The Cowboys will host a team for the second to last time this season unless they make the playoffs, and it is a game that could potentially result in their playoff hopes being extinguished. That it comes against the 49ers, one of this franchise’s most bitter out-of-division rivals, is just extra incentive for both teams.
Of course, this won’t be the Sunday Night Football matchup it was originally billed to be. That’s because both teams have a combined nine wins on the season, as both the Cowboys and 49ers have been riddled with injuries all year long. While both teams technically still have a shot at making the playoffs, both are well aware that they’re playing more for respect than anything else right now. So which team will prevail on Sunday?
When San Francisco has the ball
Continue to get takeaways
The Cowboys defense has gotten really good at taking the ball away lately, as they’ve registered 11 in their last six games. Seven of those takeaways have been fumble recoveries, as this banged up secondary hasn’t been able to create much in the way of interceptions. Of course, two of their four interceptions in this stretch came courtesy of Trevon Diggs, who is returning from the injured reserve in this game. Also returning will be Anthony Brown and Donovan Wilson, who have a combined three takeaways on the season.
Not only is this defense getting a few ball hawks back, but they’re doing so against an offense that’s been terrible with ball security. San Francisco has turned it over at least twice in each of their previous seven games. Backup quarterback Nick Mullens, in particular, has accounted for seven interceptions and two fumbles in that time. Just as it was with the Bengals last week in which Dallas had three fumble recoveries, this defense is getting another golden opportunity to continue their streak of making plays on the ball.
When Dallas has the ball
Get the ball out quick
The 49ers defense isn’t an overly complex one to figure out, and that’s because defensive coordinator Robert Saleh comes from the same coaching tree that Kris Richard did. In other words, this defense will run a lot of Cover 3 and not blitz too much. As was the case in Dallas the last two years, the best way to beat this defense is with quick throws underneath that move the sticks.
Luckily, the Cowboys have already been doing that to an extent. Andy Dalton, who’s strung together some quietly good performances as of late, has consistently been one of the five quickest triggers in the NFL since returning from injury. His receivers are also totaling a lot of yards after the catch, making the most out of his quick throws. If Dallas can continue that trend, they’ll be able to nickel-and-dime this defense to death.
Now onto the predictions from your BTB writers...
The Cowboys haven’t had back-to-back wins all season, and that speaks to the lack of consistency this group has played week in and week out. While they did okay last week, this is a much tougher game. The 49ers have a good defense and should challenge the Cowboys offensive line, putting Andy Dalton on his back at various times.
On the other side of the ball, the worry of another rushing onslaught brings about great concerns. This game could go either way and could come down to which team takes care of the ball the best, and it’s really hard seeing that team being the Cowboys. I’m favoring the road team on this one.
49ers 26, Cowboys 18.
The Cowboys had a surprisingly easy win over the Bengals, but it was basically handed to them by the three early fumbles. Now they have the favored 49ers coming to town, and I am feeling uneasy. This should be a much tougher game, and there were too many warts hidden by all those girts in Cincinnati. Particularly troubling is how badly Dallas has defended the run.
While San Francisco is not a top flight running team, the Cowboys have shown a disturbing tendency to make mediocre teams look great in that aspect. And Dallas still struggled in the red zone last Sunday I really want to see another win for the Cowboys, but I am just afraid it is not in the cards.
49ers 27, Cowboys 23.
The Dallas Cowboys are back at it again this week against another team hit hard by injuries this season. Last week the injuries to the Bengals were easy to spot and the Cowboys were able to exploit, but this week against the 49ers the Cowboys aren’t going to be so lucky. They are facing a running game using the zone blocking scheme they’ve had trouble stopping in the past against a team with enough capable running backs to implement it.
The only way they can win this game is to stop that running game and force back up quarterback Nick Mullens to air it out. If they can do that then they have a chance. On offense they need to take advantage of the 49ers injuries in the secondary and let Andy Dalton attack them deep and in the middle of the field. Unfortunately in the end I still have the Cowboys losing this one.
49ers 27, Cowboys 17.
The Cowboys will face a much tougher opponent this weekend than they did in Cincinnati last Sunday. The 49ers, despite being banged up, still have a very solid defense and an above average running game. San Francisco should be able to have plenty of success in that run game against the Cowboys’ dreadful run defense.
I think Andy Dalton and the Cowboys’ wideouts make a few big plays, including a 65+ yard touchdown from Amari Cooper. However, in the end Dallas just cannot replicate their performance from last week on defense. San Francisco forces a key turnover in the fourth quarter to seal a close victory.
Give me the 49ers in a tight one, 23-17.
It’s hard to trust your feelings with the Cowboys this year. Every time it seems like there is a glimmer of hope, they bomb out in the next game. That could be the case again this week, but let’s go with the optimism here. The 49ers are banged up too, and Andy Dalton is playing better than Nick Mullens. Advantage Dallas. Cowboys 20 - 49ers 19.
There are just too many things falling in favor of the Cowboys for me to pick against them this week. Getting back Diggs, Brown, and Wilson against a team that can’t hold onto the ball is a big deal. The 49ers have a good rushing attack, but they need efficient quarterback play to win games. While Nick Mullens is a serviceable backup, he’s proven that he’s incapable of leading the offense down the field without making big mistakes.
Conversely, this banged up 49ers defense is giving up nearly 30 points a game in their last six matchups, which has put more pressure on Mullens. They’re now going on the road against an offense that’s starting to hit its stride and has the personnel to effectively attack this unit’s weaknesses. If the 2020 Cowboys have taught me anything, it’s that they’ll lay an egg right when I expect them to get it together, meaning this is a real toss-up. Still, I’m going to follow my own logic and take Dallas in this one.
Cowboys 27, 49ers 19