clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Rams-49ers NFC Championship debate: In which we argue for the opponent

Kyle Posey of Niners Nation and Kenneth Arthur of Turf Show Times argue for why the OTHER team will win

San Francisco 49ers v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Rams are facing the San Francisco 49ers for the third time this season and one thing that both me and Kyle Posey of Niners Nation agreed on this week is that we kind of wished we drew the other opponent instead of getting a rubber match. It’s not that going to Green Bay for the Rams or going to Tampa Bay for the 49ers was necessarily a more favorable route for either team but still ....

This again?

But it is also fitting and beneficial that the NFC West continues to show its dominance over the other three divisions in the conference. The NFC West will represent the NFC for the third time in the last four years and for the sixth time in the last 10. Both of these teams faced doubts during midseason losing streaks and both have rebounded at the right time. And after the 49ers defeated the Rams in the final minutes and overtime just to stay alive a few weeks ago, both teams are playing do-or-die football on Sunday.

That’s exciting but instead of doing the traditional “5 Qs and 5 As” again, and so soon after we did it in a week so late that it was literally WEEK EIGHTEEN, I had a Slack conversation with Kyle Posey over the week. Rather than making a case for the teams that we cover, we made a case for the opponent.

Even though I actually believe the Rams are going to win and Kyle actually believes that it will be the 49ers. We still both made compelling arguments for the other side.

Check out Niners Nation for coverage of the 49ers during the NFC Championship.

Kenneth Arthur, Turf Show Times:

I think the 49ers run defense has proven to be a major issue for the Rams, Sean McVay, and the rest of the league. Number two in DVOA against the run. And that’s after the 49ers gave up 100+ rushing in seven of the first eight games. Since then? 90 rushing yards or less in 10 of the last 11 games. I don’t know what San Francisco and DeMeco Ryans changed but the fact that the Rams rushed for 116 total yards in two losses to the Niners may be a much bigger concern than turnovers or special teams... though as we’ve seen in the playoffs, those matter too. Rams gotta be able to run the ball early and often and teams simply don’t do that against the 49ers.

Of course, stopping Deebo would be nice too.

Kyle Posey, Niners Nation:

They were banged up in the middle of the line and took some time to figure out who can and can’t play. Javon Kinlaw’s injury forced defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans’ to move some of his pieces around. At first, Ryans was shuffling backup bodies, some, who are no longer on the roster. Eventually, they moved their $85 million defensive end inside.

Since Arik Armstead has played defensive tackle ten games ago, the numbers speak for themselves. He’s transformed a top-10-ish rush defense into the best in the NFL during the second half of the season. They’ve forced teams into longer distances on obvious passing downs which leads to the defensive line teeing off on opposing quarterbacks w ith four rushers while keeping seven in coverage. The 49ers are spoiled from their coaching to the talent. The turnovers have been consistent. Last week’s special teams performance was the definition of an anomly.

If the 49ers get a lead after stopping the Rams early, will we see a different version of Matthew Stafford? Because he’s been lights out this season in every situation, but this seems like a spot where Stafford comes back down to earth and the pressure, literally, might get to him.

TST:

I have to admit I had forgotten about Arik Armstead for many, many months. Then during the divisional round, the reminders set in. Here’s a guy who is a first round pick, has all the physical tools, but from my perspective over here seemed like he was headed on the Solomon Thomas path for a long time (Thank God). He has nine sacks in four years and even if that’s not his primary role, that’s a little low for a top-20 pick, right? Then 10 sacks in year five, an extension, and then I forgot about him again. With Brian Allen having a rough game at center last week and maybe a little more concern with the Rams interior than the tackles, I can’t say that defending Armstead sounds very appealing. Then I turn to Nick Bosa vs anyone (and the Rams have TWO banged up left tackles now) and think that Matthew Stafford’s going to have to have a quick release.

Two of the 5 worst rush defense performances of LA’s season came against the 49ers. I don’t even know who Elijah Mitchell is, but it’s hard to not imagine him winning game MVP along with Deebo Samuel.

NN:

Stafford is the ultimate equalizer for a poor OL and he’s shown that all season. He’s been other-worldly against the blitz. I keep waiting for regression and it hasn’t happened. The difference between him and Goff is Stafford is looking for the home run. More often than not, he hits it out of the park. The 49ers aren’t a team that blitzes often but they do on third down which can lead to big plays as it leaves their CBs susceptible in coverage. We saw Kupp take advantage of 1-on-1 coverage down the field in week 18 and again last week with the game on the line. This feels like a game where McVay force feeds Kupp and I’m not sure the niners can stop him.

TST:

A couple years ago, the 49ers had Richard Sherman and he went to the Pro Bowl and maybe that would’ve been the matchup to watch in this game: Sherman vs Kupp. Who lines up on Kupp this time instead?

NN:

The last time these two teams played the 49ers were without their starting slot cornerback, who would intercept Dak Prescott the following week and come close to picking off Aaron Rodgers a week ago. K’Waun Williams, when Kupp is in the slot. Williams won’t be able to run down the field with Kupp but he’s incredible against the run and in underneath zones. Williams is one of the most instinctive players in the division. Even with Williams back, the Rams still have the advantage through the air. Is this a game where Stafford is north of 40 attempts?

TST:

That’s an interesting question I hadn’t considered. Matthew Stafford hasn’t thrown 40 passes in any of the last nine games. His most recent such contest was the Week 10 loss to the 49ers. In the first 9 games, he had 40 attempts four times. Then in the wild card round win over AZ, he had 17 attempts, which was his lowest since 2011, I think. Any Rams game of normaltude should give us about 32-36 attempts. Anything over 40 should signal that the Rams aren’t having the type of game that they wanted or expected.

An ideal gameplan should have 30 attempts, and a heavy dose of Cam Akers, who had 24 carries last week, compared to only 1 for Sony Michel. Rams fans want to see Michel back after Akers fumbled twice, but should LA put a lesser threat on the field based on two errors that just happened to occur in the same game? However, if LA can’t run on the Niners again, and the game has to be in Stafford’s hands, I think that’s another area where San Francisco has an advantage; not because Stafford has to throw, but because the 49ers know he has to throw. I hope the pressure won’t get to him because I expect Bosa to put a lot of pressure on him. Odell Beckham Jr and Tyler Higbee may need to save the day here.

NN:

If i’m the rams i want Akers back there since he’s a walking big play. the fumbles may be a tough thing to swallow but it’s evident Akers gives you a better chance against a better defense. Michel isn’t a guy who can make guys miss or create on his own. Akers can. But it’s a good point because the last thing you want is the 49ers defensive line teeing off on Stafford. Who do you think is the rams savior on Sunday?

TST:

It’s impossible to predict fumbles of course, but no less concerning that nearly every draft expert had the same concern: Cam Akers had 10 fumbles in three seasons at Florida State. He seems to essentially be fumbling at the same rate in the NFL, albeit on a small sample size thus far because he has missed so much time. In general, I think Akers has to be considered a boom-or-bust choice every time McVay puts him on the field instead of Sony Michel, who is more like a fine-or-notbad choice.

As to the Rams’ savior, I’ll give 3 answers: obvious-Matthew Stafford because as we saw in Tampa, and around the NFL last weekend, you NEED a quarterback who can drive you down the field in immediate fashion, sometimes in a matter of seconds. The game is more likely than not to be extremely close in the final six minutes, and that’s going to have to be Stafford time for the Rams to win. less obvious but still popular answer: Odell Beckham, Jr. The Rams have the potential MVP in Cooper Kupp and it’s been like 3 years since OBJ even had more than 90 yards in a game. But as we’ve seen, if its third-and-crunch or something-and-Goal, OBJ can still make the play of plays. Sleeper answer: Brandon Powell. So many huge special teams moments in the playoffs and Powell has lowkey been a part of that too. He’s the most dangerous kick or punt returner that the Rams have had in a minute and it’s nice not seeing Cooper Kupp returning punts when he doesn’t have to. It’s comforting knowing that the 49ers can’t just punt away. Powell will make them pay if he gets opportunities, I’m starting to get that sense from him already.

Who do you think is the 49ers savior?

NFL: JAN 23 NFC Divisional Round - Rams at Buccaneers Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

NN:

Special teams, last week aside, have been the bain of the 49ers existence this season so it wouldn’t surprise if this week they reverted to what we’ve seen all season. The savior has been different each week. Last week, the 49ers won without scoring a touchdown thanks to top-notch defense and special teams play that hasn’t been there all season. And while I think the usual suspects of George Kittle, Deebo Samuel, and Brandon Aiyuk will get their production, it’s likely to be another unsung hero. Perhaps K’Waun Williams intercepting Stafford, or Elijah Mitchell running for 120+ yards. I don’t know who it’ll be, but it’ll be somebody that is off the radar.

Speaking of, is there somebody or something that worries you outside of the 49ers usual stars?

TST:

I am really curious: the 49ers have had so many unknown running backs bust out under Kyle Shanahan, but then they quickly fade away. What, if anything, makes Elijah Mitchell different?

As for the outside-the-box concerns on the 49ers: I want Robbie Gould to miss a field goal attempt. A chipshot. Get the hell outta here, Robbie Gould. Isn’t 15 or 16 years enough? First it was Tom Brady, next is you! Second, heard a lot about this Azeez Al-Shaair all season long and wouldn’t be surprised if he’s goign to make the game changing interception or forced fumble instead of Fred Warner, but is he healthy? Or losing snaps? And I think every Rams fan who knows thaT Samson Ebukam is on the 49ers has probably had a night terror about him sending San Francisco to the Super Bowl over his former team.

NN:

Mitchell is a tough son of a gun. There are no BS runs with him. He runs fast and straight, which is what Shanahan wants. It helps that he bounces off tackles in the process. But above all, Mitchell has been reliable.

If the Rams win it’ll be because ____

TST:

If the Rams win it’ll be because they didn’t get beaten by Deebo Samuel and George Kittle and Elijah Mitchell. You can’t contain all 3. You would be lucky to contain 2. The Rams will win if they contain 2 of those guys. Could understand Kittle or Deebo eating their lunch and dinner but the Rams will be best served to not get buried by all 3.

To cap it off, if the 49erse win it’ll be because ____

NN:

it’ll be because the Rams couldn’t block them, Stafford regressed and turned the ball over, and McVay crumbles in a big spot after not having the benefit of coaching with a big lead. I can’t wait. I want to see how aggressive each team is.