In Week 18 the Cowboys took care of business against the Philadelphia Eagles and got some valuable reps for their starters, and some depth players on defense. Elsewhere around the league it was pandemonium. When the hysteria calmed and the dust settled, that locked in the Dallas Cowboys into the three seed and a big historical matchup vs long time rival San Francisco 49ers.
In the playoffs there are no easy games and there are no ways around it, you are just going to have to play well against quality opponents to survive and advance. This week is no different. This 49ers team fought and clawed their way to the playoffs after a thrilling overtime victory versus a division rival, and a fellow playoff team, the Los Angeles Rams. This game has all the makings of a good one, with two long-time rivals with years of history squaring off to continue forward toward the path of a championship.
Here are five things to watch this week:
1. Stopping the 49ers rushing attack will be key.
Jimmy Garoppolo’s thumb on his throwing hand is banged up, and you can clearly see it’s been an issue for him since it happened. This a run-first team to begin with, but add the injury to Garoppolo’s thumb into the mix and you have a team that is heavily leaning on their running game. They have a solid offensive line upfront led by left tackle Trent Williams who has been playing at an All Pro level, although his availability because of injury is in question. They have a tough running back who has shown burst and big play ability in Elijah Mitchell coupled with the way they use Deebo Samuel to put defenses in a bind. This Cowboys team is going to have to come prepared to tackle and hit for 60 minutes. The 49ers look to wear down their opponents, it’s their key to victory, and for the Cowboys, stopping that is the key to theirs.
2. Cowboys WR’s vs 49ers secondary.
The Cowboys offense is one of the leagues best and when they are firing on all cylinders they are near impossible to stop. This 49ers secondary is middle of the pack and the Cowboys have a real chance to take advantage of it. Look for Kellen Moore and Dak Prescott to find ways to creatively attack the 49ers back-end coverage and create advantageous matchups for chunk plays and points. Amari Cooper has stated he wants the ball more and this may be the game he gets his wish as Cooper and Lamb will have chances to win down the field to hit big plays to soften up this 49ers defense. Look for Cedrick Wilson to be key as well. His quickness and trust with Dak can be a recipe for some key plays.
3. Trent Williams (health) vs Randy Gregory.
As mentioned earlier, Williams is playing at an elite level this year but there is a health issue. Williams is battling an elbow injury that kept him out last week. His status for this week is unknown. Even if he plays, he may not be at full strength, That’s where Randy Gregory comes into play, with his active and relentless playing style he provides on each down, Gregory may be the type of pass rusher than can give Williams fits. Gregory will need to play disciplined and really lock it to win against Williams consistently as he is an athletic freak himself. The health of Williams and how he can play against Gregory will be a huge factor in the game.
4. Cowboys brought Jayron Kearse here for this type of matchup.
An absolute home run of a free agent signing, Jayron Kearse has been all that and more for this Cowboys defense. His size and athletic ability has been a matchup nightmare for opposing team’s tight ends. Big enough to play against the run, and athletic enough to cover and run with anybody. However, Kearse draws another tough assignment (assuming he is returned to health) this week as George Kittle comes into town. Kittle is dynamic, and routinely makes big plays while being his quarterbacks safety blanket. Kearse is capable of being sticky in coverage and tough enough to bang it out with Kittle when it’s called for, but this could very well be a pivotal matchup on Sunday afternoon that the Cowboys may have envisioned for Kearse all along.
5. Time to shine, Dak Prescott.
Much like that big third-down run against the Seahawks in 2018, we may need to see some Prescott magic again this go around. Fresh off a new contract, and a year where he passed Tony Romo on the single-season touchdown charts, these are the games and the moments where legacies are made. Dak is the man for the job, he is tough, a leader, and a heck of a football player to boot. The time is now. Everything he has worked for is here now, and he is going to need to lead this team to the goal line. The greats find a way, and if Dak wants to be talked about in that tone, he will need to find a way starting Sunday afternoon.