49ers must be better vs. Rams WR Cooper Kupp in NFC Championship

Cooper Kupp #10 of the Los Angeles Rams against the San Francisco 49ersat SoFi Stadium on January 09, 2022 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Cooper Kupp #10 of the Los Angeles Rams against the San Francisco 49ersat SoFi Stadium on January 09, 2022 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /

2-0. Fox. Sunday, Jan. 30. 51. Rams -3.5. 6:40 p.m. ET. 2-0. 42

Despite an earlier history of shutting down Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp, the 49ers have had difficulties with him as of late that must halt on Sunday.

The San Francisco 49ers did a relatively good job bottling up Green Bay Packers All-Pro wide receiver Davante Adams in their divisional win at Lambeau Field last weekend, holding him to nine catches for 90 yards and out of the end zone.

That win advances the Niners to the NFC Championship game where they’ll face off against a familiar opponent, the Los Angeles Rams, whom they’ve beaten both times this season and six times in a row.

Yet the Rams boast a deeper wide receiver room than Green Bay, and they arguably have just as potent a wideout in their own first-team All-Pro wideout, Cooper Kupp, who led the entire NFL during the regular season with 145 catches, 1,947 yards and 16 receiving touchdowns.

Unlike the situation against the Packers, who had second-tier receivers like Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Allen Lazard, LA has the benefit of a well-known No. 2 wideout who has come on down the stretch as a bona fide weapon, Odell Beckham Jr.

This tandem will put a strain on San Francisco’s defense for this round of the NFL playoffs, no doubt.

But it’s Kupp upon whom the 49ers need to shift their focus.

49ers can’t let Rams WR Cooper Kupp beat them in NFC Championship

Kupp, a Round 3 NFL Draft pick by Los Angeles out of Eastern Washington way back in 2017, got off to a slow start against his NFC West rivals, and over his first five games versus the Niners, he never crested 50 yards receiving.

That history completely turned around in 2021, though, as Kupp emerged as quarterback Matthew Stafford’s preferred target through the air.

And while San Francisco managed victories in both of its games against the Rams during the regular season, Kupp’s numbers fell right in line with the the eye-popping stats he put up over the course of 2021:

  • Week 10: 11 catches, 122 yards, 0 TDs
  • Week 18: 7 catches, 118 yards, 1 TD

There’s no reason to suspect anything else than Stafford targeting Kupp as much as possible during the NFC Championship, meaning the 49ers will again have to pay him extra attention without completely ignoring Beckham.

How 49ers can effectively defend Cooper Kupp

Late in the divisional round against Green Bay, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers did the Niners a favor by trying to force a deep pass into Adams despite having wide-open options underneath that would have generated a first down.

Doubling, even tripling the coverage on Adams was a smart move in that case, but it won’t be quite as easy against Kupp, who has the receiving prowess of Beckham alongside him.

Read More: 3 ways 49ers were able to contain Aaron Rodgers, Packers

Triple coverage isn’t going to be an option for San Francisco here, but the Rams still love lining Kupp out of the slot, meaning the 49ers can deploy linebackers closer to him than if he’d be lining up outside.

A quick chip or bump within 5 yards from the line of scrimmage will help, but the idea will have to be providing some over-the-top help, particularly in the middle of the field where the Week 18 Next Gen Stats chart shows how he lined up on all of his catches:

Big-nickel formations, ones frequently using a third safety, might have to be in play a bit more here to provide top coverage, while the Niners’ cornerbacks look to defend underneath.

This might limit San Francisco’s ability to stop run plays if they hit the second level, and it also opens up the opportunities for Los Angeles to involve Beckham and tight end Tyler Higbee a bit more effectively.

But Kupp is the player the 49ers have to worry about the most here. If the Niners slow him down and prevent him from taking over the game, much like they did with Adams a week ago, they’ll stand an excellent chance of advancing to the Super Bowl.

San Francisco and Los Angeles kick off the NFC Championship on Sunday, Jan. 30 at 6:40 p.m. ET from SoFI Stadium.

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