3 Takeaways from 49ers' Playoff Win vs. Cowboys

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistJanuary 18, 2022

3 Takeaways from 49ers' Playoff Win vs. Cowboys

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    Roger Steinman/Associated Press

    Congratulations are in order for the San Francisco 49ers, which became the first wild-card team to notch a victory in the 2021-22 NFL postseason. They knocked off the Dallas Cowboys in a game that had its fair share of controversy.

    The controversy stems from a bizarre final play by Dallas. Down six, with 14 seconds remaining and with no timeouts, Dak Prescott ran a quarterback draw. But he couldn't clock the ball in time to set up a Hail Mary attempt, and the game was over.

    While the ending will stick in the minds (and perhaps the craw) of Cowboys fans, the 49ers faithful will remember the hard-running and the smart game-planning that left Dallas in desperation mode.

    The final score was close, and Dallas had a chance to pull it out in the end. However, this was a game largely dominated by the 49ers.

    Here's what we learned during San Francisco's 23-17 playoff win.

Ground Game Could Carry San Francisco Deep into the Postseason

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    Jed Jacobsohn/Associated Press

    Led by running back Elijah Mitchell and receiver/runner Deebo Samuel, the 49ers' ground game was great against the Cowboys. San Francisco rushed for 169 yards as a team and averaged 4.4 yards per carry.

    By dominating on the ground, the 49ers were able to control the tempo and the clock—they held the ball for nearly 34 minutes—while pressuring Dallas to take advantage of every offensive opportunity.

    This strategy should serve San Francisco well next week against the Green Bay Packers in the divisional round. While Green Bay ranks a solid 13th in points allowed, its defense has been susceptible to the run. For the season, the Packers ranked 30th in yards per carry allowed.

    A strong running game should also allow the Niners to keep Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense off of the field for long stretches, as it did Dak Prescott and the Cowboys offense on Sunday.

    Going into Lambeau Field and beating the Packers won't be easy, but this rushing attack gives San Francisco a chance. It might even pave the way for a trip to the NFC title game.

Jimmy Garoppolo Will Have to Be Better Against Green Bay

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    Tom Pennington/Getty Images

    The Cowboys were fortunate to even have a shot at the end of the game, but it was a Jimmy Garoppolo mistake that helped hand it to them.

    Nursing a 23-10 lead early in the fourth quarter, San Francisco was looking to salt the game away. Instead, the quarterback overthrew wideout Trent Sherfield and put the ball into the hands of Cowboys cornerback Anthony Brown.

    Dak Prescott scrambled into the end zone five plays later and cut San Francisco's lead to six points.

    Garoppolo was mostly good against Dallas. He finished 16-of-25 for 172 yards and picked up 10 of San Francisco's 21 first downs through the air, but his mistake could have cost the 49ers the game.

    Against the Packers, the 30-year-old is going to have to play mistake-free football if the 49ers are to come out on top. Even if they are able to control the game on the ground, giving Rodgers and Co. a free possession at any point could be a critical error.

Injuries Will Be a Concern Moving Forward

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    Roger Steinman/Associated Press

    In Garoppolo's defense, he is playing with a chipped bone and a torn ligament in his throwing thumb. Unfortunately, that's not the only injury San Francisco will have to navigate heading into the Packers matchup.

    Star pass-rusher Nick Bosa left Sunday's game with a concussion, while linebacker Fred Warner suffered an ankle injury.

    "I'm told he re-aggravated a previous ankle injury," NFL Media's Ian Rapoport told NFL Network's Good Morning Football.

    Depending on how Bosa and Warner respond during this week—the 49ers play on Saturday—San Francisco could be without two of its best defenders against the Packers. That's clearly a problem, given Green Bay's offensive prowess.

    With the pair out of the lineup, the 49ers nearly let the Cowboys climb back into Sunday's game.

    Garoppolo's ability to play through the finger injury will also be big. While the 49ers aren't going to ask him to outduel Rodgers, he will have to make some big-time throws at some point in the divisional round.