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How the 49ers defense can stop Dak Prescott

Rohan Chakravarthi
Jan 20, 2023 at 3:30 PM--

The San Francisco 49ers are facing the Dallas Cowboys for the second consecutive year in the playoffs, with ticket prices soaring to historic levels in lieu of the highly, anticipated matchup.

The Cowboys have been eying this specific matchup for the past season, quarterback Dak Prescott said to reporters on Thursday, as Dallas looks to reach their first Super Bowl since

"Most definitely I [wanted the 49ers]. I think this whole team did. Obviously, using that loss last year as a motivation," Prescott said. "The focal point of the resiliency that we carried into the offseason obviously carried into this year. We get a chance to go back at their place and do something that we wanted to do."

With Prescott aiming to avenge the Cowboys' loss from a season ago, let's evaluate the matchup that the 49ers defense faces in the Divisional Round of the playoffs.

Blitz vs No Blitz

Dak Prescott is a story of two tales when it comes to pressure: the quarterback is impressive against the blitz, but struggles when facing pressure.

In 2022, Prescott completed 69.6% of his passes when facing the blitz, as opposed 65.1% in other situations, while his passer rating is better when teams send extra defenders as well.

Additionally, Prescott had a 1.6% turnover-worthy play-rate when facing the blitz, much better than his 4.8% turnover-worthy play-rate when not blitzed.

The numbers aren't an anomaly either: In 2021, Prescott threw for 21 touchdowns against the blitz, compared to 16 in other situations, despite facing the blitz on 279 less dropbacks.

Additionally, Prescott's big-time throw-rate against the blitz was 6.8% and his turnover worthy play-rate was 2.4%, compared to a big-time throw-rate of 4.2% and a turnover worthy play-rate of 3.2% elsewhere.

Overall, Prescott created more explosive plays, while turning the ball over less against the blitz, showcasing how effective he is when defenses send extra men at the quarterback.

However, there's another layer to Prescott: his passing splits when under pressure.

Prescott has struggled under pressure on a regular basis.

In 2022, Prescott completed just 50.5% of his passes when under pressure, compiling a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 7:6, and having a big-time throw-rate of 3.4% and a turnover-worthy play-rate of 4.8%.

In these situations, Prescott tends to hold the ball too long, averaging 3.27 seconds per throw, far below his 2.43 time-to-throw average when kept clean in the pocket.

So, Prescott succeeds against the blitz, but struggles against pressure, creating an ideal situation for the 49ers to attack defensively: getting to the quarterback by rushing four or five.

Defensively, the 49ers aren't a team that relies on the blitz heavily, as they do so on 21.6% of dropbacks, which ranks 20th in the NFL, and is certainly lower than the 26% blitz rate that the Dallas Cowboys have seen this season offensively.

The 49ers are 10th in sacks at 44 and 11th in pressure rate at 22.9%, but boast two pass rushers in Nick Bosa and Charles Omenihu that ranked amongst the top-ten in the NFL in pass-run win-rate.

Omenihu had a stellar performance against the Seattle Seahawks in the divisional round, recording a team-high five pressures and two sacks, including a game-changing strip-sack that provided the 49ers with their first takeaway of the game.

Bosa, on the other hand, was held without a pressure and defended well by right tackle Abraham Lucas.

If the 49ers are to gain pressure on Dak Prescott without blitzing, they'll need both of their top pass-rushers to perform.

This matchup may very well change the outcome of the game, as Dallas's offense was on a roll last Monday because of Dak Prescott's stellar game.

The long-awaited showdown is the final game of the divisional round, and will take place at 3:30 PM at Levi's Stadium this Sunday.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.
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  • Jack Black
    Those videos are insane. A commercial every 3 seconds
    Jan 22, 2023 at 10:47 AM
  • Rob
    Cowboys have a big problem when they pass. They can't even come close to blocking Bosa 1 on 1 with their young tackle (and probably not Omenihu either). Pollard/Elliot/TE have to stay in to double team. That takes a key route runner out of the offense. Armstead will probably also be double teamed, leaving Omenihu 1 on 1. Dak will have to survive on slants and quick outs and its tough to drive the whole field with those. Ward and Greenlaw can help with the slants and deep curls and are really good against screens. If Kinlaw and Armstead clog the run up the middle, everything else has to go perfectly for the Cowboys to score. Cowboys only hope is that their run game somehow gets rolling because Dak is going to turn it over once or twice if he is pressured (his worse stats are under pressure, not being blitzed).
    Jan 21, 2023 at 12:51 PM
  • Rafael
    Dak meant to say, we thought about our choke job at home all offseason. It scares us to have to face the Niners again given that we are playing on a short week, have to travel and play in their house. The Niners have also upgraded their QB and added Christian McCaffery. Oh and the Cowboys have a rookie left tackle that is rated lowest in the entire league. Bang bang. Trust me, Dak doesn't want to play us.
    Jan 21, 2023 at 11:36 AM


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