The San Francisco 49ers continue to turn heads with their impressive showing in the 2021 season as they are set to see action in the NFC Championship Game. However, they are expected to have their hands full as they will have to go through a loaded Los Angeles Rams squad in order to advance to Super Bowl 56.
As tough as the odds may be, Kyle Shanahan’s squad has already proved that they can keep up with the stronger powerhouses in the league, starting with their upset victory over the top-seeded Green Bay Packers last week. Coming out with greater intensity on both ends of the field will be a crucial factor as the 49ers aim to take down another giant in the Rams to secure the NFC title this season.
With that said, here are three keys for the Niners to emerge victorious against the Rams and return to the Super Bowl stage after a one-year absence:
3. The Niners’ pass rush must show up and contain the Rams’ offense.
49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans and his men successfully pulled out all the stops in their Divisional Round matchup against the Packers. Opposing QB Aaron Rodgers didn’t have that much room to operate under the pocket as he was sacked five times by Niners defenders which led him to struggle on the field.
Against the Rams, the 49ers must overcome another solid offensive line and perform at an even higher level in order to contain Matthew Stafford who has done an impressive job of evading opposing defenders all season long. Star defensive end Nick Bosa is expected to be all over the field as he is on the verge of breaking the all-time franchise playoff sack record (7.5 sacks) which was previously held by Charles Haley.
The 24-year-old is only a single sack away and the NFC title game wouldn’t be a bad time for him to set a new record for the Niners. The other pass-rushers in Arik Armstead and Samson Ebukam are also expected to step up and contribute in order to effectively limit the production of Stafford and his offensive weapons on Sunday night.
2. Trent Williams’ availability remains to be crucial against Los Angeles.
There is no doubt that All-Pro left tackle Trent Williams has been an absolute game-changer for Jimmy Garoppolo and the Niners this season. Unfortunately, he injured his ankle in their Divisional Round victory against the Packers which caused him to be sidelined and miss several practices over the past week.
He is currently tagged as questionable but he is reportedly ‘adamant’ on suiting up against the Rams, per the team’s website. Certainly enough, Shanahan would need Williams’ contributions in their all-important game in order to buy more time for Garoppolo to set up their offense on the field.
In Week 18 against the Rams, Williams failed to see action due to an elbow injury which caused their QB1 to be sacked three times in that game. The nine-time Pro Bowler then returned in their Wild Card tilt against the Dallas Cowboys and helped prevent Garoppolo from getting sacked all throughout.
Certainly enough, his presence is extremely valuable for the team and will allow both the passing and running game to be as productive as possible against the Rams. San Francisco will just have to hope that Williams will have a swift recovery and will be able to make it back in time for the NFC Championship Game.
1. Jimmy Garoppolo should have an efficient performance in the pocket.
With or without Trent Williams, 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo must still find ways to be accurate in his passing in order to properly set up his weapons to score on the field. He simply can’t afford to have too many mistakes in the pocket, especially against a talented team like the Rams that can quickly take advantage and make them pay for their errors.
For one, Garoppolo will have to lessen some of the head-scratching plays that he tends to make from time to time in order to not risk themselves against a potent defensive unit. In their game against the Packers, he played conservatively due to the cold environment but he managed to do just enough to lift them to a victory.
Now playing in a different situation, Garoppolo must play at a higher level and ensure that his top weapons will be involved in the offensive schemes that they will be running. Ultimately, the contributions of Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, and Brandon Aiyuk will all depend on their QB’s production and will certainly be key in stealing a win against the Rams in the NFC title game this weekend.