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Keys to victory for Cowboys in showdown against old rivals San Francisco

The Dallas Cowboys have an opportunity to win consecutive games for the first time in 2020 on Sunday when they take on the 5-8 San Francisco 49ers.
Credit: AP
Dallas Cowboys safety Donovan Wilson (37) celebrates after recovering a fumble in the first quarter during an NFL football game against the Minnesota Vikings, Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/David Berding)

DALLAS — Week 15 hasn’t been played yet and the Dallas Cowboys have already taken a loss. The game was flexed out of the coveted Sunday Night Football spot and that is not something the organization is used to. 

When the schedule was drawn up, San Francisco at Dallas seemed like a slam dunk prime time contest, but the two historical rivals now find themselves a combined 9-17 on the year. If nothing else, getting bumped for the Cleveland Browns and division rival New York Giants has to hurt the pride of owner Jerry Jones.

However, the “loss” of starring in primetime means nothing for a team that just needs to win games no matter what time they’re played. The Cowboys are still in the hunt to win the division and secure a playoff berth. 

With three games remaining, the Cowboys are hanging on by a very thin thread and need to win out to have a chance.

To keep their postseason hopes alive, they’ll need to do the following three things to beat the 49ers for their first win at home since Week 5: 

Don’t get gashed on the ground

If you’ve been paying attention, you might have noticed that this key to winning games seems to show up every week. Stopping the run game seems doubly important this week as Dallas needs to show that they can build on a solid performance against Cincinnati in Week 14 while controlling the pace of play with their defense against San Francisco. 

The 49ers have one of the best rushing attacks in the league, running for almost 110 yards per game. And while that’s middle of the pack statistically, injuries and playing from behind have somewhat hindered the running game for the 49ers. They’re talented enough to cause Dallas problems. 

Kyle Shanahan’s scheme allows for versatility and the offense has four capable runners who can slice a defense like that of the Cowboys. Dallas struggles to stop the run and are currently the worst team in the league allowing a whopping 162.7 yards per game.

The Cowboys might catch a break if starting RB Raheem Mostert doesn’t play, he’s questionable, but Jeff Wilson Jr. is a capable replacement if needed. Wilson has had some big games this season, including a three touchdown effort against the New England Patriots in Week 7. 

The Cowboys will have a big challenge ahead of them when it comes to slowing the 49ers on the ground.

Make life miserable for Mullens

Dallas knows full well how a backup quarterback can change how an offense runs and the 49ers are in the same boat. Mullens hasn’t been great in relief of starter Jimmy Garoppolo and, although he can make plays, he struggles mightily when pressured.

In the past five games against solid pass rushing teams, Mullens has nine turnovers. Mullens has thrown seven interceptions and lost two fumbles since taking over for Garoppolo in early November. In fact, there hasn’t been a game in the last five outings where Mullens hasn’t had a turnover. 

The formula seems simple for the Cowboys, pressure Mullens and rattle him into making mistakes. Do that, and their chances to win the game improve.

Wrest control from wideout Brandon Aiyuk

One of the bright spots for the 49ers in the passing game has been Brandon Aiyuk. The rookie receiver has been hot recently. In his last five games, Aiyuk had collected at least five catches, 75 yards, and a touchdown.  

The Cowboys’ secondary has been suspect this season, so they’ll need to be better to keep Aiyuk in check.

However, there is help on the way. Dallas’ defense will be getting some pieces back to assist in their effort to control the rookie receiver. Cornerbacks Anthony Brown and Trevon Diggs are expected to be ready to play, and safety Donovan Wilson should be suiting up as well.

The Cowboys will need to make sure Aiyuk doesn’t embarrass their secondary the way other receivers have this season. If they can do that, Dallas will have a chance to win the game and secure their first winning streak of 2020. 

Do you think the Cowboys will be able to pull off the win on Sunday and start a winning streak? Share your predictions with Ben on Twitter @BenGrimaldi.