Playoff time is finally here and the San Francisco 49ers needed every minute of the season to punch their ticket to the dance, including a Week 18 overtime win. The 49ers travel to Dallas to take on the NFC East Champion Cowboys in a tough but even matchup. Here’s what to watch for this week.
Best Case Scenario: The 49ers are able to control both lines of scrimmage and win their way.
The 49ers best weapon is their strong run game on offense. Deebo Samuel is the star of the show both in the run game and the passing game. Elijah Mitchell’s ability to carry the load and keep gaining yards after contact is a good complement. The 49ers must keep the chains moving on short and intermediate third downs and this means Jimmy Garoppolo will need to spread the ball around and get all his playmakers involved while avoiding costly turnovers. This has been the recipe for the 49ers this season and it should continue against a Dallas defense that is susceptible to the run.
Time of possession for the offense will be key for the 49ers defense. The Cowboys offense is explosive but the 49ers ability to keep them off the field will frustrate any offense and will keep the defense fresh. The 49ers defensive line has come on strong to finish the season and Arik Armstead and Arden Key will be pivotal in this game. Look for the 49ers to come away with three or more sacks in this contest and that will be the difference.
Worst Case Scenario: The Cowboys offense hits on big plays putting the 49ers in an early deficit.
Let’s be honest, the 49ers biggest weakness on offense is Garoppolo. He has proven to be clutch but also is prone to mistakes. If the 49ers are forced to rely on Garoppolo to bring them back from a big deficit as he did in the Rams game last week, it could spell trouble for the 49ers. Even in last week's heroics, Garoppolo turned the ball over twice and had a key fumble that could have cost the 49ers the game. If Head Coach Kyle Shanahan abandons the run at any point in the game, the 49ers are done for.
The 49ers matchup well against the Cowboys across the board except for their biggest strength, their wide receivers. CeeDee Lamb and Amari Cooper will be the best wide receiver duo the 49ers have faced all season and cornerback is the weakest position on the team for the 49ers. If the Cowboys give Dak Prescott time in the pocket, this could be a long day for the 49ers. The Cowboys also have a decent enough rushing attack to ice the game if they get out to a big lead.
Chuy’s Prediction: The oddsmakers will be correct in predicting this is the closest game on Wildcard Weekend and this could go any way.
My gut is telling me that the 49ers will run the ball effectively against the Cowboys. I expect Shanahan to be very conservative in the pass game and, even though the 49ers have success on the ground, his game plan will keep the game close. Even though the game plan will be uber-conservative, Garoppolo will be the key for the 49ers. He must play mistake-free for the 49ers to win. Two or more turnovers will be too much to overcome.
The Cowboys will have some success on offense but their lack of time on the field will help the 49ers defense. Azeez Al-Shaair, Arik Armstead and Jimmie Ward will be the keys to the 49ers defense. Al-Shaair will be tasked with containing the Cowboys run game including limiting Prescott from scrambling in key situations. Armstead must have another strong game and force pressure inside to keep Prescott uncomfortable in the pocket, his pressure will be key and not necessarily sacks. Finally, Ward must be the eraser the 49ers always hoped he’d be. His ability to limit big plays in the latter part of the season has been the difference for the 49ers defense and the team's success.
Final Score Prediction: 49ers 30 - Cowboys 27
Make sure and tune in at Halftime to see Alejandra and me share our first half thoughts on YouTube: Chuy and Alejandra. As always, we’ll be taking calls to hear from the Faithful. Enjoy the game!