3 Ways the Cowboys Can Contain Deebo Samuel in Wild Card Game vs. 49ers
The 49ers offense brings a few weapons to the table. George Kittle is one of the league's best tight ends and Elijah Mitchell has been a breakout star for them, but Samuel is the team's biggest threat. He finished the season fifth in receiving yards and chipped in another 365 rushing yards.
His record of 1,845 all-purpose yards this season is third in the league behind only Jonathan Taylor and Cooper Kupp.
Given the Cowboys' offensive struggles in recent weeks, the defense is going to have to play well to secure the win. Dan Quinn's group has done pretty well at containing receivers this season, and it hasn't allowed a 100-yard receiver since Week 12 when DeSean Jackson and Hunter Renfrow both eclipsed the mark.
Here are three key factors to ensure the Cowboys keep Samuel's impact to a minimum.
Great Adjustments to Motion
It's no secret that San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan loves utilizing motion and shifts. The 49ers lead the league in pre-snap motion percentage, as Seth Walder of ESPN noted, and will often have someone moving when the ball is snapped.
Utilizing so much motion and shifts serves multiple purposes.
For starters, it can give the quarterback crucial information on what coverage the defense is in depending on how they react to the motion. As a result, Dan Quinn's defense is going to need to have a few wrinkles to disguise coverages even when they get motion.
Another reason, and one that will be important for Dallas, is to create mismatches.
The Cowboys need to have a plan in place to identify where Samuel is at all times. When he moves across the formation, they must have the ability to communicate and ensure he does not get put in one-on-one positions against the likes of Keanu Neal.
The linebacker/safety has allowed a passer rating of 97.1 when targeted this season.
Clean Transitions in Zone Coverage
Quinn is known for his Cover 3 defense, and it has worked well this season. As previously noted, Dallas has been pretty good about keeping receivers in check.
But if the Cowboys are going with a zone-heavy approach against Samuel and the Niners, they must have seamless transitions. Whether it's the flat defender passing him off to the deep coverage corner or Samuel splitting the difference between the safety and the corner, clear communication is going to be key.
Looking at two of Samuel's biggest plays against the Los Angeles Rams last week, miscommunication and poor transitions in coverage were the culprit.
On a 43-yard reception for the 25-year-old against the Rams, both Jalen Ramsey and Taylor Rapp went with George Kittle in the flats, which opened enough space for Jimmy Garoppolo to drop him the ball before Nick Scott could offer help over top.
Those kinds of things can't happen if the Cowboys are going to limit Samuel in the passing game.
Get Him on the Ground
This might seem basic but it's a fundamental truth: A big part of stopping Samuel is simply getting him on the ground once he has the ball in his hands.
If Shanahan wants Samuel to get touches, he's going to get them. Whether it's on jet sweeps, in the quick game or deep down the field, the Cowboys can only do so much to make sure he doesn't get the ball.
The South Carolina product isn't a typical receiving threat, though. He's just more dangerous after the catch than he is before it. That's how he can post such incredible receiving numbers despite being ranked 101st in average depth of target.
The Cowboys are 14th in missed tackles on the season, which is close to average. They will have to be above average to keep Samuel from breaking off big plays.