFC Wild Card round last weekend. With the game close in the first half the Seahawks were able to stay committed to running the ball. They finished the first half with 18 called runs and 13 called passes, gaining 82 yards on the ground while taking a one-point lead into the halftime break.

Seattle stayed balanced to open the second half, driving deep into 49ers territory. The drive was halted on a Charles Omenihu strip sack and Brock Purdy led San Francisco to its second touchdown of the half. Trailing by 14 Seattle abandon the run and the 49ers defense took over.

Perhaps the 49ers offense will be its best defense on Sunday.

This article has 34 Comments

  1. I have felt all season that other than the Chiefs game the 49ers were untested. Other than KC we have not played a team who was strong on both sides of the ball. I said before the Seattle game that this years team reminded me of the 87 9ers. The biggest difference was this years team got Seattle in the first round (a truly mediocre team) Now for only the second time this year we face a very good team. I hope that I am wrong but I will not be surprised at all if this Sundays game isn’t a repeat of the KC game.

    1. You bring up a great point and I remember that 87 team. Only difference was Walsh realized he made a mistake and practiced too hard which is why they got bounced by Minnesota that week. He specifically said when they were doing warm ups he noticed a tired niners team. Shanna Han won’t do that.

      1. The loss against the Vikings in 87 was a painful one. The 49ers had the big edge in talent and were favorites to win.
        Then Wade Wilson, Anthony Carter and Keith Mallard happened. Joe Montana got benched in favor of Steve Young. It was a bad day for 49ers fans.

        The playoffs are a different animal then the regular season. The most talented teams don’t always win.
        The cboys are a strong team and feel that they have some unfinished business with the 49ers.

        This game will be to close to call and may come down to a turnover.
        Love the renewal of this old rivalry.

    2. Lance gets a lot of heat for how poorly the offense played in the first few games of the season. But the offense kind of sucked a bit under Garoppolo for a couple games too. Then Garoppolo started to play better and the offense started humming. Now I don’t have any film in front of me but I suspect that not only did Jimmy start to play better but I suspect that the entire offense started playing better. Receivers ran better routes, lineman blocking better and play design and calling were better. I seem to recall more penetration on run and pass plays in the early games. Also, I recall seeing receivers covered or in bad positions when the QB dropped back and was under pressure….he had no where to go. So IMO the offense as a unit got better overall and it’s not as much Lance’s fault s many fans think (though Lance didn’t exactly play at an elite level either).

      1. Allfor,
        Although i’m still not a huge fan of this years O line, they are much better now than they were in those first couple game. Something I have noticed the last couple of years is Trent Williams is not that good until game 3 or 4. I believe that is the product of KS not working him at all during camp. I agree with you that we might be seeing a very different Trey Lance going into this week if he had stayed healthy.

      2. IMO, the entire team played unevenly or below their talent level for the first 7 games. Slow starts have been the hallmark of Shanahan’s regime, and Shanahan himself expressed his frustration about these slow starts in an interview back in August.

    3. Dak Prescott, Micah Parsons, few others from Cowboys on ESPN just now expressed no fear of the 49ers & seemed to suggest last year’s match up was simply a fluke, an aberration. Whew! Have to hope this is nothing more than pre-game bravado but still their implying they’ll drive Purdy & the 49ers out of Levis with ease and dispatch does give one pause.

      1. They are trying act like they are not scared because they know the 49ers are the more physical team.

      2. For players of a team to feel the need to express that they have no fear suggests their own uncertainty about the outcome. I think Dallas is unsure if they can really hang with SF . On the other hand I don’t hear 49er players saying anything, they know they can win.

    4. It is possible. But let’s not forget. The KS was 14-13 them midway through the 3rd quarter. It was one play that turned the game, much like what happened in our first playoff game. It will be a challenge for sure, but I don’t think Dak is elite – he is good or rather can be good. But he can also be a turn over machine. Let ride, have fun and may the best team on Sunday win.

      1. Marcus, I remember that too about that game. They were not playing well at all and still kept it close until into the 3rd quarter. They fell apart with horrible self defeating mistakes, penalty’s and the defense stunk it up. That was the last game they lost I believe. Right now BP is playing every bit as good as JG and without the random interceptions and sacks in the endzone. I like the niners chances against any of the teams that are left including KC. Does not mean that they will not be nail bitters but this team can make it to the end.

    5. agree with Coach. This is the first real test in several weeks. I will stay calm but I must prepare for the worst. We will learn much about Purdy in the game. I also want to see Ward and Lenoir face this test and prevail.

  2. Hey, Jeff and Old Coach. I will tell you what I’m afraid of. That the Cowboys will take a page out of KC and The Raiders playbook and throw deep on us. If you notice, our corners have allowed long bombs for completions, even Charvarius Ward, as good as he is. And even though they’re playing better, our o-line has allowed a great deal of pressure to the QB. I suspect a smart coach like Mike McCarthy will blitze Brock often. Because even though he has done great, and has handled pressure pretty good, he is still a rookie with his first playoff experience. But if and when the skill players get open quick we can do to Dallas what they are going to try to do to us. They want to play next week, not be at home like us Fans watching somebody else go even farther.

    1. Purdy’s completion rate is near 80 when blitz. I hope you are right – the young man has a quick release.

  3. SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS!! Let’s get to the promised land so we can get our gold in the form of the Lombardi Trophy at the end of the rainbow!!

  4. Prescott has the most INT in the league with 15, and he played 3-5 less games than most other QB’s. The 49ers had the most defensive INT with 20.

    Zeke and Pollard have had 0 fumbles all season and the 49ers had 10 FR, 1 every other game. I get the feeling that will change this game.

  5. I can see Dallas winning quite easily and all the defects of the Niners being exposed. But I still want to wish for the best. Just hope Purdy is not hurt. KC will also be impossible to get beyond. Miracles can happen though.
    In the off-season, we need to strengthen several spots on this team.

    1. Every team needs to strengthen multiple spots. This roster is stocked with talent.

      6 pro bowlers and 3 all pros.

      Don’t trip about this game. Cowboys are 19th against the run allowing 129 yds/game. The 49ers are 8th in rushing with 138 yds/game.

  6. The mismatches that the Niners can create on offense right now are unreal. The Cowboys are going to have their hands full with our schemes. No disrespect to the Cowboys, but this Niners team is on another level right now. Sit back and enjoy the show come Sunday!

  7. The Niners will remind those guys who the tougher team is and that last year wasn’t a fluke. They might be the toughest team we’ve played since K.C., but they haven’t played anyone as tough as us.
    34-24 home team.😎

  8. Um….anything can happen but we’re favored for a reason.. we’re at home and are a better team. They never played anyone near as talented as us and won.. week 18 they lost, sure they beat the Bucs but we almost shut them out and were up 35-0…. our team focus is phenomenal and I think we got this

  9. I think you hit the nail on the head with the Raider offense vs the 49er defense comparison to the Cowboys game. This is exactly why I think that Raider game was so important to win. Pollard is very good and Zeke is good but has lost a step. Josh Jacobs in my opinion may be the most underrated RB in the NFL. He’s a top 5 NFL RB. Jacobs went 17/69 and 1 TD for 4.1 ypc in that game. I think the 49ers hold the Cowboys to under 4 ypc in this game. Waller is better than Dalton Schultz. Waller went 3 for 72 yard and 1 TD in that game. Schultz is Dak’s security blanket. Very important to take him out of the game. Davante went 7/153 and 2 TDs. 49ers really need to limit Ceedee Lamb but I don’t think Lamb is half the player of Davante Adams. The real problem will be when the Cowboys line up Lamb in the slot. According to PFF, the 49ers are one of the worst teams in the NFL guarding the slot receiver. That could be a big problem in this game. Lastly, I didn’t really care for Ryan’s game plan against the Raiders. I’m very hopeful he learned and mixes it up a lot more against the Cowboys. Really need to work on setting the edges and keeping Dak in the pocket. He throws a lot of interceptions so collapse the pocket around him and the 49ers could get some Ints. To me the biggest key in this game will be Smith/Biadasz/Martin vs Kinlaw(?)/Armstead/Givens. If the interior d-line can hold the point of attack I think the 49ers hold the Cowboys offense to <24 points.

    Looks like Kinlaw is questionable. Also Jason Peters is questionable. Any updates on those guys?

  10. Dallas is a very good team but fortunately the Niners are even better. Games are unpredictable but still I feel the Niners will win. Both teams have great defenses but the Niners are better overall. We haven’t been as good on pass defense but are much better on run defense and have given up almost 4 points less per game.
    On offense it’s not that even. The Niners are just better. With the exception of the Seattle game when Purdy was injured, we’ve scored over 30 points in all of his starts. The offense is healthy and on a roll.
    I predict a win.


    Jack. Another well written and article, keep up the good work…..Here’s why I believe the 9ers win!
    The 9ers offense has scored no less than 33 points at home, averaging 37 points per game when playing at Levi’s Stadium. Purdy’s air yards per pass attempt is a 6.8 average!

    Cowgirls QB Dak Prescott leads the NFL in interceptions with 15 and has thrown 11 interceptions since Week 12!
    The 9er D is second-best in takeaways, and third-best in thrown interceptions. In the 49ers’ last five home games, the defense has produced 15 takeaways.

  12. All of the statistical arguments favor the 49ers. What those statistical arguments don’t take into consideration is strength of the schedule. The collective records of Dallas’s opponents 143-139. The collective records of the 49ers opponents 120-168 ( not figured in ties and games not finished)

    1. Old Coach
      I”m more impressed with the 9er coaching staff that took a rookie QB, the last player drafted, and the 3rd QB to start a game this season and still be in a position to play for a division championship, than all the stats, strength of schedule, or collective record of the cowgirls opponents!
      FACT: 9ers have an 11 game winning streak and a rookie QB breaking records that may never be broken again!
      Can the 9ers & Purdy win a SB? TBD! Would you have believed it when Lance went down? How about when JG went down?
      FACT: The 9er D is the best D in the NFL and the 49ers have more offensive firepower than the Cowgirls. IMO, Prescot will choke under pressure and throw an int the 4th qtr than will give the 9ers a win…

  13. Geep,
    I will be cheering my butt off that you are right but as a betting man I would take the points. (I won’t really be betting against the 9ers)

  14. First time I’ve read a pretty bad analysis by Jack Hammer. All conclusions were drawn from exceptions instead of averages or trends. If you analyze this way, every single SB winner ever is full of flaws, based on cherry picking flaws from specific games, and therefore should lose their next game.

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