The Dallas Cowboys kick off postseason football against the San Francisco 49ers this weekend. Dallas, the no. 3 seed in the NFC, looks to protect home field against the surging no. 6 seed 49ers.
Dan Quinn will attempt to slow down his former assistant Kyle Shanahan and the San Francisco rushing attack on Sunday afternoon in AT&T Stadium. The two know each other very well from their time with the Atlanta Falcons. That figures to be one of the more intriguing chess matches of Wildcard Weekend.
Kellen Moore, meanwhile, is tasked with developing a game plan that will neutralize the 49ers’ pass rush. Nick Bosa is one of the elite talents in the league, and Arik Armstead is a force to be reckoned with. Slowing down the San Francisco defensive line is critical.
As good as the 49ers are defensively — especially up front — there are ways that the Cowboys can find success. To be more specific, Dak Prescott should be given the opportunity to push the football down the field on Sunday afternoon.
WHERE COWBOYS CAN FIND SUCCESS
Dak Prescott is the trigger man of one of the best passing attacks in the NFL. The Dallas Cowboys rank first in the league in offensive DVOA and number two in passing yards per game.
The Cowboys are able to air it out with the best of them thanks to a top-shelf quarterback and a plethora of weapons to get the ball to. Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb form one of the better receiver duos, while Cedrick Wilson has blossomed into a larger role. Dalton Schultz has emerged, too.
Dallas found lots of offensive success against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New England Patriots this season. The Cowboys should be successful throwing the ball against a vulnerable San Francisco secondary.
Emmanuel Moseley is a solid defensive back, as is Jimmie Ward. However, San Francisco can be exploited in the passing game. Josh Norman starts opposite of Moseley and is well past his best playing days.
The key, obviously, will be the offensive line holding up. An easy way to neutralize the San Francisco pass rush will be drawing up quick passes. That said, Dallas likely cannot do that all game long.
Therefore, the offensive line must be able to hold up its end of the bargain, too. Prescott needs to have time to read the defense and the receivers need time to get open. If that happens, no. 4 should have success throwing the football.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Dallas must get off to a fast start. Allow Prescott and the receivers to get into a rhythm early. The Cowboys have been prone to slow starts over the course of the season. Starting fast and playing with tempo would aid the offense in getting into a groove quickly.
Tyron Smith was activated off the COVID-19 list and appears to be ready to go. La’el Collins holds down the fort on the opposite side, with Zack Martin next to him. The Cowboys need Connor Williams and Tyler Biadasz to hold up against the Niners interior.
San Francisco has multiple impactful defensive linemen that can stop the run and get pressure on the quarterback. Winning the line of scrimmage — especially in the interior — would go a long way in the Cowboys advancing to the Divisional Round.
The return of Blake Jarwin, who was back on the field in the regular season finale, is an underrated element. Jarwin is a weapon that Prescott trusts in the middle of the field. Adding him to Schultz and Wilson allows Prescott to target sideline to sideline.
Who the Cowboys opt to rely on in the run game is worth paying attention to. Ezekiel Elliott is the lead back and his pass protection skills will be useful against the 49ers’ front. However, Tony Pollard rested in week 18 and is the much more dynamic threat. How Moore chooses to split that up will be interesting to follow.
Overall, the Cowboys have the offense to threaten and take advantage of the 49ers’ talented defense. Protecting Prescott and getting into a flow early will be critical.
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