The Divisional playoffs will conclude with a tremendous matchup featuring the Dallas Cowboys and the San Francisco 49ers. The Cowboys are coming off a critical victory on Monday night against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, whom they defeated by a final score of 31-14. The 49ers also made a statement of their own last week against the Seattle Seahawks, thumping them 41-23 en route at home.
These two teams are meeting for the first time this year for the right to advance to the NFC championship game. They did play in last year’s playoffs, which ended up in a 23-17 triumph for San Francisco.
We’ll take a look at three keys to this pivotal contest.
Music To CeeDee’s Ears
Going up against the 49ers’ tremendous defense is one of the toughest assignments for any offense. Dallas put on a show against Tampa Bay in the Wild Card round, but should face a much stiffer test on Sunday afternoon. It’s going to be fascinating to see what type of game plan offensive coordinator Kellen Moore and head coach Mike McCarthy put together in this win or go home tilt.
One area that Dallas might try to exploit is San Francisco’s secondary. In the game last week, Seattle quarterback Geno Smith and wide receiver D.K. Metcalf were able to connect on a few long passes. That bodes well for the likes of CeeDee Lamb, who has the ability to win almost any one-on-one matchup on the outside. His production will be an important barometer for Dallas in this game.
Keeping Dallas Off Balance
On the other side of the ball, San Francisco’s offense is a nightmare to play against, as the can beat teams in a multitude of ways. Running back Christian McCaffery can take handoffs in the backfield for long gains, or expertly handle receptions in the flat and make defenders miss. Wide receiver Deebo Samuel can beat a cornerback for a deep touchdown, or line up in the backfield next to McCaffery.
If there’s one team who might be able to keep up in a line of scrimmage battle, it’s Dallas. Linebacker Micah Parsons might be the best defensive player in the league, and he’ll be tasked with trying to identify what San Francisco is trying to do on a given play. They’ll try to disguise their play design with different formations and motion, and it’ll be up to Parsons and the front seven to decipher what’s actually about to happen.
Dallas’ win over Tampa Bay wasn’t smooth sailing on every front. Cowboys kicker Brett Maher had a horrible day at the office, missing four out of five extra point attempts in that game. Because the Cowboys had the game well in hand, it didn’t come back to hurt them. If those mistakes take place again against San Francisco, it might cost Dallas their season.
Dallas signed kicker Tristan Vizcaino to the practice squad this week, as they want to have options ready to go if they feel like Maher has lost his confidence. Keep an eye out for updates this week on this situation, which will reveal whether Dallas has one kicker active, or both kickers available for their Divisional Round playoff game.