How 49ers' offense creates mismatch for Cowboys' defense

/ by Taylor Wirth
Presented By Toyota

The 49ers' offense is one of the most unique units in the NFL.

Between the effective outside-zone run, creative offensive play calling and an emphasis on accumulating yards after the catch, San Francisco's offense matches up favorably with the Dallas Cowboys' defense. 

The two teams are set to square off in the wild-card round Sunday at AT&T Stadium, the first playoff matchup between the two since the iconic rivalry took center stage in the 1990s.

Notoriously terrible in recent years, the Dallas defense took a leap forward in 2021 thanks to Pro-Bowl seasons from second-year corner Trevon Diggs and rookie pass rusher Micah Parsons. Diggs led the league in interceptions (11) and Parsons (13 sacks, 84 tackles, 20 TFL, 20 QBH) burst onto the scene as a potential Defensive Rookie and Defensive Player of the Year candidate. 

On paper, the Cowboys' defense is alright, much improved than in years prior. They led the NFL in interceptions (26) and takeaways (34) and are third in turnover percentage (16.7 percent). Overall they've surrendered 5,967 total yards of offense, good for 14th-most in the league. Through the air, they've surrendered 4,049 yards passing (13th) and on the ground, they've given up 1,918 rushing yards (17th).

If an opposing offense is able to limit or eliminate turnovers altogether, the Dallas defense is a middle-of-the-pack unit. If not, this defense will make you pay. Where they're most susceptible, though, just so happens to be what the 49ers' offense does best. 


This season, the Cowboys' defense has surrendered 2,275 yards after the catch, the fourth-most in the league. 

Soon enough, the Dallas defense will be introduced to Deebo Samuel, George Kittle and Brandon Aiyuk, aka the YAC Bros. 

Extending plays and accumulating yards after the catch is the 49ers' bread and butter. It's what they're known for. Of San Francisco's 4,437 total passing yards, 51 percent of them have come after the catch.

Diggs' breakout campaign has been nothing short of impressive, but he and two other Cowboys cornerbacks all rank within the top 15 for most yards-after-catch allowed by NFL cornerbacks this season. 

Despite the eye-popping number of interceptions, Diggs received an abysmal 59.6 grade from Pro Football Focus this season. Lewis received a 61.4 grade and Brown a favorable 67.7 grade. Safeties Jayron Kearse and Malik Hooker posted decent marks of 76.8 and 68.8 respectively and Damontae Kazee finished with a score of 60.9.

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If the 49ers' offense is able to run the ball effectively -- which they should against a Cowboys defense that surrenders 4.5 yards-per-attempt -- then the ability to exploit a glaring weakness on defense will only bolster San Francisco's ability to keep pace with a potent Dallas offense laden with stars. 

Sunday's matchup between two old rivals will certainly have no shortage of excitement. Maybe, just maybe, this rivalry will re-ignite right in front of our eyes. 

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