Kyle Shanahan and the San Francisco 49ers are on fire heading into Sunday’s Divisional Round clash with the Dallas Cowboys, and are battle-hardened and experienced enough to be considered a strong contender to win the Super Bowl.
Should the 49ers beat their long time rivals on Sunday, they will reach the NFC Championship for the third time in four years and head into the clash red-hot following 11 successive wins.
The 49ers headed into last weekend’s wildcard clash with the Seattle Seahawks as one of the favourites to win the Super Bowl, and they showed exactly why they earned that label. The Niners crushed the Seahawks in a 41-23 win despite trailing 17-16 at the break.
In the second half, Kyle Shanahan’s side scored 25 unanswered points thanks to two touchdown passes from Brock Purdy and a touchdown run from Purdy. Purdy began the season third on the 49ers depth chart after being selected with the final pick in the 2022 Draft. However, injuries to both Trey Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo opened the door for the Iowa State alum and he hasn’t looked back since.
As a starting quarterback, Purdy guided the Niners to six successive wins to end the regular season, posting a statline of 1,374 passing yards and 13 touchdowns to earn Kyle Shanahan’s team the second seed in the NFC. The quarterback enjoyed a strong start in the postseason last weekend too, completing 60% of his passes and posting a statline of 332 yards passing, three touchdown passes and as well as a rushing touchdown.
The offense as a whole has benefitted from Purdy’s emergence as a starting quarterback, posting 30 or more points in six of their last seven games. Purdy’s ability to move the chains and ability to be a threat on the ground and throwing the ball, combined with Kyle Shanahan’s playcalling and the array of weapons the Niners possess makes them a dangerous opponent for the Cowboys.
Firstly, running back Christian McCaffrey is widely regarded as one of the most explosive running backs in the league. The former Carolina Panther is a threat out of the backfield as both a receiver and a runner as his performance against Seattle indicated. McCaffrey rushed for 119 yards on 15 carries and scored a touchdown, marking his fourth 100+ rushing display in his last six games. The running back also found the endzone as a receiver last weekend to score his sixth receiving touchdown of the season.
If the Cowboys can nullify McCaffrey this weekend, they will have to slow down Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk and George Kittle in the passing game. Aiyuk finished the regular season with his first 1000 yard receiving season as well as eight touchdown catches this season and carried his production into the playoffs. The wide receiver caught three passes for 73 yards last weekend and served as a complimentary piece to the self described ‘Wide-Back’ Deebo Samuel.
Samuel often serves as a rusher out of the backfield as well as being lined up as a wide receiver, but Samuel did most of his damage as a receiver last weekend. The former South Carolina Gamecock caught six passes for 133 yards and a touchdown in what was just his second game back following ankle and knee injuries in the Niners win over the Buccaneers in December.
Last but not by no means least, the Cowboys will also have to contend with tight-end George Kittle. The perennial Pro-Bowler enjoyed a relatively quiet day at the office last weekend after recording just two catches for 37 yards he is a matchup nightmare for any linebacker or defensive back. Kittle got 60 passes for 765 yards and 11 touchdowns in the regular season, including seven in the final four games on his way to his fourth Pro Bowl nod and a spot on Associated Press’ second team All-Pro.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the ball the 49ers defensive coordinator Demeco Ryans has built a dominant defense during his two seasons as the defensive play-caller. During the Niners 11 game winning run they have conceded 20 points or more in just two of those games and caused a number of headaches for the Seahawks last weekend. The 49ers’ defense forced two takeaways and sacked Geno Smith three times in the win over the Seahawks.
Ryans’ dominant defense is led by defensive end Nick Bosa, who finished the regular season with 18.5 sacks. Middle linebacker Fred Warner was targeted 27 times in coverage this season but gave up just 12 catches all season and safety Talanoa Hufanga picked off four passes. All three featured in the Associated Press’ first-team All-Pro and all three were selected to represent the franchise in the Pro Bowl.
Aside from the aforementioned star quality on the roster, Shanahan’s team enter Sunday’s clash with strong playoff experience too. The likes of Nick Bosa, George Kittle, Deebo Samuel, Mike McGlinchey, Arik Armstead, Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw were all on the roster when the Niners made the Super Bowl in the 2019-20 season. While even more of this roster were on the team that made the NFC Championship last season.
Mike McCarthy’s Dallas Cowboys will have to play the game of their lives to avenge last year’s playoff defeat to the 49ers, but even then the Niners may well just be too strong.