Cowboys vs 49ers Wild Card game: history, key players, projection
By Riley Donald
Tony Pollard, Dallas Cowboys (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Cowboys vs 49ers: “Under the Radar” Players
Dallas Cowboys: Tony Pollard, RB
San Francisco 49ers: Jauan Jennings, WR
The choice to rest Tony Pollard during the Week 18 trouncing of the Eagles didn’t make many waves due to the significant amount of other starters out with COVID-19 and other injuries. But it just might be the most important choice the Cowboys made.
Pollard is known for his quick cuts, his burst of speed when he gets even a sliver of a crease, and his do-it-all ability to run and catch passes. He could be called upon a lot on Sunday afternoon. The 49ers have the 7th best run defense in the league and only allow 103.5 yards per game. Now, they do allow 4 yards per carry, and due to that, there is some room for Zeke to keep them honest. That pairs exceptionally well with a rested partner who has had ample time off. Pollard will be fully rested and should have his pop back.
Trying to consistently run against the 49ers is begging to put yourself in tough situations. That is why I think Pollard’s versatility comes into play in a big way. I would still try and run the ball, but I would give the 49ers a taste of their own medicine using Pollard on tosses and even jet sweeps with him lining up in the slot. Sneak in two to three screen passes, manipulate a few matchups with Pollard one-on-one with a linebacker in space, get funky with it, and I think you can create a 100+ yard day for him to be the difference-maker.
Pollard is slippery and he has an extra gear that not many backs in the NFL have. That isn’t just due to watching him. That is due to the number of carries he has that go for 5+ yards. His ability to get chunk runs could propel the Cowboys’ offense and make the 49ers stay honest giving the Cowboys favorable matchups with their star-studded receiving group.
Last week the 49ers’ resolve against the Rams was nothing short of impressive. Cowboys fans and players alike were rooting for them as they propelled us to the No. 3 seed and guaranteed that a trip to Green Bay couldn’t happen in the first two rounds.
Everyone knows the 49ers’ offense goes through Deebo Samuel. While listed as a wide receiver, Samuel, in my opinion, is the best all-around football player in the entire NFL by a long shot. He can clearly produce as a wide receiver, he runs the ball more than any other receiver in the league, and even tossed a touchdown last week.
The Cowboys and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn know Deebo is the 49ers’ guy. Trevon Diggs will likely get him when he lines up out wide. Inside, we get an even better matchup. It gives us the best all-around offensive player, Samuel, going against the best all-around defensive player in the league, Micah Parsons. That matchup is the cream of the crop. You don’t see that often and it should be enjoyed.
With Samuel garnering all that attention, I think the Cowboys need to be cognizant of receiver Jauan Jennings hurting them. It is clear that Garoppolo trusts Jennings as he put up a career game in a pseudo-playoff game against the Rams.
Jennings also has an “it” factor to his game. He may not put up the biggest numbers or gaudy stat lines, but he seems to step up when it matters most in crunch time. He has constantly delivered for the 49ers on third downs and in finding the end zone.
Garoppolo will look to Jennings on third downs, late in the game if it’s close, and any time he needs a big play if Deebo is taken away. Jennings isn’t a national name. But if not treated with care, he could propel himself to a prominent level with a clutch performance on Sunday.