Keys to Victory: How the San Francisco 49ers can beat the LA Rams (Again)
The magical run continued for the 49ers in Green Bay on Sunday, with an incredible 13–10 win over the Packers. The Niners. who started the year 3–5, have won 9 of their last 11 games, and will now head down to Sofi Stadium in Los Angeles to face the Rams in the NFC Championship game. The Niners are 2–0 against the Rams this year, most recently facing off in week 18, and have won the last six matchups against their Southern California rivals. Despite this, the Rams are currently 3.5 point favorites according to the Vegas books. So how can the 49ers pull off yet another upset? Here are five keys to victory to lead the 49ers to the Super Bowl.
1: Pressure Without Blitzing
Rams QB Matthew Stafford has been lights out against the blitz this year. His expected points added (EPA) per play when the opponent blitzes him ranks first among all QBs. Stafford’s ability to dice up the blitz was on display Sunday against the Bucs. On 17 blitzes by the Bucs defense, Stafford completed 11 of 16 attempts for 136 yards and a TD. The good news for the 49er’s defense is they don’t blitz all that much. The 49ers’ season-long blitz rate is 19.8% which was the 4th lowest among all teams this year. In their previous two games against the Rams, the 49ers have blitzed only 14% of the time and were able to pressure Stafford on 41% of his pass attempts. So far in the playoffs, the 49ers have five players with six or more QB pressures. No other team has more than two such players. The defensive line of the 49ers is the best unit remaining in the playoffs and allows them to generate pressure while only sending four pass rushers. That formula has worked before and for the Niners to win on Sunday, they’ll need it to be successful again.
2: Someone Besides Deebo Step Up
Deebo Samuel has been absolutely incredible this year. In the 49er’s two matchups with the Rams this season, Deebo has 273 total yards, a receiving TD, two rushing TDs, and a passing TD. It would be safe to bet that the Rams will heavily focus their game plan on slowing down Deebo. If they are able to accomplish that task, the 49ers will need another one of their skill position guys to step up. George Kittle seems like he is in line for a breakout game. Kittle has not surpassed 75 receiving yards since week 15 against Atlanta, and a big game from Kittle would be massively beneficial to the Niners. The Rams gave up 878 yards to tight ends this season which ranked 16th in the league. Kittle for his part, has gone over 100 yards against the Rams four different times in his career.
3: Limit Jimmy G Mistakes
The topic of Jimmy Garoppolo has entered the upper echelon of things not to discuss at a family gathering, right up there with politics and religion. We all know what Jimmy is at this point. He’s going to go out there, play his heart out, and in the process make a couple of throws that really scare you. The onus is going to be on Jimmy not to win the game for the 49ers, but to not lose it for them. The 49ers can get by without Jimmy playing a lights-out game. So far in the playoffs, Jimmy is averaging 151 yards per game and has thrown two interceptions with zero touchdowns. In his playoff career, he has never thrown for over 220 yards in a game or thrown multiple touchdowns. Yet despite these middling statistics, the 49ers are 4–1 with Jimmy at QB in the playoffs. They can win without him having a big game, they just need to not shoot the team in the foot and put them in a spot they can’t come back from.
4: Control the Run Game.
The 49ers and Rams both want to run the ball, it is at the core foundation of both of their offensive systems. Including the playoffs, the Rams are 8–1 when they rush for over 100 yards this season. In the last 11 weeks, the 49ers’ defense has only given up 100 or more yards once and it was against Seattle who pulled off a trick punt touchdown which accounted for 75 of their 146 rushing yards that day. With possibly the best front seven in the league, the 49ers have a good shot to slow down a Rams rushing attack that averaged just 2.08 yards per carry last week. On the offensive side of the ball, the 49ers have won 10 straight games when rushing for over 100 yards, including two against the Rams. The Rams are 5–3 this year when giving up 100 or more yards. It seems fair today that if the 49ers have an effective day rushing the ball, whether it be Deebo Samuel or Elijah Mitchel having a big day, they greatly increase their chances of winning. Running the ball also allows them to have better control of the clock and makes them less reliant on Jimmy Garoppolo to have a big game in order to win.
5: Win on 3rd Down
The most important down in the game, this will determine the outcome of Sunday’s matchup. Converting on 3rd down is critical to extending drives, and controlling the clock. The 49ers have a 45% conversion rate on 3rd down over their last 11 games. Stretched out over the course of the whole season that would rank 4th in the NFL. The Rams defense ranks 21st in 3rd down conversions allowed. If the 49ers are able to be successful on 3rd downs, they will be able to control the clock better, run the ball more and keep their defense off the field and rested. Head Coach Kyle Shanahan has often talked about wanting to run the ball 30 to 35 times a game. Winning on 3rd down would be an excellent start in achieving that goal.
There is a reason that the 49ers have beaten the Rams twice this season, and are 6–0 against them over the last three seasons. They matchup against the Rams extremely well as their physicality has often been just too much for the Rams to deal with. Stud left tackle Trent Williams is dealing with a high ankle sprain and is questionable to play, but the 49ers were able to win without him in week 18 against the Rams, so as big as a loss as that would be, it is not the dagger in the coffin for the 49ers. If they stick to their game plan and execute well, they stand a good shot to keep the magic going and head to the Super Bowl.
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