If you’re looking for a compelling storyline for this week's divisional round matchup between the Cowboys and 49ers, you aren’t going to be searching for very long. Brock Purdy continuing his improbable run, Dallas and San Francisco reigniting a new chapter in one of the most storied postseason rivalries in the sport, and any other number of juicy subplots are sure to dominate the headlines ahead of this pivotal division round matchup.
The one that I will be keeping a particularly close eye on come Sunday is the chess match we are going to see between Kyle Shanahan and Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn.
Shanahan and Quinn are quite familiar with one another after spending time together in Atlanta when the latter brought the former on to be his offensive coordinator during a run that saw them come within a few plays of winning a championship together.
Since departing Atlanta following their incredibly successful 2016 season, Shanahan and Quinn coached teams have met twice, each earning a victory in one of those matches. They have met once in the postseason during that span, a 49ers victory in the Wild Card round in Dallas last January.
That’s obviously the more relevant meeting of the previous two, given the fact the majority of the players involved from both sides will be suited up for the rematch this weekend. The 49ers won that game 23-17 but also were held without a fourth-quarter point as Dallas stormed back to nearly pull off an epic comeback that fell just short.
Coincidentally enough, the 49ers' offense scored roughly the same amount of points when Shanahan and Quinn faced off in Week 15 of the 2019 season when the latter was still with the Falcons. Quinn and his defense held Shanahan’s offense to 22 points in that game while pulling off one of the more surprising upsets of the season after coming in as a double-digit underdog.
The 22 points the 49ers were held to was one of their lowest-scoring outputs of the 2019 season, and well below the 30.5 points per game, they had averaged over the final eight games of the regular season.
While the personnel and scheme have changed quite a bit for both coaches since their days of battling it out on the practice field in Atlanta, there is still a level of familiarity between the two that will be fascinating to keep an eye on as they try and outwit one another with a trip to the conference championship on the line.
The odds of Shanahan and Quinn meeting again down the line are far more likely than not, but for now, perhaps there is a bit more at stake for these two old friends as they prepare to square off this weekend.
It should go without saying that the prize of advancing to the next round takes precedence over any kind of personal achievements in what could very well be a heated but friendly rivalry between the two. Bragging rights are just a bonus at this point, and whoever the victor is Sunday will officially be crowned the winner in a trilogy between two old friends who are among the best in the business at their respective crafts.