Pollard close to 100% as Cowboys’ final injury report only rules Neal out vs 49ers

In what many are calling the game to watch on wild-card weekend, the 49ers visit Dallas to rekindle one of the NFC’s most storied playoff rivalries. Few things are as important as health when it comes to playing football into January, and only one Cowboy on the active roster will not be available for the matchup with San Francisco.

As they had been trending all week, on Friday key players like LT Tyron Smith, RB Tony Pollard and S Jayron Kearse were all designated as good to go for the first round of the playoffs. Only linebacker Keanu Neal was ruled out for the contest, citing chest and elbow issues suffered in the Week 18 win over Philadelphia.

Neal has played 61% of Dallas’ defensive snaps this year, and his absence leaves the Cowboys relatively thin at linebacker behind first team All-Pro Micah Parsons and Leighton Vander Esch.

Luke Gifford substituted for Neal, playing a career high 16 defensive snaps in the team’s most recent contest. Francis Bernard was activated from the Reserve/COVID list this week, and is the only other linebacker on the 53-man roster.

Smith missed weeks 15 and 16, returned for Week 17 against Arizona, only to land on the COVID list ahead of the season finale. He appears on the injury report with both knee and ankle ailments, but head coach Mike McCarthy said he’s not worried at all about his availability. Smith’s performance, along with the rest of the Cowboys offensive line, will be absolutely pivotal as they face one of the best defensive fronts in the league, featuring Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead and company.

The lightning to Ezekiel Elliott’s thunder in the running game, Pollard’s return completes the Cowboys offense, giving them a threat on the ground few teams can match and few defenses can contain.

Pollard is having a career year in virtually every statistical category, including his 5.5 yards per carry which ranks him second in the NFL among running backs. The former Memphis speedster is capable of scoring nearly every time he touches the ball, as evidenced by his 100-yard kickoff return for a score on Thanksgiving.

Pollard only missed Week 18 to rest his foot, but hadn’t had a full practice since December 2, until this week. Mike McCarthy noted Pollard looking like his usual self, stating, “Tony looks great. I think definitely the time off helped him, too. Tony looks like he’s back to 100%.”

Kearse, one of the unsung Cowboys heroes, returned from the reserved/COVID list this week and is a full-go for Sunday as well.

Currently third on the defense in snaps this year but leading them in tackles with 101, Kearse has surpassed all expectations that fans had for him entering the year. The first-year Cowboy has even been trusted to wear the green dot on his helmet, signifying that he handles communication with Dan Quinn for the defense. The former Clemson product, who can play traditional safety and also near the box like a linebacker helping to mitigate the loss of Neal. Kearse is a crucial piece of this Dallas team that needs all hands on deck to make the run the want to.

TE Sean McKeon (neck), and CB Nahshon Wright (personal) were also limited or non-participants early in the practice week, but neither carries a injury designation into Sunday.

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As far as the Cowboys opponents for Sunday are concerned, the 49ers are set to have the majority of their core players ready for the wild card, but they do feature four game-time decisions.

LB Azeez Al-Shaair (knee), S Talanoa Hufanga (knee), P Mitch Wishnowsky (concussion), and LB Marcell Harris (Achilles) are all questionable for San Francisco this week.

Al-Shaair, Hufanga, and Harris have all played significant defensive snaps this year, and Wishnowsky is the club’s starting punter, so these injuries will be important to monitor as Sunday approaches.

Four key 49ers, S Jaquiski Tartt (Groin), LB Dre Greenlaw (Groin), RB Elijah Mitchell (knee), and LT Trent Williams (elbow) were all full participants in Friday’s practice and carry no injury designation after being limited or absent earlier this week. Much like the Cowboys returning players, these four are critical pieces to San Francisco’s success, especially the first-team All-pro tackle in Williams.

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