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5 players to watch: The Mooney Ward bounce back game

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5 players to watch: The Mooney Ward bounce back game
Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

Ward had a rare off-game against Seattle last week

When the 49ers and the Cowboys met last January, it was Dallas who had won their division and San Francisco who entered as a wild card. However, the roles will be reversed on Sunday, with the Cowboys traveling to Santa Clara to take on the 49ers on a short week.

Sunday marks the ninth time the two franchises meet in the playoffs, with Dallas winning five of the previous eight. With the 49ers looking to end the Cowboys’ season for the second straight year, these are the five players to watch:

RB Christian McCaffrey

The Cowboys’ defense has struggled against the run, allowing 129.3 rushing yards per game, 11th-most in the NFL this season. Dallas allowed 100 or more rushing yards in 11 of their 18 games, and in six of those 11, they allowed at least 150 rushing yards.

The 52 rushing yards Dallas allowed last week against Tampa Bay was the fewest the defense has allowed since Week 5, but the Buccaneers ran the ball just 12 times in the Cowboys’ win.

The 49ers’ offense will likely have more than 12 rushing attempts on Sunday, running the ball 30 or more times in four of the last six games. McCaffrey has gotten the lion’s share of the rush attempts, and Sunday should be no different.

McCaffrey’s 119 rushing yards against the Seahawks last week was the fourth time in his last six games the running back has eclipsed the century mark after not reaching 100 rushing yards in his nine games prior.

RT Mike McGlinchey

Micah Parsons had 18 snaps as the Cowboys left outside linebacker against the Buccaneers last week, the most he’s lined up on the right side of the opposing offense since Week 13.

Even if Dallas keeps Parsons on the left side of the 49ers’ offense, McGlinchey will have his hands full with the Cowboys’ deep pass-rushing unit. The two pass rushers the Cowboys used across from Parsons most frequently this season have been Demarcus Lawrence and Dante Fowler. The duo has combined for 106 pressures this season and 12 sacks, with six sacks a piece.

McGlinchey has been solid of late, allowing just six pressures and only one sack over the 49ers’ last five games. He allowed zero pressures against the Seahawks last week, the third time he’s held Seattle without a pressure, and the fifth time he hasn’t allowed a pressure this season. The 49ers’ offensive line as a whole has performed well in recent weeks but hasn’t faced a pass rush like the Cowboys all season.

CB Charvarius Ward

Ward had what was probably his worst game with the 49ers against Seattle, allowing six receptions on eight targets for 98 yards and a 50-yard touchdown on a deep shot to D.K. Metcalf.

Ward’s performance was a rare one, as he’s allowed more than 50 passing yards in a game just three times this season. Sunday will offer another tough matchup for Ward in CeeDee Lamb. Lamb had roughly a 50/50 split between wide and slot snaps this season, slightly favoring the slot but has seen increased snaps out wide in each of his last three games.

While it’s not much, Ward and Lamb have faced off once before when the Cowboys played the Chiefs last season. Lamb was targeted just twice against Ward for five yards on one reception, but Ward did come away with an interception of Dak Prescott, something that has been a common occurrence for the Cowboys quarterback this season.

DE Nick Bosa

When the 49ers beat the Cowboys last postseason, the defensive line was able to sack Dak Prescott five times, with only half of one coming from Bosa. The Cowboys will be missing veteran Jason Peters, but he will be replaced by rookie Tyler Smith who allowed only 39 pressures on 660 pass-blocking plays this season.

Bosa was held without a pressure for just the second time in his career last week against Seattle and will see a tougher test against a Dallas offensive line that allowed the fourth-fewest sacks this season.

QB Brock Purdy

Purdy’s slow start last week ended up working out against Seattle, but a slow start on Sunday could create a hill too steep to climb for the rookie. The Cowboys’ pass defense ranked in the top ten in passing yards allowed and interceptions, with a pass rush that finished third in sacks and first in pressure percentage.

The only defense the 49ers have faced this season that had more pressures and sacks than the Cowboys was the Kansas City Chiefs, allowing five sacks and 18 pressures. Purdy threw for 332 yards despite the slow start but missed throws as he had early against Seattle could turn into turnovers against an opportunistic Cowboys secondary.

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