Keys to Victory

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Keys to Victory: Run Defense Must Step Up To Win

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Over the years, the Cowboys and 49ers have played some of the more memorable games in NFL history.

On paper – or in this case, judging by the records, the slim playoff chances and the amount of star players on IR for both teams, this one doesn't seem like it will be included among those great games.

But nonetheless, the Cowboys and 49ers will square off at AT&T Stadium in a game that might actually have more meaning to next year's draft order, considering the Cowboys can pull even with the 49ers at 5-9 with a win.

Here's a look at the keys to victory for both the 49ers and Cowboys this Sunday.

The 49ers win if…

The 49ers will chalk up a win if they are able to control the game with a hard-hitting running game. Shanahan has studied the Cowboys' running game woes, particularly against the Ravens and Football Team, and he will utilize some of those misdirection tactics to test the discipline of the frontline. From the pre-snap motions and shifts to the at the snap blur motions or end-around action, the 49ers will tease the Cowboys with eye candy at every turn. With a downhill running game coming behind the action, the combination of deception and power could turn this game into a blood bath if the Cowboys' defense isn't up to the challenge of stopping the run.

Defensively, the 49ers are going to keep it simple and rely on their playmakers to take advantage of the Cowboys' self-inflicted errors. Robert Saleh will throw a handful of stunts and games at the Cowboys' patchwork offensive line to disrupt their run blocking patterns and pass protection schemes. If the 49ers own the line of scrimmage with their trench defenders, the Cowboys could have a tough time moving the ball and scoring points in this one.

The Cowboys win if…

The Cowboys' playoff hopes hinge on the performance of the defense, particularly against the run. The 49ers will test the defense early and often with a steady diet of off-tackle runs following pre-snap motions and shifts designed to daze and confuse second-level defenders. In addition, the 49ers will utilize some misdirections (reverses and end arounds) to challenge the discipline of the edge defenders and contain players. With that in mind, Mike Nolan must get his defense to attack gaps aggressively without abandoning their discipline. He can utilize some blitz calls and line movements to plug holes and disrupt the paths of the runners. If the Cowboys can hold their own against the run, the secondary should be able to throw a blanket over the 49ers' passing attack, particularly with mistake-prone Nick Mullens pulling the trigger.

On offense, the Cowboys need to control the game with the run and a mix of short passes. The offensive line has played better in recent weeks due to an emphasis on a "possession" approach and offensive coordinator Kellen Moore would be wise to stick to the script. If Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard can churn out yards on the ground to keep the Cowboys on schedule, Andy Dalton can pepper the 49ers' soft coverage with an assortment of quick-rhythm throws to a talented cast of pass-catchers. The Cowboys will need to be at their best to knock off the 49ers and it will take superb execution of complementary football to make it happen.

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The Cowboys will take on the Philadelphia Eagles in their last home game of the regular season on Sunday, Dec. 27 at 3:25 p.m. A limited number of tickets are on sale now. Get yours now before they sell out!

Details on all of the health and safety procedures you can expect at AT&T Stadium can be viewed at www.DallasCowboys.com/safestadium.

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