How 49ers can reach championship game; Five burning questions for San Francsico vs Dallas

The San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys are set to face off Sunday afternoon at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara with a trip to the NFC Championship Game on the line. 

Sunday will mark the ninth postseason meeting between the two organizations, tied for most in NFL history. San Francisco defeated Dallas last year in the Wild Card round, but the Cowboys hold the advantage in the series having won five of the first eight matchups.

San Francisco comes into Sunday as healthy as they have been all season. Only Jimmy Garoppolo and Ambry Thomas have been ruled out. The health comes as the team has won 11 straight with a high-powered offense averaging over 31 points per game. That offense coupled with strong defense has led to only three of San Francisco’s last 11 games being decided by one score or less over.  

Like San Francisco, Dallas rides a high-powered offense and stifling defense into Sunday. Since October 30 the Cowboys have averaged 33.1 points and played in just five one score games. Dallas will be without starting left tackle Jason Peters. The veteran suffered a hip injury against Tampa Bay on Monday night.

Here are five things to watch for during the game:

1.) Can Brock Purdy handle the pressure?

Purdy has done a good job against pressure as evidenced by a 97.1 passer rating, best among the eight quarterbacks remaining in the playoffs. The rookie quarterback has thrown just one interception compared to five touchdowns. Against Seattle, Purdy posted the most passing yards in a playoff game by any 49ers quarterback not named Joe Montana. Now he will look to defeat the organization which helped turn Montana into a legend.

If Purdy is able to keep his level of play high the onus of protecting him will fall on the big guys up front.

San Francisco’s offensive line has been terrific this season. On Sunday they will face their stiffest challenge of the season.

Dallas gets after opposing quarterbacks like no other team San Francisco has faced. The Cowboys are second only to Philadelphia, recording a sack on 8.3 percent of drop backs.

2.) Will the 49ers find success on the ground?

Thirtysomething. No, not the hit television show which ran in the late 1980’s. It’s the 49ers magic number. When San Francisco attempts at least 30 rushing attempts they are 29-2 under Kyle Shanahan.

Over the course of their current win streak the 49ers have been dominant on the ground, averaging 154 yards per game. Christian McCaffrey, Elijah Mitchell and Deebo Samuel is the Holy Triumvirate of the Niners rushing attack.

The versatility of McCaffrey and Samuel allow Kyle Shanahan to align them all over the field. This forces defenses to tip their hand. If they stay in base personnel, it opens the passing game. If they add an extra defensive back the 49ers will use their power to run over them.

Dallas has allowed at least 136 yards rushing eight times this season. They posted a 3-5 record in those games, giving up 24.6 points per game.

3.) Will the 49ers defense force Dak Prescott to beat them?

The 49ers defense thrives when it can get to the quarterback. To do so on Sunday they will need to stop the Cowboys run game and force Prescott to beat them.

Losing Prescott in the beginning of the season may have been the best thing that happened for Dallas. That injury forced Mike McCarthy and Kellen Moore to lean more heavily on the run game to help backup quarterback Cooper Rush. The result is the Cowboys have become on of the more balanced offenses in the league.

“The most important part of our run game is the productivity,” said Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy. “The efficiency comes in the attempts. We’ve got to make sure we continue to give those guys (Zeke Elliott and Tony Pollard) opportunities.”

San Francisco has struggled against teams that can run well. The 49ers have allowed 99 or more rushing yards six times this season. They are 2-4 in those games and have allowed just over 24 points per game in those contests.

The 49ers defense thrives when it can get to the quarterback. To do so on Sunday they will need to stop the Cowboys run game and force Prescott to beat them.

4.) Can the 49ers secondary keep everything in front of them?

The Cowboy’s passing game has been solid in 2022, finishing the regular season with the ninth highest net yards per pass attempt in the NFL. Their ability to stretch defenses vertically and horizontally at all levels makes them tough to defend.

CeeDee Lamb leads the Cowboys receivers who is at his best when working from inside. How DeMeco Ryans chooses to handle this will be something to keep an eye on early. Although Lamb doesn’t get deep often, his longest reception this year is 39 yards, he has a terrific relationship with Dak Prescott. Since Prescott returned from injury in week seven the duo has combined for 85 yards per game.

Tight end Dalton Schultz is second to Lamb in receptions for Dallas. The former Stanford Cardinal will be a challenge for the 49ers linebackers and safeties in coverage. Schultz caught seven passes for 95 yards and two touchdowns against Tampa Bay on Monday night. He led all Cowboys receivers in last season’s matchup with San Francisco, finishing with seven catches for 89 yards.

Don’t sleep on Tony Pollard in the passing game either. Pollard has excelled as a receiver this season averaging 9.5 yards per reception and getting into the endzone three times.

5.) Who wins the turnover battle?

San Francisco and Dallas were two of the best at forcing turnovers during the regular season, forcing 30 and 33 respectively.

Turnover differential is the best indication for wins or losses for the 49ers. Since the beginning of 2021 they are 23-3 when they don’t turn the ball over more than their opponent compared to 1-9 when they do.

Throughout their current 11 game win streak the 49ers have turned the ball over just five times. Over that same period of games, the Cowboys have turned the ball over 17 times including at least one in nine of 11.


49ers 26 Cowboys 23

This article has 43 Comments

  1. My five keys are:
    #1 Can the 9ers stop Pollard?
    #2 Can the 9ers gain 150 yards on the ground or more?
    #3 Can the 9ers stop the long passing play?
    #4 Will Purdy continue to play well?
    #5 Will the 9ers control Prescot’s running?
    #1 No
    #2 No
    #3 Yes
    #4 Yes
    #5 No
    The 9ers D and lack of running will cost them this game (Holy crap I hope i’m wrong)

    1. Yeah we’re a better team on both sides of the ball. And now likely on special teams as well. Plus we’re playing at home. And beat them in their stadium last year. Don’t sweat it too much. 😅

      1. Whine,
        I think if we control Prescotts running we won’t get pressure on him and vice versa. I don’t believe we can do both and unless we do both we will lose. imho

  2. And I thought “the Holy Triumvirate of the Niners ” was CMC, Deebo and Kittle.
    For they’ll blow those cowboys out of their saddle!

  3. Old Coach said it like is and how I feel about this game. I think the Niners need to improve against the deep pass better. Look what happened against the Raiders and Seahawks. They better account for Micah Parsons, Vander Esch, and Damascus on defense, Ceedee Lamb, the RBs, and the Tea on offense. However, they have to account for our array of weapons, too. The most important thing! The MENTAL GAME! They can’t be getting those stupid penalties or turn the ball over. Thank God they are pretty good at ball security. We need to make the Cowboys turn the ball over to us.

    1. The Cowboys aren’t necessarily a deep passing team. Cee Dee Ee Effing Gee Lamb hasn’t been a deep threat in the way Michael Irvin was back in the day.

      Instead Lamb has been successful on intermediate routes, breaking away and being consistent. Much in the way Aiyuk is.

      Frankly no one scares me on this Dallas team other than maybe their pass rush. And our pass rush is probably what scares them, in addition to Deebo, CMC, Kittle, et al.

      We effectively shut down their running game last year save for Dak running around. That’s still a possible concern, but at this point I’m imagining myself being a Cowboys fan much more scared of the 49ers than a 49ers fan worried about the Cowboys.

      If we play like we’re capable, and they play like they’re capable, we should win this game as we are the better team.

      The big wild card is if there are unexpected events like an early turnover or unexpected big plays. I think this team will have its head in the game. They haven’t shown to be unprepared in any other playoff game Shanahan has coached them in.

      Can’t say the same for McCarthy. I can smell him sweating from here.

  4. I meant TEs, not tea. I have faith in Brock handling that deadly Dallas D. Formula: Just add a Kittle bit of George, and the Niners O will look Purdy good!

  5. I think the key to the game will be the battle between the interior of the Cowboys offensive line and the interior of the 49ers defensive line. Whoever wins in the trench, wins the game. If the Cowboys can run between the tackles they will score a lot of points. Will be hard for the 49ers to score enough points with a rookie QB in the playoffs.

    1. Pat,
      I couldn’t agree more with your opinion of whoever wins in the trenches wins the game. It is a big part of why I believe that Dallas will cover and likely win.

  6. Here is why I think the 49ers will win:

    – We are going to run the ball. Steady dose of CMC and why is nobody talking about Mitchell? He went for 97 yards and 1 TD last year. Tampa Bay dropped back to throw a whopping 66 times last week. There isn’t a better game plan than to run it 40 times and absolutely demoralize DAL. They don’t want that type of fight. Shanahan ran it exclusively in 2019, not just because of Jimmy G.

    Here are a few more SIMPLE reasons!!!

    -DAL allows 129 rushing yds/gm, we rush for 141 yds/gm.

    – The 49ers have the most INT’s on defense, the Cowboys have the most INT’s on offense.

    -We are the healthier team. Their RT is out and they are down to their 2nd or 3rd string LG, who they like use as a FB to mix up their offense. Our interior line is healthy now Kinlaw/Givens.

    – 49ers have had 1 extra day of rest, minimal traveling, and are playing at home. Although I am expecting a ton of Cowboys fans at the game.

    -Our Kicker has never missed a FG in the postseason. Their Kicker had an all time poor performance last week.

    1. James,
      I hope you are right and you are rubbing my nose in it Sun night/Mon. morn. Reasons I disagree: It seems like every time we have faced a weak rushing D this year we have had a poor running game. We are still not totally healthy on the interior, Ridgeway is a huge loss on run D. I hope you aren’t jinxing Gould. Anyways go 9ers.

      1. Most teams are scheming to stop the run game. It’s hard for the Oline to block everyone when teams do that. But that opens up the passing game. Usually by half time they have backed off that and the run games open up. Dallas will probably do the same, relying on their pass rush against a rookie, but our O line is very good at pass protection and of course Kyle schemes for that.

        1. “Most teams are scheming to stop the run” That may have been true when JG was at QB but I don’t see the same thing now that BP is at QB. Relying on your pass rush is scheming to stop the pass not the run.

            1. Felix,
              I have no idea. If I did I would be coaching in the NFL instead of being an old HS coach.

              1. Admitting that you don’t know the answer to every situation/question is a “silly answer” to you. LOL you should try it sometime or you can just fall back on your favorite response, personal attacks. You really are a special guy.

      2. Thought Ridgeway could come back in time for Championship game or Super Bowl, if he is ready and the Niners actually advance. Is that not so???

        1. Rob,
          Did they put Ridgeway on the IR? If they did I don’t think they have any moves off the IR left.

          1. Yes I think Ridgeway was a big contributor to our elite run defense during the middle of the season. Together Kinlaw and Givens can replace his production.

            I was trying to find out if he was on IR or not last night. I believe he is because he wasn’t even listed on the depth chart on some sites.

    2. I hope you are right. One thing – I don’t think Kinlaw is healthy. Looks like he is playing on 1 leg to me. Isolate on him early to see how he looks. If he gets pushed back like he did in the Seattle game then pull him out and rotate someone else in.

  7. Nothing is guaranteed and mistakes can be made etc but the Niners are the better team. Dallas has a very good D but we have an outstanding offense and this is the match up that wins it for the Niners. We’ve added 3 top players since last years game and Dallas is essentially the same. Go Niners.

  8. I think the biggest question when it comes to the run game is, “will KS stay committed to it.” Or will he try to force Brock into throwing a crazy number of times.

  9. Quick Eagles lead. If we do win I would like to see another home game. Boy that Eagles pass rush looks really good. I guess thats why they are #1.

    1. Whether it’s the Cowboys or Niners, they will have their hands full with the Eagles, who look tough on both sides of the ball tonite.

  10. I wasn’t sure if any team could beat KC if Mahomes was healthy but now I think Phil can beat KC. A healthy Mahomes is key and who knows maybe his ankle swells up this week.

  11. Going into this weekend games, I felt that the Chiefs were the best AFC team. But after beating the Jags because of a tough Jaguars turnover, I believe that the Chiefs are very beatable. Either Cincinnati or Buffalo will take them down.

    Philadelphia is not invincible. The NYG were a good team, but they were no match for the Eagles. The best match up for Philly is the 49ers. Whoever wins that game will go on to win the Superbowl, imho.

    1. The teams that are left are the teams that should be left and they are all good. The Niners are as good as any of them so they have just as good a chance as anyone to win it all. It’s hard not to favor the Niners with the offense they now have and a top defense.

  12. Well here we go, one more chapter in the greatest NFL playoff rivalry of all time. I remember the first chapter the NFCCG after the 1970 season, the final 49er game at Kezar. I was sitting with my Pops and a couple cousins 1 section from the major brawl that took place post game. I will never forget the mounted golden gate cops riding into the park to help break up the fight. The next day in the SF Chronicle they laid blame for the fight on hippie rabble rousers. It was funny as hell it was the normal drunken Kezar fans Vs a section of obnoxious Cowboys fans.

  13. The Key to the 9ers beating the Cowgirls:
    1) The 9ers run the ball more than 35 times, keep the chains moving, control the clock and keep Dallas O sitting on
    bench, THE 9ER WIN!
    2) The 9ers D hold Dallas run offense to under 90 yards, 9ers win.
    3) 9ers DO NOT turn the ball over, they win.

    9ers advantage:
    * Dallas QB, Prescott, leads the league in int’s with 15 in last 12 games.
    * Bosa will be going up against Cowgirl rookie left OT Tyler Smith.
    * Dalllas D line has had trouble stopping the run.

  14. Most optimistic outcome. KS defeats over active, pass rush Cowboys DL with blocking angles not used before, and it’s propelled by McC, Mitch, Deebo and Mason. Otherwise…oh well.

Comments are closed.