Why the real showdown in Cowboys-49ers isn't between QBs
Dallas Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Why the real showdown in Cowboys-49ers isn't between QBs

All-Pro defenders Nick Bosa and Micah Parsons -- not QBs Dak Prescott and Brock Purdy -- could be the most impactful players during Sunday's divisional-round showdown between the Cowboys and 49ers.

Micah Parsons led the league with 98 total pressures (per Pro Football Focus), with 15 sacks, 16 hits and an astounding 67 hurries. He finished the season with a 91.9 pass-rush grade, second best in the NFL.

In the easy 31-14 wild-card win over the Bucs, Parsons was a one-man wrecking crew. 

On ESPN's "Get Up," Dan Orlovsky and Ryan Clark broke down Parsons' impact on the game. In one highlight, the Bucs drew up a decent play with a tight end open along the right seam. 

Parsons took on an offensive lineman, which allowed linebacker Leighton Vander Esch to supply pressure that gave Brady no option to make the completion.

49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan is great at scheming his playmakers open, but Parsons can make it impossible for Purdy to target Christian McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel or George Kittle. 

In 2022, Bosa led all defenders with 18.5 sacks. He added 30 hits and 41 hurries for 90 total pressures -- the half sack counts as one pressure -- and received a 90.7 grade from PFF, third best in football. 

In San Francisco's 41-23 wild-card win against Seattle, however, Bosa received his worst-pash rush grade of the season (58.6) per PFF.

Both defenders have their work cut out for them.

Per PFF, Purdy had the best passer rating (97.1) when pressured in NFL this season among the top 40 QBs in terms of total dropbacks. Prescott avoided sacks when pressured better than most, taking one on only 14.5 percent of defensive pressures. 

Since Purdy took the reins of the offense in Week 13, the 49ers have the best passing attack per Football Outsiders' Defense-adjusted Value over Average (DVOA) metric. The pass offense is remarkably 50 percent better than a league average unit during that span.

In that same time period, Dallas is 25th in pass defense DVOA, 10.7 percent worse than league average.

As ESPN's noted, "Parsons has to beat Niners offensive tackle Trent Williams, disrupt Purdy and force mistakes. If Parsons does that ... Dallas can win."

ESPN also suggested that as good as San Francisco's offense is, "it's quite possible that the offense is the 49ers worst side of the ball."

The quarterbacks will dominate the conversation -- as they often do -- following Sunday's game. But the team that advances probably will be the one that best handles a relentless pass rusher.

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