The Dallas Cowboys throttled the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Monday night, ending many bad streaks for the organization. Dallas has a poor history over the past 25-plus years, so much so that even though Dallas was a 12-5 team facing off against an 8-9 opponent, many prognosticators chose the Buccaneers to beat them.
The Cowboys vanquished the most accomplished quarterback in NFL history and set up a rematch with the team that eliminated them from the playoffs last season. The 49ers came into AT&T Stadium and physically dominated Dallas, rushing for 169 yards while only allowing 45 yards to Cowboys running backs on 16 attempts. Dak was sacked five times and pressured over 20 times. The game wasn’t even as competitive as the final score of 23-17 would indicate that it was.
But this is a new season, with different versions of these teams. Here are the keys to the Cowboys upsetting the 49ers in San Francisco.
Don't let Nick Bosa ruin the game
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Cowboys edge rusher Micah Parsons showed how a single player on defense can wreck a whole offensive game plan this past Monday in Tampa. When the Buccaneers ran away from Parsons, he made tackles in the backfield. When they tried to pass, he had Brady worried all night, tallying a sack, two QB hits, and his second-most hurries on the season with nine. Even when Tampa tried to trick him with screens, he knocked two of the passes away.
This is the type of performance the Cowboys must avoid from the leading candidate for defensive player of the year, Nick Bosa. He leads the league in sacks with 18.5, has 19 tackles for a loss, 48 QB hits, and 56 pressures. He is as good as anybody at getting to the QB and has the ability to make opposing QBs feel his presence even when he is blocked well.
Tyron Smith has played better with every game of experience he gets at right tackle. He and left tackle Tyler Smith will be the first line of defense against Bosa, but just as important will be Kellen Moore’s plan and Dak Prescott’s release.
Bosa is likely to make a few plays no matter what, but keeping those from being game changers will be a key to this game.
Don't leave points on the board
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The wild-card game wasn’t a close enough game for a missed kick to matter., but the 49ers are unlikely to get blown out, so leaving points on the board is likely to lead to elimination. Brett Maher cannot miss again after leaving four points on the board against the Bucs.
This key isn’t just about Maher though. The Cowboys can’t afford to get in the red zone and settle for field goals. The San Francisco defense is going to get stops, that’s why they are the best defense in the league, but Dallas must convert most red-zone attempts to touchdowns or face the reality of a Kyle Shanahan 49ers offense outscoring and eliminating them.
Get the ball to your playmakers
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The Winston Churchill quote, “those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it” means a lot to this specific Cowboys team and they don’t have to travel too far back in history to learn an important lesson. Just one year ago they learned a lot about how to lose a big elimination game.
The team allowed too many pressures, too many rush yards, and got bullied by a more physical team. For Dallas though, they needed to learn an even bigger lesson. If Moore wants a finesse style offense, at least get the ball to the playmakers.
Last season CeeDee Lamb put up 1,102 yards on 79 receptions with six touchdowns and Tony Pollard averaged 5.5 yards per carry on 130 attempts for 719 yards. They combined for an inexcusable eight total touches in the playoff game loss to San Francisco last year.
This season both players stepped up and out as the two best skill guys on the team. Pollard eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark rushing and had nine touchdowns. Lamb elevated his Pro Bowl credentials with 1,359 yards on over 100 receptions with nine touchdowns. Moore must find a way to scheme those two playmakers open and set them up for success.
If Pollard and Lamb don’t combine for over 25 touches than Moore didn’t do his job well, or Prescott didn’t execute it well enough. Those two playmakers getting the touches they need to make big plays well definitely be a key to the game.