The Dallas Cowboys take on the San Francisco 49ers in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs.
A rematch of last year’s classic game, setting up for what will be the ninth meeting all-time between the two franchises. Only the third to not be in the NFC Championship game.
There are some differences on both teams this year, starting with the location. The Cowboys will play as visitor to the 49ers coming off a blowout home win against the Seattle Seahawks, as the Cowboys won in blowout style on the road.
Still, this time around the Cowboys have had a year. A year to learn lessons and progress.
There are five enormous errors they did to themselves in last year’s game. If they want to win, history CAN’T repeat itself here.
5) Tony Pollard’s Usage
Not only was Pollard only handed the ball eight times less than Ezekiel Elliott, but he was also only given two targets in the passing game.
Pollard is too valuable of a weapon to only be given the ball six times all game long.
A Pro Bowler with his first 1,000+ yard season, Pollard’s ability to get to the second and third levels are as deadly as his 5.94 yards per touch (highest in the NFL) indicates.
Give. Tony. Pollard. The. Ball.
The Cowboys running game still had its struggles, but they had a good game plan for getting Tony Pollard space on the outside. That's where the magic happens.— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) January 18, 2023
1. Secure the edge
2. Push out the outside defender
3. Let Pollard do the rest pic.twitter.com/5BUqQdrlkk
Last year’s matchup had 23 combined penalties for 147 yards. 14 of which came from the Cowboys.
Whether it was bad officiating or lack of discipline, the Cowboys have shown a slight improvement in that department. Going from worst to eighth worst in the NFL.
Lack of discipline, such as personal foul penalties can’t happen to a team like the 49ers who will take advantage of opportunities given to them.
3) Get to the QB
Six QB pressures and no sacks. That’s the entire defensive output from the Dallas Cowboys defense in last year’s game. Not nearly good enough.
For a defense that finished fifth in pressures, first in pressure rate and third in sacks, they will need the front seven (and Donovan Wilson) to get to QB Brock Purdy and make life uncomfortable.
Otherwise they will move the ball at will.
Cowboys LB Micah Parsons predicted his best football would come in playoffs. He backed that up Monday. Relentless pressure from varied alignments. Multiple batted passes. Drew attention to free up teammate on sack before one for himself. A dominant night. https://t.co/sT7QjbeSpS pic.twitter.com/zTW0jNGcJQ— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) January 17, 2023
2) Run Defense
The Dallas Cowboys defense played abysmally against the run against San Francisco, whom only needed the output of RB Elijah Mitchell and WR Deebo Samuel to do so.
Combining for 168 yards and two touchdowns, with 92 yards coming after contact. Partially due to the five combined missed tackles, as well as the aggressive run blocking from zone concepts.
The return of DT Johnathan Hankins and LB Leighton Vander Esch should help the run defense from the inside, while players like Donovan Wilson, Micah Parsons, DeMarcus Lawrence and Jayron Kearse play the edge.
San Francisco is still very good at running the ball, but luckily the Cowboys have the right personnel on a defense showing improvement against the run.
1) Clock Management.
I don’t know who is really responsible for the last play of last year’s game and it doesn’t matter.
Head coach Mike McCarthy and the Dallas Cowboys need to be aware of it all. The time, the down, timeouts and who can actually set the ball.
Here's Tony Romo explaining the mechanics of the Cowboys' final play, rightly saying that Dak Prescott should've found the official and given him the ball. pic.twitter.com/0EtwZ5H6l0— Billy Heyen (@BillyHeyen) January 17, 2022
Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement of USA TODAY Sports