The Dallas Cowboy exorcised demons Monday night when they disposed of the Buccaneers in the Wild Card Round. On Sunday night, they’ll look to avenge last year’s home playoff loss to San Francisco in the Divisional Round.
Flaunting the the NFL’s top-ranked defense and perhaps the best collection of offensive weapons in the game, the 49ers are a brutal matchup for any opponent. That proved true in last year’s matchup, though the game was close from pillar to post and Dallas shot itself in the foot on multiple occasions.
The 49ers are everyone’s pick to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl, so the Cowboys may have to play another perfect game to pull out the win. If you were to break down the game position-by-position, though, certain matchups could very well determine the outcome.
Here are a few that fill that bill.
These matchups could determine Cowboys vs 49ers
3. Leighton Vander Esch vs Christian McCaffrey
You could swap Vander Esch with the entire Cowboys front seven, but Vander Esch is the Cowboys’ horse when it comes to blowing up and snuffing out running plays.
The defensive line — Osa Odighizuwa, Carlos Watkins and Chauncey Golston in particular — will have to play their part, too — but Vander Esch will have the biggest responsibility as far as containing McCaffrey is concerned.
The middle linebacker stepped up to the challenge against the Buccaneers with a team-high nine tackles and two passes defended. Leonard Fournette played in the game, but you wouldn’t know it based on his production, as “Playoff Lenny” finished with five carries for 11 yards.
Again, the entire front seven deserves credit for that, but it’s no surprise the Cowboys running defense returned to form as soon as Vander Esch returned to the lineup after he missed the previous three games with a shoulder stinger.