SANTA CLARA, Calif. — This year felt a little different when watching Dallas Cowboys football. I think many felt like this was their best chance to break numerous playoff droughts and maybe even the near 30-year starvation of a Lombardi trophy.
Yet, right when you thought Dallas had a clear path to success and truly many chances to right the wrongs of the last couple of decades, it all crumbled quicker than it started. The Dallas Cowboys will be cleaning their lockers yet again before the NFC Championship game, with more questions than obvious answers.
Some may think that take is a bit harsh considering this Cowboys team won 12 games again and was a possession away from tying up the ballgame, but in reality, they were flat-out beaten by a better team. With some of their best players up for contract extensions soon, and a Quarterback still among the highest-paid in the NFL, their window is beginning to close.
For now, we will focus on Sunday night's contest, another heartbreaking end to a season that looked like it was full of potential.
1. Dak Prescott was outplayed on the biggest stage... again.
It is becoming tough to argue that Dak Prescott is not a good Quarterback. Say what you want, but he is one of the better throwers of the football in the game.
Many, believe he is good enough to be a Super Bowl-winning signal caller. Though his playoff misfortunes continue despite all of the potentials in the world. You knew the 49ers would stop the run as they boast the 2nd best run-stuffing defense in the NFL, so this game would be won or lost in the hands of Dak.
A key to the Cowboy's loss to the 49ers came by virtue of their QB being outplayed by the last pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. Prescott's 35.4 QBR, four turnover-worthy throws and an expected points added of -4.3 was the 2nd worst performance of the playoffs this week, in addition to landing just five of their fifteen conversions on third down.
It was a poor performance by a guy who was coming off one of the best performances of his career just a week ago, but unfortunately, that momentum did not carry on to last night's game. Prescott missed a lot, from a wide-open Michael Gallup late in the 4th quarter, to an open Dalton Schultz on his 2nd interception, there is a point to be made that Prescott's mechanics turn into spilled chili when under pressure and the evidence seems to become louder by the game.
Blame Coach McCarthy and OC Kellen Moore all you want, but the ultimate result of this game lies at the feet of Rayne Dakota Prescott. When the Cowboys needed him most, he, unfortunately, did not deliver.
2. Cover 3 fooled the Cowboys passing attack
San Francisco 49ers DC DeMeco Ryans put on a performance of a lifetime on Sunday night. The 49ers do not run the most complex defense out there, but Ryans plays to his players' strengths and ultimately inherited a defense that fits every defensive coordinator's dream.
The 49ers blitzed once for every six dropbacks Prescott had, yet they forced both turnovers when rushing four and playing cover 3. Meaning, they had two corners and one safety covering one-third of the field each, with their second-level defenders (Safety, Linebackers) playing either hook-to-curl or curl-to-flat areas, meaning their coverage zone ranges from the line of scrimmage to about 8 to 12 yards off.
With the Cowboys having an infatuation for pushing the ball down the field, this played right into the hands of the Niners defense. Additionally, the available windows that Prescott and the Cowboys offense had to throw into were uncomfortable and uncommon for their offense.
The Cowboys love to attack the second and third levels of the passing game, they do not attack the sideline areas in their passing offense with great success and rarely take the cheap stuff underneath. On throws of 10 or more yards, #4 in White completed just three of eleven throws for just 78 yards.
With his rhythm clearly off, Prescott threw both interceptions when attempting to throw short-yardage passes, winding up with a grade from Pro Football Focus of a staggering 29.8.
San Fran essentially out-classed Dallas in the coaching realm, leaving both Kellen Moore and Dak Prescott grabbing at straws to find some sense of momentum throughout this game.
The Cowboys now hold the 26th pick in the 2023 NFL Draft and will likely have a variety of holes to address with guys like Tony Pollard, Leighton Vander Esch and Dalton Schultz all eligible to walk away from the team in free agency.