The Dallas Cowboys' Week 5 game against the San Francisco 49ers could end up as the most important fixture on the 2023 schedule.
Not only will a win keep the Cowboys within striking distance of the NFC East title and NFC's No. 1 seed, but it would set the table for the playoffs if these rivals were to meet in January for a third straight year.
It goes without saying this matchup is more important for Dallas. They already have a loss on the ledger, whereas the 49ers are 4-0 and have yet to trail in the second half. San Francisco doesn't beat itself, so the Cowboys will need to play as close to a perfect game as humanly possible to come away with a win.
That's easier said than done, but you know what would help the cause? Giving two playmakers more touches on offense ... and benching one player.
3. Hunter Lupeke needs more touches
Rico Dowdle is a real question mark for Week 5 after he sustained a hip contusion in the blowout victory against the Patriots. It's the best-case scenario for the Cowboys and Dowdle, who suffered the injury to the same hip he fractured two years ago and will avoid a prolonged absence.
Dowdle didn't practice on Wednesday, so he'll need to get in at least a limited session before Saturday to have a chance of suiting up. If Dowdle is ruled out, Hunter Luepke needs to be the next man up behind starter Tony Pollard.
Luepke has limitations as a playmaker, but he's also underrated in that regard. In the final preseason game against the Raiders, he produced 118 scrimmage yards and a touchdown on 20 touches (15 carries, five catches).
The North Dakota State product has the vision, power and contact balance to succeed in short-yardage situations and in the red zone (he rushed for a TD against the Patriots) and he's the second-best back on the roster behind Dowdle in terms of pass protection. That will be needed to thwart the 49ers elite four-man pass rush.
If Dowdle is out, Luepke's snap share needs to explode. Even if Dowdle is cleared, Luepke should see the field more than he has the first four games.