How the San Francisco 49er’s Can Beat the Dallas Cowboys.
Sunday presents us with an epic matchup between two historic NFL franchises, the San Francisco 49ers and the Dallas Cowboys. On paper, this appears to be quite an even matchup. The Cowboys finished the year 12–5 and cruised to an NFC East title. From wire to wire they were the best team in their division and have constantly been viewed as a threat to win the NFC. The 49ers have had a rockier road to the playoffs. After a 2–4 start, the 49er’s finished strong winning 8 of their last 11 to finish with a 10–7 record and a wild card berth. The 49ers will head down to Dallas as underdogs, according to the Vegas experts, if they’re going to want to pull off the upset, here are five things they’ll need to do.
1: Run The Ball
The 49ers are 10–3 this year in games where they rush for 100 or more yards. Led by rookie sensation Elijah Mitchell the 49ers will need to exploit the below-average Dallas run defense to get the job done on Sunday. Dallas ranks 16th in rush yards allowed but has given up 100 or more yards in 11 of their last 12 games. Additionally, the Cowboys have given up an explosive run on over 12% of their opponent’s rush attempts which ranks 25th in the NFL. The 49ers rank second on offense in explosive run rate at roughly 11%. Running the ball will allow the 49ers to control the clock and keep the ball out of the hands of Dak Prescott and the dynamic Dallas offense.
2: Clean Game From Jimmy G
This is a somewhat obvious one. Of course teams are more likely to win when their QB doesn’t turn the ball over, but for San Francisco, it is even more paramount. The 49ers are just 2–6 this year when Garoppolo throws an interception. San Francisco needs Jimmy to take care of the ball on Sunday. They just simply cannot afford to give Dallas good field position by turning the ball over. This will be a tall task against a Dallas defense that led the NFL in interceptions with 26. A real X-Factor in this game will be the play of Dallas CB Trevon Diggs. Diggs led the NFL in interceptions with 11 but was also prone to giving up big plays. According to PFF, Diggs gave up 10.8 yards per target which ranked 90th out of 91 CB’s with 300+ coverage snaps through week 17 (Diggs did not play week 18). If the 49ers want to test Diggs they can, but they’ll need to be cautious as the ball-hawk DB could change the game with one play.
3: Protect the QB
Another obvious goal, but one that will be critical for the 49ers. Jimmy Garoppolo graded out as the worst QB in the league this year when under pressure. The pass rush of Dallas is a group that has given teams problems all year long. From Micha Parsons to Randy Gregory to Demarcus Lawrence, the Cowboys have some fearsome rushers to send after the quarterback. Fortunately for San Francisco, they’ll be getting All-World left tackle Trent Williams back to lead the offensive line that has been a top 10 unit all year long. One of the most pivotal matchups in this game, the battle in the trenches will likely determine the outcome.
4: No Special Teams Mistakes
Special teams has been a rough spot for San Francisco. Whether it be muffed kickoffs, poorly executed punt coverages, or getting fooled by opponents on trick plays, the 49ers have just been constantly hurt by their poor special teams play. The unit ranked in the bottom third in the league in terms of DVOA, but you didn’t need advanced analytics to tell you their play was below par. In the playoffs, that won’t fly. The 49ers will need to play complete, complimentary football, and mistakes on special teams which give Dallas advantageous field positions or extra possessions would be a recipe for disaster.
5: Ambry Thomas Must Shine
It seems as if the 49ers have been trying to figure out their cornerback situation all year long, and they may have finally found a combination that works. Emmanuel Mosley has been as solid as it gets this year, and nickle CB K’Waun Williams continues to be one of the best in the league at his job. It’s been that second outside corner that has been an issue. The team has tried everyone from Dontae Johnson to Josh Norman to even Dre Kirkpatrick for a week all with less than ideal results. In stepped Ambry Thomas the 3rd round pick out of Michigan. A disappointing training camp and preseason led to Thomas riding the bench for most of the year, but he has had to play out of necessity the last several weeks. Thomas has shown improvement every time he steps on the field and appears to have a promising future. Sunday will be a big test for the rookie. Dallas has one of the best WR duos in the league in the form of CeeDee Lamb and Amari Cooper. Thomas will need to hold his own against the star receivers if the 49ers hope to win.
The 49ers @ Cowboys very well may be the game of the weekend in the NFL. The two teams match up very well and have a historic rivalry that should add a little extra spicy to an already enticing game. If the 49ers can execute in these five key areas, they have a very good shot at winning the game.
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