Maybe the title ought to be "will the 7th time be the charm" as the San Francisco 49ers have beat the Los Angeles Rams in their last six match ups! Right now it's fair to say the Niners own their division foes. Jimmy Garoppolo has had success against the Rams and is familiar with their team as he's been the 49ers quarterback for the past five seasons. To be fair, Matthew Stafford has only been a part of the last two defeats, however this one sided recent rivalry goes way past the quarterbacks.
We sometimes forget how important coaching is in the NFL. Now I'm not saying Kyle Shanahan is a better head coach than Sean McVay nor vice versa. But some coaches can have their counterparts number! Kyle Shanahan has coached the Niners to six straight victories over L.A. and Jimmy G. wasn't even the QB for some of those games. Nick Mullens led the Niners to victory twice during this winning streak.
courtesy of NBC Sports
The point is, schemes and play calling matter almost as much as the play execution on the field. Knowing your opponent is crucial. Coaches look for the oppositions habits and what they do during situational football. Being able to dissect when a certain play may be coming has to be coached down to the players so they're prepared and can predict what's coming based on the player package personnel and alignment.
It appears Shanahan has been able to out-coach and make better adjustments than Sean McVay over the past few years. This has to be eating away at McVay and you can bet he's gonna throw everything including the kitchen sink at the Niners on Sunday.
The Rams have nobody to blame but themselves for not being able to close out a 17 - 0 lead in the second half against the Niners in the regular season finale. Had the Rams beat the 49ers in that game then San Francisco would not even have made the post season. Now the Rams have to try and end the Niners streak on the biggest stage.
The Rams are stacked with talent and have been playing great football since the playoffs started. The offense is clicking and despite a few turnovers have been able to score enough points to win in the wild card and divisional rounds. This team is definitely clicking at the right time and they're gonna need to keep that momentum going as they go face to face with the big bully on the block.
Yup, the 49ers have become the bullies of the NFL that nobody wants to mess with. I'm sure the Rams want revenge but in the back of their minds they can't allow themselves to be mentally beat before the game even begins. Team moral is so important and while the Rams try to get there's going, the 49ers are swimming in team confidence.
San Francisco should feel confident heading into SoFi Stadium on Sunday but they better not get cocky. The 49ers do have plenty of confidence as road warriors this post season. They use their physical and mental toughness to win games. When you speak of confidence names like Deebo Samuel come to mind along with George Kittle, Fred Warner, Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead and so on. When you feel like Superman you play like Superman.
courtesy of USA Today Sports+
What the Niners must do and can't do:
They must run the ball consistently
They can't have early 3 & outs
The must give the ball to Deebo
They can't let Cooper Kupp destroy the secondary
They must involve George Kittle in the offense more often
They can't throw interceptions
They must disrupt the line of scrimmage and get to Stafford
They can't allow Stafford to sit back in the pocket and pick the secondary apart
They must win time of possession
They can't allow touchdowns, have to hold the Rams to field goals
They must score touchdowns and not settle for field goal opportunities
They can't play soft coverage allowing Stafford to get the ball out quickly
They must use motion pre-snap to fool and figure out the defense
They can't let Aaron Donald control the line of scrimmage
courtesy of Rams Wire - USA Today
What the Rams must do and can't do:
They must make it a priority to stop the run
They can't commit penalties and lose yards against this defense
They must keep both Sony Michel and Cam Akers involved
They can't let the 49ers get to Stafford with just 4 pass rushers
They must gain 5 yards or more on first down
They can't get too pass happy
They must match the physicality of the 49ers lineman
They can't commit turnovers like they did against the Bucs
They must have creative play-calling
They can't take their foot off the gas if they get a big lead
They must take shots downfield to Kupp, Van and OBJ to get cheap PI calls
They can't let the pressure of the moment overwhelm them (namely Matthew Stafford)
They must use their timeouts conservatively for end of game situations
They can't sleep on the 49ers pass game despite Garoppolo's shortcomings
courtesy of Athlon Sports
Who wins in the trenches? This game can and will ultimately come down to who wins the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. The Rams pass rush has been phenomenal lately with Aaron Donald, Von Miller and Leonard Floyd. The 49ers have a great offensive line led by All Pro left tackle Trent Williams, that can give Jimmy G. some time in the pocket and get a great push off the ball in the run game. The 49ers also have a great pass rush and they do it while only rushing four players. The Rams offensive line has improved, despite the injury to future Hall of Fame left tackle Andrew Whitworth who will play this Sunday with a nagging knee injury. Which offensive line will hold up longer during this contest?
Offensive Strategy: Both teams have offensive firepower but they come in different forms. The Rams will use the run to set up the big play action passes with that quick striking offense. Conversely, the 49ers offense delivers a slow death as they chew up clock by running the ball and getting the rock into their play-makers hands.
Who has the edge on defense? Well take the crowd out of it because the noise level will likely be split with so many 49er fans taking the trip to Southern California. Both teams have had top defenses all year long and both were on display the first 2 weeks of the playoffs. The key for the Niners defense is not allowing the big plays. The 49ers secondary is the one spot on the field they could use some improvement. Therefore San Fran will continue to rush 4 guys with an occassional blitz, allowing 7 defenders guarding the pass. If San Francisco can apply enough pressure on Stafford then San Fran's secondary will have a much better day.
How much will pressure play a factor? If you just look at both teams on paper it would seem the Rams would crush the 49ers. But as we know the game isn't played on paper which is why the Packers and Bucs are sitting home now. In the playoffs: physicality, mental toughness, coaching, the turnover battle and execution are all dialed up a few levels once the ball is kicked off. Pressure is also a factor and all the pressure is on Matthew Stafford. He was brought over from Detroit to do exactly what he's doing now but the ultimate reason was so he could do what Jared Goff didn't and win a Super Bowl. Can the new Rams quarterback handle all this pressure playing at home for the right to host Super Bowl LVI?
Who wins and why? These teams are so evenly matched that it's going to take a huge offensive play, a crucial turnover, a sack on 3rd and 3 or even special teams play to take one of these teams over the hump and get this W. I believe the 49ers are more mentally and physically tough than the Rams. I believe the fact that San Fran beat these guys twice this season has to weigh heavily on the shoulders of Stafford and McVay. I believe the Rams are more prone to making mistakes. I do believe that the Niners are slightly better at the line of scrimmage. So if the 49ers can win off the ball, control the clock and score touchdowns (not FG's) then the San Francisco 49ers will be headed back to the Super Bowl for the second time in the last 3 years.
Los Angeles has to play a squeaky clean ball game if they want to beat their NFC West enemy. I don't think the Rams offensive line will be able to stop the Niners pass rushers and it's important to know that pressuring the QB doesn't necessarily mean getting sacks. As long as you're in the quarterbacks face, the level of success on certain plays goes down and that sticks in the QB's mind every time he drops back to pass. Again, mental toughness will be the key intangible factor in this game. Prediction: 49ers 27 - Rams 24