49ers should feel good about playing Rams in NFC Championship

San Francisco 49ers middle linebacker Fred Warner (54) and outside linebacker Dre Greenlaw (57) celebrate after a incomplete pass to Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp (10) Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
San Francisco 49ers middle linebacker Fred Warner (54) and outside linebacker Dre Greenlaw (57) celebrate after a incomplete pass to Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp (10) Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports /

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

The 49ers should be delighted to play the Rams in the NFC Championship. The game will be won in the trenches, which favors the Niners.

What more can the San Francisco 49ers learn about the Los Angeles Rams that they don’t already know leading up to  Sunday’s NFC Championship game? With a six-game winning streak against their NFC West rival and a Super Bowl trip on the line, maybe the answer is irrelevant. It is not on the Niners to change strategy, that is on the Rams.

Even so, both teams should be relieved playing such a familiar opponent instead of game-planning against a new one.

Yes, the 49ers are a smash-mouth running team who lets their defensive front four wreak havoc on the opposing quarterback.

On the other side, the Rams want to give quarterback Matthew Stafford time in the pocket to air out the football. Defensively, the Niners allow their playmakers the ability to make game-changing plays to get the offense back on the field. Their offense is dangerous once they get in a rhythm.

But this San Francisco team is beaming with confidence heading into this matchup, after knocking off the No. 1-seeded Green Bay Packers in last week’s divisional-round snowstorm.

That contest was one where you sit back and think, “maybe this is the year” for the Niners. In a defensive battle, the 49ers proved they could beat anyone, anywhere, anytime. What was so encouraging was the number of players who contributed to the win. The special teams kept them in the game, but the defense won the game.

The Niners are playing like a united, confident group ready to take on all-comers and see where they end up. If they continue their domination over Los Angeles, they will find themselves in another Super Bowl.

The game plan laid out by head coach Kyle Shanahan should remain the same as it has been in the first two matchups. Run the ball, force Stafford to throw before he is ready, and continue to use wide receiver Deebo Samuel as the ultimate weapon on offense.

Deebo Samuel has been the difference for 49ers

With their backs against the wall, the 49ers turned their season around in a convincing 31-10 win against their LA rivals in Week 10.

The Week 18 game was a nail-biter, as the Niners fell behind 17-3 at the half before rallying to a 27-24 overtime victory. The key to both victories was the utilization of Samuel by Shanahan.

In both meetings, Samuel combined for 273 total yards and four touchdowns, one coming by way as a passer. He has clearly been the best player on the field, which is saying a lot, with the Rams possessing two of the best players in the league in defensive tackle Aaron Donald and cornerback Jalen Ramsey.

Shanahan has unlocked all of the talents of Samuel, and no NFL team has been able to slow him down this season when he is healthy.

Expect the same helping of Samuel in the game on Sunday.

49ers have success against quarterbacks like Matthew Stafford

Most teams find out early on, they will have more success passing the ball than running against San Francisco. What most teams learn is the 49ers want you to think that. Since the revamping of the secondary late in the year, the Niners are a much more complete defense with fewer holes.

Stafford has looked ordinary in the two games versus San Francisco, throwing four interceptions and taking seven sacks. Stafford, like several other pocket-passing quarterbacks, is prone to make mistakes if forced out of the pocket or made to rush throws.

The Rams offense has big-play ability but needs time to allow the receivers to get downfield and use double-moves to get open. The 49ers want to hit Stafford early in the game and make him think twice about making those deep throws.

Wide receiver Cooper Kupp is the favorite target of Stafford and has been unstoppable this year against everyone. Look for the 49ers to implement a strategy, one similar to last week against Packers wideout Davante Adams, where the Niners roll a safety over the top in disguise coverage to make Stafford look elsewhere, instead of giving up big home-run plays.

Defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans will have the defense prepared to take away Stafford’s strengths and make him uncomfortable in the pocket.

Read more: 49ers history versus Rams, their 2022 NFC Championship opponent

The 49ers are used to sticking with the run game, even when the defense stacks the box and tries to persuade them to pass. Shanahan has a feel for this offense and believes in the identity of his team. Shanahan knows at this point, it is wise to heap praise on his players and show publicly his regard for them, even quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.

Garoppolo has thrown poor interceptions in each playoff game this year but has also shown the determination and leadership needed to take this team to the Super Bowl. Whatever happens in this game, Jimmy G is beloved by his teammates and they want to win for him. The criticism Garoppolo has endured never entered the 49er locker room, and the belief in him never wavered.

The unity of this team is a testament to Shanahan and his staff. Come Sunday, the team will look to advance to the Super Bowl for the second time in three years. The 49ers have unfinished business and they are starting to feel how close they are.

Only the Rams stand in their way from a return trip. For the Niners, that is quite alright.

Next. 10 most painful playoff losses in 49ers franchise history. dark