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How Will Cowboys Defend 49ers' Deebo: Spy Micah?

Colossal collision between Deebo Samuel, Micah Parsons could decide Sunday's intriguing Wild Card

Welcome to Godzilla vs. Kong, in shoulder pads.

Sunday's NFL Wild Card playoff at AT&T Stadium will feature a mesmerizing, titanic battle between two of football's most unique, versatile, strong, speedy and downright scary players:

Deebo vs. Micah.

San Francisco 49ers' dual-threat, record-breaking offensive weapon Deebo Samuel is one of the NFL's fastest receivers and strongest runners, able to score on both 80-yard catch-and-sprints and tough, 1-yard plunges. Dallas Cowboys' rookie Micah Parsons is a destructive defender adept at causing game-changing havoc against both against receivers 30 yards downfield and quarterbacks 10 yards behind the line of scrimmage.

Deebo is unlike any player in the league. But if Hollywood - or the Cowboys - could cast a specimen capable of defending him with similarly diverse and dominating attributes, it would be Micah.

One is too strong, fast and agile to be tackled; the other too strong, fast and agile to be blocked. It's the kind of macho matchup that movie producers, UFC president Dana White and millions of NFL fans dream about.

Deebo - who turns 26 Saturday - is a 6-foot, 215-pounder who ran 4.48 at the 2019 NFL Combine; 22-year-old Micah is 6-3 and 245 pounds, timed at 4.39 at Penn State's Pro Day last March. Both are headed to the Pro Bowl after dazzling seasons lining up at multiple positions: Deebo at receiver, running back and Wildcat quarterback; Micah at linebacker, edge-rusher and safety.

In the next installment of their vintage saga, the Niners face the Cowboys with a star-studded offense featuring Pro Bowlers at left tackle (Trent Williams), fullback (Kyle Juszczyk) and tight end (George Kittle). Chances are Parsons will have violent collisions with each of them at some point Sunday.

But on the most important plays - the ones that could decide the game - Micah's lion will try to track down Samuel's chiseled cheetah.

49ers coach Kyle Shanahan entered the season counting on Raheem Mostert as his featured running back. But Mostert suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 1, and the replacement committee - Elijah Mitchell, Trey Sermon and Jeff Wilson - was underwhelming.

Necessity, in San Francisco's case, was the mother of ... a superstar.

Through the first eight games, Samuel carried the ball only six times. Sitting at 3-5, Shanahan was forced to get more creative. (The coach had long tinkered with the idea of using Deebo as a runner, first trying it in a preseason game against the Cowboys in 2019.)

In each of the final eight games with him in the lineup (he missed the Dec. 5 loss at Seattle with a groin injury), the 49ers handed Deebo the ball at least five times. They went 7-1, losing only by a field goal at AFC No. 1 seed Tennessee.

Along the way, Samuel broke the mold while shattering records.

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Bigger - better? - than versatile contemporaries such as Cordarrelle Patterson, Alvin Kamara, Christian McCaffrey and Tyreek Hill, Deebo became the first player since 1970 to lead his team in both receiving and rushing. He finished third in the NFL with 1,770 total yards. His 1,405 yards receiving are the most by a 49er since Terrell Owens in 2001. He led the league with nine receptions of 40+ yards.

Speed? During a 79-yard touchdown catch against the Lions he was clocked running 20 mph.

Strength? He led the league in yards after contact - both as a receiver and a running back.

Production? He caught 77 passes and ran 59 times, resulting in an average of 13 yards per touch and 14 touchdowns.

So rare is Deebo that his "comp" has become Lenny Moore, a Hall-of-Fame receiver/running back for the Baltimore Colts that peaked in 1961. Samuel broke his 60-year-old record, for most rushing touchdowns (8) by a receiver.

Also with a kickoff return of 33 yards, Deebo is a throwback to the days of Doak Walker, the SMU star who won the 1948 Heisman Trophy by rushing for 600 yards, throwing 53 passes, making 16 receptions, scoring 16 touchdowns including one on a punt return, intercepting three passes on defense, averaging 42 yards per punt and booting 22 extra points.

In last week's victory over the Rams that propelled San Francisco into the playoffs, Deebo ran for 45 yards and a touchdown, caught four passes for 95 yards and even threw a 24-yard touchdown pass.

Few players have the talent and tenacity to match Deebo. One of them will line up opposite him Sunday.

"Our key is to stop the run, and then let the monsters eat on third down," Parsons said Wednesday. "We've got to win the first and second down."

Parsons has almost single-handedly transformed the Cowboys' defense from the worst in franchise history to one of the best in the NFL.

A legitimate candidate for an NFL Defensive Player of the Year award that will likely be won by Steelers' pass-rusher T.J. Watt, Micah 13 sacks, 20 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles while lining up all over the field. He's played 518 snaps at linebacker, 359 on the defensive line, 25 at cornerback, and even one at safety.

In a season in which injuries to DeMarcus Lawrence, Randy Gregory and Neville Gallimore depleted Dallas' pass rush, coordinator Dan Quinn moved his versatile rookie and perhaps saved the season. Parsons - who will play Sunday after being activated off the COVID list Wednesday - responded as an emergency edge-rusher with 6.5 sacks in November, athletic tackles from sideline-to-sideline and, ultimately, comparisons to Giants' Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor.

Not that long ago, Falcons head coach Quinn hired Shanahan to be his offensive coordinator in Atlanta. Now, will Quinn shadow Deebo with Micah, using him as a one-man "spy"? Will Shanahan find even more ways to get the ball into Deebo's hands?

Cowboys-49ers is about Deebo vs. Micah. But also the coaches directing two of the NFL's most devastating actors in a highly anticipated blockbuster.