The San Francisco 49ers return to the NFC Divisional Round for the third time in four seasons as they host the Dallas Cowboys at Levi's® Stadium. This game marks the ninth playoff matchup all-time between the two teams, with San Francisco winning each of the previous two postseason meetings. The 2022 NFL Playoffs now add a new chapter to the 49ers-Cowboys historic rivalry, and the winner of Sunday's contest will advance to the NFC Championship Game.
"It's playoff football," defensive lineman Nick Bosa said. "It's going to be a big deal, but the past makes it even bigger."
For this week's Four Downs, 49ers team reporter Lindsey Pallares and 49ers Spanish insider Jesús Zárate have joined me to break down several storylines ahead of the team's Divisional Round contest against the Cowboys. We also answer questions directly from the Faithful exclusive for the 49ers Supporters Club. To get your questions answered, sign up for the 49ers Supporters Club here.
1st Down: Favorite Moment from the 49ers-Cowboys Rivalry?
@LindseyLares: Pick-six in the 1995 NFC Championship Game
There's a lot to choose from, but I like the battle that went back and forth between these two franchises in the mid 90s. After being handed losses in back-to-back NFC Championships that ended their '92 and '93 seasons, the 49ers were able to advance to the Super Bowl with a win in the conference championship in January of 1995. That team handed the Cowboys a loss of 38-28, but if I have to pick a moment that sticks out above the rest, it would be Eric Davis' pick-six. Davis' interception return for a touchdown set the tone for that game, and it's always exciting to open up a game with a big defensive play.
@JesusZarate87: "The Catch" from the 1981 NFC Championship Game
I was not even born yet, but plays like those live forever throughout many generations. That touchdown pass from Joe Montana to Dwight Clark stays in your mind forever if you love the history of the game, even if you were not even born yet. In my case, every time they replay that game on television or I watch that play again like during the anniversary of that moment, the feeling is just unbelievable. That started the 49ers dynasty in the 80s and sometimes just watching it has even brought tears of joy to my eyes.
One of my favorite moments from this rivalry is from the most recent contest between the two teams. In last year's playoff run, the 49ers faced the Cowboys on the road in the first round of the playoffs. After K'Waun Williams intercepted Dak Prescott in the third quarter, Samuel told head coach Kyle Shanahan on the sideline, "Just give me the ball, I got you." The very next play, Samuel ran it in for a 29-yard touchdown to seal San Francisco's victory.
2nd Down: Biggest Strength Heading into the Divisional Round
I know that win streaks don't matter in the playoffs, but something has to be said for winning 11 straight games. The fact San Francisco did have to play in the Wild Card Round means there was no stoppage in that momentum and can only be a good thing. Rookie quarterback Brock Purdy has been able to stack success and has gotten a lot of valuable game reps under his belt over his last seven appearances. In that time, Purdy has been able to grow relationships with his receivers and get comfortable with a wide range of opposing defenses coming his way.
@JesusZarate87: The run game
The 49ers have many strengths heading into the Divisional Round, but Dallas is ranked 22nd on rushing defense. So that means the 49ers run attack, which is one of their greatest strengths, can be used to cause the Cowboys some problems. It's a great group of running backs led by Christian McCaffrey and Elijah Mitchell.
@BriMcDonaldTV: 'YAC Bros'
Christian McCaffrey, Elijah Mitchell, Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk and George Kittle are all healthy and ready to go for the Divisional Round game, and the 49ers are 5-0 when all five play. With so many offensive weapons that are all so versatile, it makes it hard for opposing defenses to expect what's coming. San Francisco's skill players take pride in extending plays and notching extra yards after contact. In fact, McCaffrey, Samuel and Kittle each have averaged the most yards after catch per game since respectively entering the NFL.
3rd Down: Matchup to Watch on Sunday
@LindseyLares: 49ers D-line vs. Cowboys O-line
I am interested to see how the Cowboys offensive line fares against the 49ers defensive line and especially, Nick Bosa. One thing we learned from Dallas' final injury report is that veteran left tackle Jason Peters has been ruled out, so now, it will be rookie offensive lineman Tyler Smith tasked with protecting the left side. The 49ers defensive line is one that has been an absolute force throughout the 2022 season. Against the Seahawks, all three of San Francisco's sacks belonged to the D-Line, so the Cowboys will have their hands full.
@JesusZarate87: 49ers O-line vs. Cowboys D-line
In this game, a matchup to watch is the 49ers offensive line vs. the Cowboys pass rush. Remember, Dallas can really get to the quarterback. They are third in the NFL with 54 sacks. It will be very interesting to watch star players like Trent Williams battle against the Cowboys pressure and just the rest of the 49ers offensive line. I think in general they have done a good job protecting the quarterback and this week they have a huge challenge.
@BriMcDonaldTV: 49ers run defense vs. Cowboys running backs
In last year's 2021 Wild Card Game between San Francisco and Dallas, Cowboys running backs Tony Pollard and Ezekiel Elliott combined for just 45 rushing yards in the contest. On Sunday, I'll be looking to see if the 49ers defense can stop the run again and force Dallas' offense to become one-dimensional. This season, the 49ers defense has allowed an average of just 3.4 yards per carry, which is second-lowest in the NFL.