Ranking the Most Important Matchups in Cowboys vs. 49ers divisional Playoff Game

Joe TanseyJanuary 18, 2023

Ranking the Most Important Matchups in Cowboys vs. 49ers divisional Playoff Game

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    SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 14: Christian McCaffrey #23 of the San Francisco 49ers carries the ball against the Seattle Seahawks during the first half in the NFC Wild Card playoff game at Levi's Stadium on January 14, 2023 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    The most fascinating matchup of the NFL divisional round is arguably the last game on the schedule.

    The Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers have so many matchup problems in their respective offenses.

    It will be hard for both defenses to contain the playmakers on each side over 60 minutes.

    San Francisco's midseason addition of Christian McCaffrey brought a new dimension to the offense. That was on full display in the wild-card win over the Seattle Seahawks.

    Dallas will try to exploit a weakness in the 49ers secondary through CeeDee Lamb. The Cowboys will try to do the same thing that DK Metcalf produced for the Seattle Seahawks in the wild-card round.

    Perhaps the most fascinating positional battle comes at tight end, where Dalton Schultz and George Kittle are both used in vital roles.

    Schultz led Dallas in receiving yards and scored two touchdowns against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Kittle finished the regular season on fire and he could be a huge key for the 49ers to move on to the NFC Championship Game.

3. Dalton Schultz vs. George Kittle

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    TAMPA, FLORIDA - JANUARY 16: Dalton Schultz #86 of the Dallas Cowboys celebrates after scoring a touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the first quarter of the game in the NFC Wild Card playoff game at Raymond James Stadium on January 16, 2023 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    The team with the most productive tight end could end up as the victor inside Levi's Stadium.

    Dalton Schultz was massive inside the Dallas passing game on Monday night, as he caught seven balls for 95 yards and found the end zone twice.

    Two of Schultz's three multi-score games this season came in the last three weeks. He had two touchdowns in Week 17 against the Tennessee Titans.

    Schultz has 18 catches in that three-week span. He will likely be Dak Prescott's No. 2 target behind CeeDee Lamb on Sunday.

    Kittle entered the postseason with seven touchdown catches in four games. He had 18 receptions in that span.

    He only had two catches for 37 yards in the wild-card round. That production drop had to do with Deebo Samuel's return.

    Kittle can still be a huge factor on Sunday. He could provide security across the middle for Brock Purdy when the Dallas pass rush gets into the pocket.

    San Francisco is capable of containing Micah Parsons and Co. One way to combat aggressiveness is to target Kittle on short throws.

    Whichever team uses its tight end in the best manner could come out on top because of how effective both players can be inside their offenses.

2. Ceedee Lamb vs. 49ers Secondary

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    LANDOVER, MARYLAND - JANUARY 08: CeeDee Lamb #88 of the Dallas Cowboys runs with the ball as Percy Butler #35 of the Washington Commanders defends during the second half at FedExField on January 08, 2023 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Jess Rapfogel/Getty Images)
    Jess Rapfogel/Getty Images

    San Francisco's largest flaw against Seattle was the high concession of receiving yards to DK Metcalf.

    Metcalf had 10 catches for 136 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He had a long reception of 50 yards.

    The 49ers secondary needs to tighten up their defense of an opponent's top wideout to not only win on Sunday, but to win two more games after that.

    CeeDee Lamb will try to exploit the same weaknesses that Metcalf did. Lamb is not as physically imposing as Metcalf, but he can wreak havoc with his positioning when the ball is in the air and his speed on the edges.

    Lamb had four catches for 68 yards against Tampa Bay. That was a far better performance than the one catch for 21 yards he had against San Francisco last postseason.

    San Francisco has experience in slowing down Lamb, and if it achieves that again, it will frustrate Dak Prescott in the pocket.

    But if Dallas finds a way to better exploit the 49ers defensive backs, it may have an answer for whatever McCaffrey does to set up an NFC title clash with a divisional rival.

1. Christian Mccaffrey vs. Dallas' Front Seven

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    SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 14: Christian McCaffrey #23 of the San Francisco 49ers celebrates after scoring running with the ball for a touchdown during an NFL football game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks at Levi's Stadium on January 14, 2023 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images)
    Michael Owens/Getty Images

    McCaffrey is the obvious major difference between the playoff meeting last season and Sunday's game.

    The 49ers running back is the most important player on the field.

    McCaffrey proved in the wild-card round that he can increase his workload on the ground and through the air to be the star of the game.

    A year ago, the 49ers effectively ran the ball with Elijah Mitchell and Deebo Samuel for 168 yards on 37 carries.

    San Francisco now has the added element of a star pass-catcher that primarily lines up in the backfield. McCaffrey could help ease whatever pressure comes from Parsons and the Cowboys pass rush.

    He could also negate the impact of Leighton Vander Esch across the middle by breezing past the linebacker and his teammates in the second level of defense.

    Dallas must contain McCaffrey to win, and if not, he could produce another monster playoff stat line.