Game preview: Dallas Cowboys at San Francisco 49ers

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Patrick Semansky/AP/Shutterstock (13702522fo) Dallas Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs walks on the field in the first half of an NFL football game against the Washington Commanders, in Landover, Md Cowboys Commanders Football, Landover, United States – 08 Jan 2023

Game preview: Dallas Cowboys at San Francisco 49ers


No. 5 Dallas Cowboys (12-5, 4-4 away) at No. 2 San Francisco 49ers (13-4, 8-1 home)

Game time: Sunday, 5:30 p.m. CST

TV/radio: FOX / SiriusXM Ch. 225, 105.3 The Fan, KVMK 107.5 La Grande (Spanish)

What’s at stake: The winner earns a berth in the NFC Championship Game, which would be a first for the Cowboys in 28 years. The loser heads into the offseason trying to find the right answers as to why it happened. It is just that simple.

When the Cowboys have the ball: If the Cowboys’ offense wants to get on track, it will start up front with the offensive line. Returning to their most successful lineup with Tyler Smith and Tyron Smith at left and right tackle, respectively, Connor McGovern and Zach Martin and left and right guard, respectively, and Tyler Biadasz at center, the Cowboys will need their cohesion to be successful against the NFL’s top-ranked defense. When Dallas wants to run the ball, they are going to have to account for linebackers Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw and defensive tackle Arik Armstead. When the Cowboys want to throw the ball, the 49ers will unleash a pass rush that boasts the league leader in sacks in defensive end Nick Bosa, as well as defensive end Samsun Ebukam and defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw. The Dallas offense averaged 27 points per game during the regular season, while San Francisco’s defense only gave up 16.3 points, best in the NFL, so something must give on Sunday afternoon.

When the 49ers have the ball: If San Francisco learned anything from watching film of the Cowboys’ defense, it is that running the football can be effective. That plays right into the strength of the 49ers, who went out and acquired Christian McCaffrey midseason, and the ground attack has never looked stronger. The Cowboys’ defense is allowing just under 130 yards per game, including 100-yard days to Tampa Bay’s Leonard Fournette, Green Bay’s Aaron Jones, and Jacksonville’s Travis Etienne Jr. When the 49ers do throw the ball, they will have to rely on rookie Brock Purdy, who has averaged 218 yards passing since being inserted in the lineup in Week 13. If the Cowboys can find their pass rush, which was tied for third in the NFL with 54 sacks this season, then a hurried Purdy could lead to turnovers for a Dallas defense that led the NFL with 33 takeaways in the regular season. Without pressure, Purdy will have time to find wide receivers Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk or tight end Greg Kittle, which would put pressure on a Cowboys defensive secondary that is down to starter Trevon Diggs, backup DaRon Bland and one of four corners recently signed off the street to play nickel.

Key Cowboys to watch:

LT Tyler Smith – The Cowboys rookie wasn’t around last season when Dallas and the 49ers met in a Wild Card round playoff game, so this will be his first go-around against the NFL’s leading sack artist – Nick Bosa. However, Smith will be making his 19th start, and in the 18 previous games this season, where he was on the field for 1,144 snaps, he gave up just six of the 27 sacks the Cowboys allowed this season. Along with the test he will get from Bosa, Smith will be key in helping the Cowboys’ offense get the running game going. Another game where over 100 yards rushing will be key for a Dallas team looking to win on the road.

CB Trevon Diggs – The Cowboys top defensive back had a rough outing in the team’s win over Tampa Bay last Monday night. He finished with just two tackles on the day, despite being in position to make plays on several occasions, while playing all 82 defensive snaps. Diggs has been on the field for 1,116 plays, or just over 97% of the defensive snaps this season. He is credited with 59 tackles, 14 passes knocked down and three interceptions. Diggs was credited with four tackles in the Cowboys loss to the 49ers in last season’s Wild Card playoff round.

DTs Jonathan Hankins & Osa Odighizuwa – With Hankins back from injury and Odighizuwa clogging the middle of the trenches, the Cowboys were able to shut down the Tampa Bay ground attack and hold the Bucs to just 52 yards, with 16 of those yards coming on the Bucs’ final drive for points late in the fourth quarter and the game out of reach. Both tackles finished with two tackles, with one of Hankins being a sack of Tom Brady, while one of Odighizuwa’s resulted in a 2-yard loss for Rachaad White. The duo will be counted upon again this week to help shut down a 49er running game, which is averaging 138.8 yards per game this season.

WR Michael Gallup – The Cowboys’ No. 2 wide receiver is coming off a five-catch, 46-yard outing against Tampa Bay that produced just his fifth touchdown of the season. It is Gallup’s best game since he caught five passes for 63 yards in the Cowboys’ Thanksgiving Day win over the New York Giants. His 39 catches for 424 yards this season is the lowest output of his career, but not bad coming off a knee injury. Gallup tore the ACL in his left knee while catching a touchdown pass against Arizona in the Cowboys’ second to last game of the 2021 regular season. He returned in Week 4 of this season against Washington, catching at least one pass in every game but the Cowboys’ Week 7 win over Detroit.

K Brett Maher – Solid for 17 regular season games, where he knocked through 79 of 85 kicks and scored a team-best 137 points, Maher struggled bad enough in Game 18 that the Cowboys signed a kicker to the practice squad. Maher has been consistently good in the most important of situations all season. In the four games that were decided by one score, Maher connected on 11 of 12 field goals, with his only miss coming from over 50 yards. In games where Maher kicked when the score was tied or with one touchdown, he was a perfect 11 for 11, including seven for seven in the fourth quarter of games that were within a touchdown. Finally, he kicked 15 of 17 field goals on the road and 5 of 6 on grass.  

The bottom line: Playoff success in Green Bay is the reason Cowboys owner Jerry Jones hired head coach Mike McCarthy. But his win last week over Tampa Bay only improved his record with Dallas to 1-1. If he wants to improve to 2-1, he and his team will have to be mistake-free on Sunday afternoon in San Francisco. The Cowboys will have to play as well as they did last week in their win over the Buccaneers if they want to advance. To do that, they must win in the trenches. If they can run the football with Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard on offense and shut down San Francisco’s Christian McCaffrey, then McCarthy and the Cowboys should advance. If the Cowboys fail to do either, then Sunday could be the end to another season short of the preseason goal.

Related Posts:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *