Some weekly notes on the game, including a health update for the Cowboys.
5. Injury updates.
The Cowboys finally received some good news in the injury department this week. Several of their injured defensive backs were able to practice this week and should be available Sunday. Rookie cornerback Trevon Diggs (foot) returned to practice for the first time since Week 9 at Pittsburgh. Cornerback Anthony Brown (ribs) and safeties Xavier Woods (groin) and Donovan Wilson (groin) are expected to play as well. Starting corner Chidobe Awuzie is also returning after being on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Running back Ezekiel Elliott (calf) didn’t practice all week but is also expected to play against the 49ers.
Raheem Mostert ‘Good to Go’; Three Defensive Starters Listed as Questionable vs. Cowboys - Keiana Martin, 49ers
The Niners’ starting running back is expected to play through injury, but how are they looking elsewhere? We check in with their base camp to get an injury report.
Nose tackle D.J. Jones missed last week’s contest after an ankle injury sidelined him during the 49ers Week 13 matchup against the Buffalo Bills. Offensive lineman Daniel Brunskill suffered a shoulder injury in the 49ers Week 14 contest against the Washington Football Team. Both Jones and Brunskill were limited participants during the week’s practices, however, did not appear on Friday’s injury report, signaling a likely return to the lineup.
Offensive lineman Hroniss Grasu was ruled OUT with a knee injury, which brings San Francisco down to their fourth option at center. The same goes for the right guard position if Brunskill continues to fill in at center with Tom Compton on Injured Reserve and rookie Colton McKivitz on the Reserve/COVID-19 list.
Multiple defensive starters are questionable heading into the weekend. Cornerbacks Emmanuel Moseley (hamstring) and K’Waun Williams (ankle) were both limited participants at practice this week and are both questionable for Sunday. Fred Warner adds to the list after suffering a neck and shoulder stinger during last week’s contest against Washington that sidelined him for the second half of the game.
Keys to victory.
The Cowboys win if…
The Cowboys’ playoff hopes hinge on the performance of the defense, particularly against the run. The 49ers will test the defense early and often with a steady diet of off-tackle runs following pre-snap motions and shifts designed to daze and confuse second-level defenders. In addition, the 49ers will utilize some misdirections (reverses and end arounds) to challenge the discipline of the edge defenders and contain players. With that in mind, Mike Nolan must get his defense to attack gaps aggressively without abandoning their discipline. He can utilize some blitz calls and line movements to plug holes and disrupt the paths of the runners. If the Cowboys can hold their own against the run, the secondary should be able to throw a blanket over the 49ers’ passing attack, particularly with mistake-prone Nick Mullens pulling the trigger.
On offense, the Cowboys need to control the game with the run and a mix of short passes. The offensive line has played better in recent weeks due to an emphasis on a “possession” approach and offensive coordinator Kellen Moore would be wise to stick to the script. If Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard can churn out yards on the ground to keep the Cowboys on schedule, Andy Dalton can pepper the 49ers’ soft coverage with an assortment of quick-rhythm throws to a talented cast of pass-catchers. The Cowboys will need to be at their best to knock off the 49ers and it will take superb execution of complementary football to make it happen.
Five players to watch in this game.
1. QB Nick Mullens
If coach Kyle Shanahan was going to make a switch at quarterback, it would’ve happened at halftime of the Washington game ...
Or at the end or the third quarter after Nick Mullens threw a pick-six ...
Or, certainly, on Wednesday as the 49ers began preparations to face the Cowboys.
Shanahan is sticking with Mullens, which is a clear indication of what he thinks about Mullens in comparison to C.J. Beathard. But in announcing Mullens would make his seventh start of the season, Shanahan did not exactly give Mullens a resounding vote of confidence, either.
“Nick’s the guy who we’ll start out with and we’ll see how it goes,” Shanahan said.
The 49ers should be able to run the ball effectively against Dallas, which owns the NFL’s worst run defense. The Cowboys allow 162.7 yards rushing per game with a 5.1 average yards per attempt.
Mullens must be able to use the 49ers’ threat of the running game to make plays through the air. He must see things clearly and be decisive as the 49ers’ offensive line will have neither Tom Compton nor Colton McKivitz available at right guard.
Mullens is scheduled to be a restricted free agent at the end of the season, and if he finishes the season on an up-tick he would be a clear favorite to return next season in a backup role.
Film room: 3 bold predictions for Cowboys-49ers, which is a difficult matchup for Dallas on paper - John Owning, Dallas Morning News
Owning has been dialed in with his bold predictions, including nailing Crawford’s first sack of the season last game. He offers up another round of forecasting for this week’s game.
Cowboys’ defense secures 2 INTs
Entering Sunday, the Cowboys rank 29th in interceptions with five.
Don’t be surprised if they climb a couple of spots up the leaderboard after the San Francisco game.
One wonders why the 49ers would pass the ball at all given the advantage their rushing attack should have against the Cowboys. Nonetheless, there will be times when quarterback Nick Mullens is asked to drop back to try to move the offense with his arm.
And if there’s one thing we’ve learned about Mullens from his extensive action this season, it’s that he’s not afraid to put the ball in the other team’s hands — Mullens has thrown an interception in seven of his nine appearances, three of which featured multiple picks.
Gut feelings for today’s game.
David Helman: Lo and behold, another game that I have no idea how to pick because I don’t trust the inconsistent teams that are playing in it. The Cowboys have the better quarterback and the better skill players. But the 49ers have a scary rushing attack, a creative coaching staff – and they’re going against the worst defense in the NFL. Nick Mullens shouldn’t be good enough to go on the road and beat the Cowboys, but I am fairly concerned about the fact that Raheem Mostert will be available – and Kyle Shanahan will have a plan for how to attack the Cowboys’ run defense. To me, that’s going to be the difference. I expect another nice day from Andy Dalton, but I don’t trust the Cowboys to play another clean game with no turnovers. Combine the negative turnover differential with a 49ers rushing attack that will find ways to be productive, and I’m thinking San Francisco finds a way to slip out of here with a 24-20 win.
Expert predictions for Cowboys-49ers: Can Dallas earn its first winning streak of 2020? - Staff, Dallas Morning News
More game day predictions.
The Cowboys still can’t stop the run and San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan is one of the game’s best play-callers. Injuries have ravaged both teams but right now Shanahan is a better coach than Mike McCarthy, and his exquisite running scheme will be too much for Mike Nolan’s unit to handle. San Francisco defensive coordinator Robert Saleh also is considered among the game’s best. The 49ers have the coaching edge and the slight edge in talent. They should win as this miserable season continues. 49ers 27, Cowboys 19
And yet more game day predictions.
Ben Grimaldi (8-5) 49ers 26, Cowboys 16
Your Cowboys got flexed out of Sunday Night Football, that’s not good. However, when you’re 4-9 and are without one of the game’s most dynamic players in QB Dak Prescott, it’s hard to argue with the decision.
Dallas has to win out to have any shot at the playoffs and that starts with beating the out of division rival 49ers. It’s a bad matchup for this Cowboys defense.
The thing San Francisco does best is run the ball and the Cowboys have just a little bit of a problem stopping it. Actually, the Cowboys have a tremendous amount of trouble stopping the rushing game. Expect Kyle Shanahan to pound Dallas’ defense into submission and it will probably leave Cowboys Nation down the embarrassment tunnel once again.
The Cowboys won’t have enough offense to pick on a 49ers defense that hasn’t been near what they were last season. Bye-bye playoff hopes as the 49ers put the Cowboys out of their misery in 2020.
One more go...
49ers (-3) at Cowboys
MDS’s take: The 49er are favored, but they’re such an injury-plagued team that I have a tough time picking them against just about anyone at this point.
MDS’s pick: Cowboys 21, 49er 17.
Florio’s take: The mighty have fallen, and they can’t get up.
Florio’s pick: 49ers 27, Cowboys 23.
The Cowboys may have been flexed out of Sunday night, but they’ll still the main attraction for the CBS morning game across most of the country (coverage map courtesy of 506 Sports).
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