Football analyst Bucky Brooks, a former NFL player and scout who now works for NFL Network and serves as an analyst for DallasCowboys.com, gives his weekly keys to the game Sunday, providing specific points of emphasis for both the Cowboys and 49ers.
The 49ers will win if…
The 49ers will dominate the game if they can jump out to an early lead and employ the balanced run-pass approach that has enabled Brock Purdy to operate comfortably as the team's QB1. With Christian McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel, and George Kittle taking turns producing big plays on the perimeter, Purdy has managed the game effectively while playing like a pass-first point guard orchestrating a half-court offense. If the rookie can stay within his comfort zone while managing an offense that wants to punish the Cowboys with an assortment of off-tackle runs complemented by play-action and bootleg passes, the 49ers will race up and down the field while controlling the tempo of the game.
Defensively, the 49ers want to choke the Cowboys' running game and force Dak Prescott to make plays against a ferocious four-man rush that has the potential to wreak havoc on a patchwork offensive line. If the 49ers can force the Cowboys to chase points utilizing a pass-heavy approach, the game will tip in their favor as they eventually overwhelm their opponent with their superior talent and depth.
The Cowboys will win if…
The Cowboys will advance to the NFC Championship Game if they are able to control the line of scrimmage on each side of the ball. The offensive line, in particular, must win the battle within the trenches to enable Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard to impact the game as runners. The duo must deliver 130-plus rushing yards as part of a run-heavy effort designed to control the flow of the game. Although Dak Prescott needs to complement the running game with timely passing from the pocket, the Cowboys do not want to engage in a "seven-on-seven" game (passing only) against the 49ers due to their dominant pass rush. No.4 needs to attack the 49ers utilizing various play-action passes to CeeDee Lamb and Dalton Schultz to slow down the pass rush while also creating huge voids at intermediate range.
On defense, the Cowboys will need to have their best tackling day of the season. From the defensive line to the secondary, the Cowboys will need to consistently punish the 49ers' runners and receiver with solid hits and tackles in space. If the Cowboys can limit the explosive plays (runs and passes) with consistent tackling, the defense can force long yardage situations and fore the rookie quarterback out of his comfort zone.