This Sunday, the San Francisco 49ers are set to face the No. 5 seed Dallas Cowboys in the Divisional Round of the 2022 NFL Playoffs. The matchup will be the first time the two teams faced each other since the 2021 NFC Wild Card game where the 49ers defeated the Cowboys 23-17.
The Cowboys will travel to Levi's® Stadium after a dominant 31-14 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
"They're a good team," head coach Kyle Shanahan said. "They've been it all year. Probably looked at their best on Monday night... But they've been good for a while and just watching them this week, it reminds me of their team from last year and they only improved."
The 49ers defense will be up against a quarterback who is coming off of a career-high game. Against the Buccaneers, Dak Prescott completed 25-of-33 passes for 305 yards, four touchdowns, zero interceptions and converted on both of the Cowboys fourth-down conversions, earning him a 143.3 quarterback rating. Prescott also tallied 24 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown, so San Francisco's defensive line will need to apply pressure and keep their eyes peeled for a QB scramble in order to find success in the Divisional Game.
With Cowboys left tackle Jason Peters likely to be ruled out of Sunday's contest with a hip injury, rookie lineman Tyler Smith will be tasked with filling in on a Dallas offensive line that has shifted throughout the year. The rookie lineman has allowed 7.0 sacks this season providing a possible weak spot that the 49ers D-line will look to take advantage of.
Downfield, there will be even more matchups to look out for. San Francisco's No. 1 ranked defense will be up against an explosive Dallas offense that's led the league in scoring since Prescott returned in Week 7. Cowboys tight end Dalton Schultz saw the most production on Monday night, leading the team in receiving yards (95) and touchdowns (two). Also adding to the scoreboard in the Wild Card contest were receivers CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup, who recorded 114 receiving yards combined and each saw the end zone once. Running back Tony Pollard led Dallas on the ground, rushing for 77 yards and an average of 5.1 yards per carry.
"When Sunday comes, it's going to be about two great football teams playing against each other and who's going to play the best," linebacker Fred Warner said.
It'll be a battle in the trenches for both teams this Sunday, as the Cowboys pass rush will be looking to get after rookie quarterback Brock Purdy. The Dallas defense is tied for the third-most sacks in the league with 54.0 on the year, a 35 percent pressure rate ranked first in the NFL and four players with 6.0-or-more sacks.
Linebacker Micah Parsons stands out on the Cowboys defense as he racked up 13.5 QB takedowns in the regular season. The 49ers offensive line will have to account for him as he lines up on both sides of the field. In the 2021 Wild Card Game between Dallas and San Francisco, the 49ers O-line didn't allow a single sack or QB hit from the Cowboys pass rush and will look to replicate that recipe for success in this year's matchup.
In the Cowboys most recent postseason contest against Tampa Bay, Dallas welcomed back defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins and middle linebacker Leighton Vander Esch from injuries. Vander Esch led the team with nine tackles and defended two passes. Parsons notched three tackles, 1.0 sack, two quarterback hits, two tackles for loss and two passes defended. The Cowboys defense had one takeaway in the game – safety Jayron Kearse picked off a pass from Tom Brady in the end zone that Dallas capitalized on with a touchdown on the following drive.
"Starting with their D-line, (Cowboys defensive coordinator) Dan Quinn jumps off the tape to me there," Shanahan said. "The way he gets those guys to move, they have some really good rushers. Everyone knows about (Dallas Cowboys defensive end Demarcus) Lawrence and Parsons... The way that they stunt, the way they can create one-on-ones, there's a reason they're number one in getting to the quarterback with sacks and pressures and it does jump off the tape."
View some of the top images from the San Francisco 49ers practice at the SAP Performance Facility as the team prepares to host the Dallas Cowboys in the Divisional Round of the playoffs, presented by Mattress Firm.