The Dallas Cowboys are in search of their sixth world championship, so it’s only fitting they’re matched up against the San Francisco 49ers, their biggest non-division rival, in the first round of the playoffs on Sunday.
On paper, this isn’t a great matchup for the Cowboys.
Led by a ferocious running game and with superstars Deebo Samuel and George Kittle capable of taking any pass to the house, the 49ers’ physicality at the point of attack will be a real test for Dan Quinn’s defense.
In order for the Cowboys to hold serve at home, they’ll have to fight fire with fire. As we saw in the Week 16 losses to Arizona and Denver, Dallas has shown a susceptibility to getting bullied in the trenches on both offense and defense.
While stars Micah Parsons, Randy Gregory, DeMarcus Lawrence and even Ezekiel Elliott, given his bruising running style, will be paramount in setting the tone, look for Donovan Wilson to end up being a surprise difference-maker.
Donovan Wilson will step up for the Cowboys this Sunday vs the 49ers.
Wilson is an unknown commodity to most NFL fans, but Cowboys Nation knows he’s one of the hardest-hitting safeties in the league. If there’s any player on defense who can contend with Kittle from a physicality standpoint, it’s Wilson, so expect him to get the most reps on the All-Pro tight end.
With that said, Wilson is too versatile to be hung up in coverage all game. Expect Quinn to throw different looks Kittle’s way. Some combination of Wilson, Keanu Neal and Malik Hooker is what we’re most likely to see.
On a defense flush with elite pass rushers, Wilson quietly owns the fifth-best pass-rushing grade on the team (71.9), per Pro Football Focus. He doesn’t have the stats, QB hits or even pressures to back it up, but Wilson has disrupted countless dropbacks this season by getting into the backfield.
Whether it’s limiting Kittle’s impact — especially after the catch, where he’s a broken-tackle machine — or rushing Jimmy Garoppolo into some throws he would otherwise step into, Wilson will make his mark on this game.
For those who need a reminder of what he’s capable of:
Per PFF, Garropolo has made 23 turnover-worthy plays this season. Four of those are fumbles, leaving the other 19 on dropbacks. If there was ever a time for Dallas’ opportunistic defense to step up and force a turnover or two, they’re certainly facing the right quarterback.
For a game that is widely regarded as the best of Wild Card Weekend due to all the superstar talents that will take the field, don’t be shocked if an unknown (at least outside of Dallas) in Wilson ends up out-shining all of them.