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49ers 2023 Opponent Preview: Dallas Cowboys

The countdown to training camp and the 2023 NFL regular season has begun with the league releasing report days for each of the 32 clubs. The San Francisco 49ers have set a rookie report day of July 18, and veterans are expected back in Santa Clara a week later on July 25.

As all 32 teams begin gearing up for training camp, is breaking down some of the key matchups of the upcoming season in this 2023 opponent preview series. We'll also hear directly from the opposition on their club's biggest offseason moves.

Up next, we are previewing a club that has playoff history with San Francisco dating back to the 1960s. The 49ers will welcome the Dallas Cowboys to Levi's® Stadium in Week 5 for the third meeting between these teams in as many seasons.

Previous Installments: Seattle Seahawks | Arizona Cardinals

2022 Season Recap

The Dallas Cowboys were one of three teams from the NFC East to punch their ticket to the playoffs last season, securing the No. 5 seed in the conference after their second place finish in the division. In his third season with Dallas, head coach Mike McCarthy helped lead his team to a back-to-back 12-5 records.

The Cowboys had an unexpected start to the 2022 campaign due to a thumb injury sustained by starting quarterback Dak Prescott in the season opener versus the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. With Prescott sidelined for several weeks, the team turned to backup Cooper Rush to step in, and he did so in a big way, going 4-1 in his five starts. He closed out the year completing 94 passes for 1,051 yards and five touchdowns.

Prescott took the reins back from Rush in Week 7, and Dallas went on to win eight of its final 11 contests in the regular season slate. The team entered the playoffs boasting one of the NFL's highest scoring offenses (3rd in total points) and a stingy defense (20.1 points allowed per game).

Dallas made quick work of Tampa Bay in the Wild Card Round before seeing its season come to an end for a second-straight year at the hands of the 49ers. San Francisco advanced to their third NFC Championship Game appearance under head coach Kyle Shanahan with a 19-12 victory in the Divisional Round.

View game photos from the San Francisco 49ers Divisional Round matchup vs. the Dallas Cowboys at Levi's® Stadium.

Key Offseason Additions

Drafted Players

  • DT Mazi Smith
  • TE Luke Schoonmaker
  • LB DeMarvion Overshown
  • DE Viliami Fehoko Jr.
  • OL Asim Richards
  • CB Eric Scott Jr.
  • RB Deuce Vaughn
  • WR Jalen Brooks

Acquired and Retained Free Agents

  • DE Dante Fowler
  • LS Trent Sieg
  • QB Cooper Rush
  • RB Ronald Jones
  • OL Chuma Edoga
  • CB C.J. Goodwin
  • LB Leighton Vander Esch
  • S Donovan Wilson

Coaching Changes and Promotions

  • Quarterbacks coach: Scott Tolzein
  • Running game coordinator/running backs coach: Jeff Blasko
  • Offensive line coach: Mike Solari
  • Assistant offensive line/quality control: Ramon Chinyoung
  • Offensive assistant/quality control: Will Harriger
  • Quality control/defensive assistant: Pete Ohnegian
  • Assistant linebackers/quality control: Darian Thompson

Hear From the Other Side

Get an insider's perspective as reporter Hailey Sutton answered some questions regarding the club's offseason moves.

How critical was the retention of free agents Tony Pollard, Donovan Wilson, Leighton Vander Esch, Tyron Smith and Cooper Rush this offseason?

Free agency was such a huge thing for the Cowboys this offseason, especially for the fans. We knew the team was planning to move on from Zeke towards the middle of the season really – low production, high costs – so the obvious goal was to work something out with Tony Pollard to keep consistency in the backfield. Getting Pollard on the tag allowed them to be a little fun in the draft (i.e. Deuce Vaughn) – I think he'll be a great security blanket on short yardages and the big play opportunities are endless (see last season's 50-plus yard touchdown carry vs. the Los Angeles Rams). The front office was also intentional in keeping the defense as consistent as possible – you HAD to keep Dono in the secondary; he's such a rocket of a player; it's becoming more and more valuable to have a safety who plays fearless like a linebacker. Leighton Vander Esch is the quarterback of the defense – the coaching staff has raved about his impact on and off the field, and he was adamant in wanting to stay in Dallas. As I mentioned before, you keep the consistency, especially with the return of Dan Quinn as defensive coordinator. Feels like this could be his final season as a coordinator, so you've got to build around that and make sure he has the best weapons possible to be successful.

As for Cooper – he's Mr. Reliable. Another guy who has made a life in Dallas and earned a bump in salary as the backup. He proved his worth last season, and the guys like Coop a lot in the locker room. He's earned a lot of respect, and I'm not sure how Will Grier will fair this season in terms of development. The absence of a right tackle at the moment is the main reason I believe the team restructured Tyron Smith's contract. As a guy with 10-plus years of experience, he isn't your typical swing tackle, however, it allows Tyler Smith to keep growing at left guard/tackle while not having a drop off on the other side as Terence Steele continues his knee rehab.

What do Stephon Gilmore and Brandin Cooks add to the Cowboys roster?

What do they not bring to the Cowboys roster?

Speed: check

Skill: check

Leadership: check

Experience: check

These are two guys who have quietly been some of the best at their position but have been overlooked due to their team situations. Brandin Cooks is one of the fastest humans I've ever seen, and the way he has already been a mentor to the younger players looking to make their second-year leap has been fun to watch. He's no scrub either, with six 1,000-plus yard seasons and the potential to take the top off this offense. And remember when Stephon Gilmore was named the Defensive Player of the Year? He remembers and is excited to play alongside Trevon Diggs and DaRon Bland. The signings were a welcomed surprise to a fan base used to Jerry Jones keeping his cards close to his chest – the Cowboys are notoriously quiet during free agency, so to grab two vets who will make a significant impact was huge for "America's Team."

What are your early impressions of the 2023 rookie class? Any early standouts during OTAs?

I love our rookies. I love how eager they are to compete, and several of them will compete for time. DeMarvion Overshown is an early candidate for a sleeper that will for sure be a special teams impact player, but may move into some more defensive playing time depending on his development. Eric Scott has also been sneaky good, stepping in for the veterans during OTAs and impressing the likes of Dan Quinn – Mazi Smith is an absolute tank of a human – he has some things to clean up (footwork and speed of execution), but once he gets into a groove, I worry for opposing offenses having to go through him.

How would you assess the Cowboys success in free agency and the draft?

The Cowboys always draft well. Will McClay is the not-so best kept secret in football for a reason because he recognizes talent, but also recognizes what talent can make an impact in Dallas the best (i.e – trading up to snag Eric Scott in the sixth round). This was the first time that I can remember in recent time when the Cowboys made splash signings in FA but I gave them an A- in our post-draft show. They addressed the needs, paid those players that needed to be retained, and were willing to part ways with some big names to make room for what was needed. Super Bowl thought process from Jerry Jones.

Where is the excitement level and anticipation for the team's Week 5 matchup with the 49ers given their most recent NFC Divisional Round battle?

There's always excitement with this matchup. Look at the history, especially as of late. There's a lot to prove on this side – I just listened to Joy Taylor saying Prescott isn't talented enough to lead the team to a Super Bowl, so he knows the pressure that's mounted on him. But one thing I've learned about Prescott is he really doesn't get rattled very easily. The team will take this game personally though, as most of them have experienced back-to-back losses to one of their biggest conference rivals. Week 5 will be the end of a tough but telling portion of the schedule, and I believe we'll know a lot about Dallas and Prescott after that game.

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