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Keys to Victory

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Keys to Victory: Cowboys Must Stick To The Script


It's the playoffs. What else needs to be said?

The Cowboys are the No. 3 seed with a 12-5 record, facing a 49ers team that got into the playoffs with an overtime win over the Rams to improve to 10-7.

Here's what needs to happen for both teams to advance.

The 49ers win if…

The 49ers must control the tempo of the game to win in the Wild Card round. Kyle Shanahan must play "keep away" from the Cowboys' offense while bludgeoning the defense with a barrage of body blows from a physical offense that loves to play "bully ball" at the line of scrimmage. To pull off the upset, the 49ers must have 30-plus rushing attempts with Elijah Mitchell and Deebo Samuel grinding it out between the tackles and on the edges. If the 49ers have success on the ground, it will set up a few deep shot plays in the passing game designed to exploit the aggressiveness of Anthony Brown and Trevon Diggs on the perimeter. With Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk displaying outstanding route running ability and "YAC" (yards after catch) skills, the play-action passing game could provide the 49ers with enough explosive plays to put up 30-plus points on the board.

Defensively, the 49ers will need their front seven to control the action at the point of attack. Fred Warner and Co. must keep Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard in check to provide Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead and Arden Key with enough opportunities to rush Prescott on long-yardage situations. If the 49ers are able to utilize a complementary football approach with a time of possession and field position tipping in their favor, Shanahan's crew could chalk up a win on Sunday.

The Cowboys will win if…

The Cowboys must keep their emotions in check and stick with the script to advance in the tournament this weekend. As the more talented team, the Cowboys cannot give away the game with turnovers, excessive penalties, blown assignments or kicking game miscues. Although they do not need to play a perfect game, the Cowboys can win comfortably if they play a clean game with minimal self-inflicted miscues.

Offensively, the Cowboys need to run the ball effectively to keep the 49ers from loading up on Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb on the perimeter. The 49ers' secondary is vulnerable, but the Cowboys will need to run the ball enough to command some loaded boxes and single-high coverage on the outside. If Dak Prescott has enough time to attack against soft coverage on the perimeter, Cooper and Lamb could go bonkers as the primary options in the passing game. With Cedrick Wilson also flashing some skills as a key contributor, the Cowboys' aerial attack could eventually overwhelm the 49ers in the second half.

On defense, the Cowboys will need to contain the running game to force Jimmy Garoppolo to carry the offense. The veteran passer is a turnover machine with questionable judgment and accuracy from the pocket. If Jimmy G. passes 25-plus times, the Cowboys' ball-hawking defensive backs will have plenty of chances to snag an interception on a tipped pass or an overthrown ball. Considering how the turnover battle impacts, the bottom line, the Cowboys want to turn the 49ers into a passing team to increase their chances of taking the ball away.

If the Cowboys are able to match the 49ers' physicality while showing solid gap discipline against the run, Mike McCarthy will guide his team past the Wild Card round with a big win at home.

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