On Tuesday, I pointed to the quarterback matchup between Dak Prescott and Jimmy Garoppolo as the battle I’m watching closely in Sunday’s playoff game between Dallas and San Francisco. This was hardly original, but it is true insofar as what will have the greatest bearing on which team wins.
For entertainment value? My friends, there is much, much bigger game to hunt.
With respect to Garoppolo, a dark-haired brooding sort who is to quarterbacks as a Toyota Camry is to cars—functional, pragmatic, utterly boring, and perpetually replaceable—we are here to watch Deebo Samuel, the impeccably named pass catcher who spits in the face of positional designations. The 25-year-old is a wide receiver by trade, but as our Jake Kemp detailed yesterday, he’s a rather strange one: often living and dying with screen passes and yards after the catch. That’s before considering his 365 yards rushing this season, second-most on the team, on a whopping 6.2 yards per carry. And when things got hairy in last week’s win-to-get-in game versus the Rams, it was Samuel, not Garoppolo, who threw the game-tying touchdown pass late in the third quarter.
There is no one quite like him in football, which naturally makes him a rather unique problem for defenses to solve. Considering multiple media outlets have named him to their All-Pro teams, they’re not doing a very good job of it.
Of course, those other defenses do not employ Micah Parsons, the Cowboys’ shift-shifting generational talent. He continues to stump offensive coordinators because he has no analogue. What other 245-pounder blitzes, patrols the sidelines, and covers at the drop of a hat, sometimes all in the same series?
Odds are their interactions will be limited on Sunday. Samuel finished fifth in the NFL in receiving yards, which is the sort of production that will merit attention from Trevon Diggs or Anthony Brown far more often than Parsons. But when San Francisco gets funky with his positioning, sliding him around and behind the line of scrimmage to engineer mismatches, Dallas has a countermove unlike anyone else in the league.
Consider this my appeal for as many of those interactions as possible. Purists may romanticize Sunday’s matchup for its potential to devolve into an archetypal trench battle, which is all well and good, but I, an impatient millennial wired for spectacle and instant gratification, am not here for that. No, sir, I am tuning in to watch space-age, position-less football superweapons do battle all over the field. Gimme Samuel versus Parsons in the flats, down the sideline, up the seam—wherever. Show me Samuel trying to juke Parsons on a reverse as the latter screams downfield, and let Parsons flash his closing speed chasing after Samuel on a screen. Sprinkle in an open-field confrontation for the hell of it, just to see if Parsons can bring down one of the game’s slipperiest players. Any of that, and preferably all of it.
Will those moments have the most bearing on the game? Doubtful. But they might be the enduring ones for how they foreshadow where the game could one day go.