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Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

5 Keys to a 49ers Win Over the Cowboys in the Divisional Round

Jan 21, 2023 at 10:00 AM--

The Divisional round is ready to be played between the Dallas Cowboys and the San Francisco 49ers. A rivalry that dates back to one of the most iconic games known to man, with Dwight Clark's play in the end zone, known as "The Catch," to defeat the Cowboys 28-27 in the 1981 NFC Championship Game. The 49ers and Cowboys have met eight times in the playoffs, with the Cowboys leading the series 5-3. The 49ers look to keep an 11-game win streak alive and advance to the NFC Championship Game for the third time in four years. The 49ers can do so if they stick to these five keys to victory.


This may seem like one of those weird takes because why would something as obvious as coaching be a key to victory? It's simple. The coaching is responsible for many of the intangibles in the game, such as clock management, situational football, scheme, and adjustments. Kyle Shanahan vs. Mike McCarthy is the perfect example of the new school meeting the old school. McCarthy likes to play old-school football, ground and pound style, to wear defenses out. Shanahan is new and innovative. His scheme always has one or two options open.

Expect the Cowboys to come out swinging, but expect the 49ers to adjust. There's no statistic for adjustments, but from the eye test, the 49ers seem to be the best team to return from the second half of football. The defense gets a little extra rest because the offense usually takes the field and kicks into another gear. The coach that has their team prepared for critical situations will also have the edge.

Expect both clubs to be designed for those fourth-and-one play calls simply because it's win or go home. The 49ers defense is usually clutch on these play calls, so coordinator DeMeco Ryans must have his defense ready. If the 49ers' coaching is superior, the team will be walking into the NFC Championship Game.


It doesn't matter how great the coaching is if the players don't execute. Last week against the Seattle Seahawks, the 49ers exemplified some of the best blocking known to man. Offensive line coach Chris Foerster made mention of it in his presser. On the Christian McCaffrey 68-yard run, the run blocking up front was tremendous, but the blocking from the skilled players stuck out. Fullback Kyle Juszczyk, tackle Trent Williams, tight end Georg Kittle, and wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk all had major blocks on that one particular play. It appeared the 49ers were looking to set the tone, and they did just that.

Going up against a much better defense with Dallas, the 49ers will have to execute. Expect Shanahan to get Purdy into a rhythm with key short passes. I wouldn't be surprised if the 49ers came out throwing to negate the fact that Dallas will be looking to take away the run. Again, execution is critical. It starts with the blocking, the running backs hitting the suitable holes, making the right cuts, and down to the receivers catching the ball.

On the defensive side of the ball, expect the Swarm on every play. The defense can't afford to have missed tackles against the Cowboys' weapons. Running back Ezekiel Elliott, running back Tony Pollard, tight end Dalton Schultz, wide receiver Michael Gallup, and wide receiver CeeDee Lamb will be looking to do their job on Sunday. The defense must continue to play with energy and passion and execute properly. If the 49ers execute in all three phases of the game, expect another victory.


As we all know, penalties can make or break a team's spirit. They happen every game, throughout the whole game, when you least expect them on both sides of the ball. Last week against the Seahawks, the 49ers committed three penalties to the Seahawks' five. One of the most troublesome penalties was defensive back Jimmie Ward's roughing of the passer penalty. Not only did the penalty give the Seahawks an additional 15 yards, it essentially allowed them to score three points and take a one-point lead at the half.

No matter what, some penalties will be called, such as holding on both sides and pass interference. The NFL officiating crew usually subjectively calls these. The 49ers must eliminate the self-inflicting penalties such as false starts, taunting, roughing the passer, illegal man downfield, and delay of game, to name a few. Being disciplined will negate the majority of the penalties listed above. If the 49ers want to win, they must be the best-disciplined team on the football field.

Contain and Spy

Talking about discipline and limiting penalties is paramount, but being disciplined in roles and assignments is massive. Expect design runs from Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott. One of the 49ers' most formidable challenges since Week 6, when facing Atlanta Falcons quarterback Marcus Mariota, is limiting Dak Prescott on the ground. Prescott is a far superior quarterback than Mariota, so expect Dallas to dig in the archives to find a blueprint on how to beat the 49ers.

The edge, whether a defensive end or an outside linebacker, must be disciplined and not break containment. Do not let Prescott extend plays using his mobility. If the designed runs begin to dial up, don't be afraid to spy on the quarterback, especially on a 3rd-and-long type of play. Keeping Prescott contained allows for sacks and interceptions to be made. If the 49ers can control Dak, the 49ers will win the game.

Attack their Strength

As crazy as this may sound, the 49ers should look to attack the Cowboys' strongest player, Micah Parsons. He is their X-factor, and instead of shying away from him, go right at him. Expect the 49ers to run the ball to his side. Doing this will eventually tire out the firecracker and keep him from getting to your quarterback. Next, attack him in the air. Expect Shanahan to create mismatches that will force Parsons to cover. A few matchups that come to mind would be Deebo Samuel, Kittle, Aiyuk, and last but certainly not least, McCaffrey.

Shanahan should want to make Parsons have to do everything out there on the football field. The most exciting characteristic of the 49ers' balanced offense is they can run or pass out of any formation based on any personnel grouping. Test how strong Parsons is by attacking him, which will eventually make him weak and vulnerable and, most importantly, negate his ability to rush the passer.

In Conclusion

The 49ers seem to be clicking when it matters the most. The team with better coaching, better execution, better discipline, better containment, and a better attack plan will win this game. That team will be on its way to the NFC Championship Game.
  • Written by:
    Wayne Breezie is a 49ers content creator. He had his first guest appearance on Ronbosports in 2012. He began writing for a Facebook group called the League of the 49ers. Next, he began writing for Nothing But Niners in 2017. In 2018, Wayne Breezie made his debut on YouTube’s Nothing But Niners show. In 2019, he started his podcast called Nitty Gritty Niners. After putting the pen down for several years, Breezie saw an opportunity to write for 49erscap.com. His first published article was in January of 2022 with 49ersCap, and he currently writes and produces weekly podcasts.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.
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