- WHERE: Levy Stadium (Santa Clara, California)
- WHEN: 6:30 pm EST | FOX, FOX Deportes
- TO READ: DAL-SF Injury Report
- TO READ: Gregg Rosenthal Divisional Round Pick
- TO READ: ‘Cowboys’ Parsons on meeting ‘Photoniners’: ‘I love being an underdog’
The legendary rivalry has been renewed for another season.
After a 27-year hiatus, the Niners and Cowboys will meet in a straight postseason.
A year ago, the San Francisco 49ers took the lead after Jimmy Garoppolo, going 10-0 in the first quarter, including a 110-7 yard lead. The Cowboys returned to the game in the fourth quarter, closing the gap to 23-17 and getting the ball with 32 seconds left. This was followed by the infamous QB run with 14 seconds left and no timeouts, ending the season in dramatic fashion in Dallas.
This time around, rookie Brock Purdy is leading the Niners’ offense, which is on a binge with 11 wins. During their streak, San Francisco scored over 22 points in all but three games. DeMeco Ryans’ formidable defense only allowed over 24 points once during that time.
Meanwhile, under Mike McCarthy, the Cowboys created their second consecutive 12–5 season. After ending the campaign on a terrible note with a humiliating defeat in Washington, Dallas bounced back on Super Wild Card weekend by taking down Tom Brady and the Pirates.
Can the Cowboys return to the NFC Championship game for the first time since 1994, or will Kyle Shanahan’s Nines return to the championship for the third time in four seasons?
Here are five things to look out for when the Cowboys visit the 49ers on Sunday:
- Will Brock Purdy stay perfect or suffer his first NFL loss as a starter? Even if the Niners were confident that the skills of the seventh-round rookie would replace Jimmy Garoppolo, they would have to admit that his game exceeded all expectations. San Francisco 6-0 with Purdy in the start. Four out of six were runaway ejections. Starting in Week 14, including the playoffs, Purdy leads the NFL in passing touchdowns (14), yards per pass attempt (9.4) and passer rating (121.4). The rookie has shown an ability to play outside of the offensive structure, something San Francisco didn’t get much with Jimmy G at center. Yes, there are more hills to climb. Purdy tends to bounce back too often under pressure and has missed a few shots high. But his ability to bounce back from a first-half struggle in the Wild Card round showed a rookie’s mental toughness. Kyle Shanahan’s scheme helps the young defender a lot. Last week, Purdy passed for 179 yards to wide-open receivers (defined by five-plus yards), the third most in a playoff game by any QB in the Next Gen Stats era. Shanahan can lead any QB to water, but they must drink. Purdy swallowed gallons in the nascent phase of his career. He will have a tough test against a Cowboys pass rush that can disombobulate even most veteran bystanders, as he did against 45-year-old Tom Brady on Monday night. But if Purdy doesn’t stop, there are chances to play against the second player from Dallas.
- Duck Prescott must be great. If the Cowboys are to play in their first NFC championship game since the Bill Clinton administration, Prescott should shine. Let’s be honest, the nines come into play with the most advantages. No. 1 defense in yards allowed. Defense No. 1 in terms of performance. No. 1 in Fewest Major Games Allowed. No. 2 rush D. No. 2 for forced turns. No. 4 in yards per game. Draw ninth in bags. Prescott could turn the tide in the Cowboys’ favour, passing through minor players who could be losing yards. Dallas is due to receive the script from the Seahawks last week. Seattle grounded the Niners’ Serie D and completed it with shots. The combo worked until Geno Smith flipped it twice and the Nine’s flood took effect. Prescott can fire up any defense when he’s on, making accurate shots in tight spaces. When he’s on vacation, it can feel like 18 weeks in Washington. I would like Kellen Moore to bring Prescott into the fight early to test the edges of the Niners defense and help slow down Nick Boza and his rush. It’s a cliché to say it all comes down to the quarterback. But on Sunday, if Prescott stumbles, the Cowboys won’t stand a chance. If it’s big, Dallas becomes dangerous.
- Which pass rush is coming home? Boza is a favorite among Defensive Players of the Year with his 18.5 sacks and penchant for coming up with big game-changing decisions. In 2022, Boza had 13 games with at least 1.0 sacks (second-best all-time), plus two forced fumbles with one fumble recovery, including the playoffs. Even when slowed down by stretches when the Nines need play, Boza is a pleasure. Add to that the whimsical abilities of Aric Armstead at the center and the fast-paced Charles Omenihu, and the Nines could make life miserable for Prescott. On the flip sits Micah Parsons and a pass rush of the Cowboys, who led the NFL with a 34.3 QB pressure percentage, including the playoffs. Dallas’ sack percentage was 8.3 times second only to the Eagles in 2022. Last year, when Dallas faced the Niners in the playoffs, Parsons snapped just 10 of 56 snaps. According to Next Gen Stats, Parsons snapped 48.5% of snaps this season. San Francisco is about to face a very different Parsons from a year ago. If the Cowboys manage to confuse Purdy, it’s only because the defensive front has caused chaos.
- O Kyle Shanahan vs D Dan Quinn. Former Atlanta Falcons coaches nearly won the Super Bowl together. Now they meet each other for the third time since that race. Can Quinn’s defense slow down Shanahan’s dynamic formation in a rubber match? We know that Shanahan has pushed Quinn’s defenses to the limit in the past. Now he brings a devastating combination of Christian McCaffrey, Debo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk and George Kittle. The Niners’ ability to play football out of position makes life a nightmare to defend an opponent. And the ability of each player to run for prey makes life easier for the quarterback. McCaffrey (47.9), Samuel (42.3), and Kittle (35.2) have each averaged the most yards after catch per game in their positions since entering the NFL (minimum 10 games played). The 2022 Cowboys allowed 5.7 YAC per reception, the 11th highest in the NFL. If Quinn’s defense doesn’t play well on Sunday, we could see more short shots in San Francisco. In the last two matches against Shanahan, Quinn’s defense held the Nine to 22 and 23 respectively. In a loss last year, the Cowboys shut out San Francisco in the fourth quarter to help a failed comeback. Will they be able to slow down Shanahan’s attack by four quarters, or will CMC, Debo and Co. fall apart?
- Brett Maher and the screams. The Cowboys’ kicker missed four extra points in a wild card win over Tampa Bay. season, connecting 53 PATs, the most in the NFL. He hit 29 of 32 60-plus field goals and made all 14 attempts from 40-yard range—three of four misses were 50-plus. But shouting can undermine the kicker’s confidence and the coaching staff’s willingness to trust him. Will Mike McCarthy, in a tough fight, believe that Maher can put points on the board? Will this change the Cowboys’ game plan for close range field goals? Or could Maher offer a redemption arc worthy of the 2022 postseason? Compare Maher’s postseason struggles to 49ers kicker Robbie Gould, who is as strong as ever. Gould has made 53 of 54 PATs in 2022, including the playoffs. Niner, 40, never missed a single shot (PAT or FG) in the playoffs, scoring 25 of 25 field goals and 37 of 37 on PAT. In what can be a tense showdown, the Nines come in with far more confidence in their kicker situation than Dallas.