As predicted a week ago, the Dallas Cowboys won their first road game in three decades on Monday night and are set to take on the same team that eliminated them from last year’s playoffs, the San Francisco 49ers. Brock Purdy continues to impress as the orchestrator of mad scientist Kyle Shanahan’s offensive play-calling, Nick Bosa is starting to pull away in the Defensive Player of the Year race, and the 49ers just look like the best team the NFC has to offer all around. Ahead of the Cowboys-49ers game, it’s time to make some bold Cowboys predictions.
Meanwhile, Dallas invades Levi’s Stadium fresh off of their best team performance of the year. Dak Prescott was the best possible version of himself in Tampa Bay and the Cowboys’ defense appeared to be just as ferocious as San Francisco’s against Tom Brady and the Buccaneers. Two NFC titans collide in San Francisco Monday evening. Here’s what to watch for in the NFC Divisional Round contest between the Cowboys and the 49ers.
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There are few chinks in the armor of San Francisco’s defense. They’re tough to run the ball against, their pass rushers are nearly impossible to contain, and they have elite team speed. They are not invincible, however. One of the few weaknesses the 49ers have exhibited down the stretch this year is a penchant for allowing big games to elite wide receivers. In Week 13 Tyreek Hill gashed San Fran for 146 yards and a touchdown on nine catches. Terry McLaurin and Jahan Dotson combined to produce 16 yards per reception for 153 yards and two touchdowns in Week 16. A week later Davante Adams went off for 153 yards and two scores and the Raiders almost upset the Niners. D.K. Metcalf’s Wild Card Round performance last week was a top-heavy one, but he still tallied 136 receiving yards and two touchdowns.
Charvarius Ward is a nice player, but at least over the last half of the year he has not been the type of cornerback that San Francisco can put over any wide receiver and take him out of the game. WR1’s have thrived against San Francisco recently, and CeeDee Lamb is one of the best WR1’s in football right now. Kellen Moore showed an impressive ability to exploit the Buccaneers’ biggest weaknesses: covering tight ends. The result was a huge performance by Dalton Schultz. Although it is a much less glaring weakness, San Francisco’s inability to contain elite receivers is one Moore will look to take advantage of. Cowboys fans could be in for a monster performance against the 49ers on Sunday, especially if Prescott’s outrageous performance in Tampa Bay carries over.
Jason Peters is officially unavailable for the Cowboys on Sunday. That means the rookie Tyler Smith slides over to start at left tackle against Nick Bosa. Smith has been fantastic in more than one position this year and the last time he was asked to start at left tackle he did a great job. That doesn’t mean Nick Bosa isn’t going to be a handful. The odds-on favorite to win Defensive Player of the Year will be licking his chops at the thought of taking on a rookie as he attacks Prescott’s blind side.
Smith will by no means be a liability in San Francisco. He has proven over the course of his rookie year that he is capable of playing at an extremely high level, high enough to put up a good fight against the Nick Bosa’s of the world. This is more about Bosa being unstoppable right now. The only player that can match him for pass rushing effectiveness at the moment happens to be wearing number 11 for the Cowboys. Look for the Cowboys to work Bosa’s inevitability into their offensive game plan and try to keep Prescott out of harm’s way as much as possible.
Fanduel’s over-under for Sunday night’s matchup is currently set at 63.5. Betting fans might want to consider the under for a few reasons. Yes, both of these offenses are good, but both defenses are better. Neither the Cowboys nor the ‘Niners want to get into a shootout, and San Francisco would be especially wary. As good as Purdy has been, making him go head-to-head against a Pro Bowl quarterback in his seventh season in a knockdown, drag-out track meet doesn’t behoove the 49ers. There will be a premium on running the ball, winning the turnover battle, and stringing together first downs in this game, The team that does those three things the best will win.