49ers vs. Rams Preview and Prediction: Run game will dictate winner

The Rams and 49ers are familiar foes on the third leg of their trilogy -- we preview the NFC Championship Game and make a prediction.

The Los Angeles Rams caused this matchup against the San Francisco 49ers. In Week 18, they allowed the 49ers to claw themselves back from a 17-point deficit. If the Rams had taken care of business, the 49ers would have missed the playoffs entirely. Now, they’re a game away from playing in Super Bowl. Sean McVay hasn’t beaten Kyle Shanahan since 2018. Can the Rams buck that trend in their most significant game against their divisional rival since the 1989 Conference Championship? We break down their chances in this 49ers vs. Rams preview, take a look at the NFL odds, and make a prediction.

49ers vs. Rams preview

Shanahan seems to have his former coaching mate’s number. He’s won six straight against McVay, who coached with him under Mike Shanahan in Washington. The Rams’ offense is high-powered, and the 49ers will most likely need to play some keep-up offensively to remain in this game.

However, it will be their defense that keeps Matthew Stafford and the Rams’ offense from running away and hiding. If you’ve ever seen Stafford run, you can tell he’s not a big fan. What we’ve seen from the Niners’ defense, especially in the past three weeks, is their ability to adjust when things aren’t going well.

DeMeco Ryans matches a great scheme with a talented roster

There has been chatter all season about the lack of talent on the 49ers’ roster at the cornerback position, but it hasn’t seemed to matter in the playoffs against two high-powered offenses in the Cowboys and Packers. The Green Bay game was played in inclement weather, but with the way the Packers moved the ball on the first drive, it didn’t appear that the conditions mattered too much.

The 49ers win defensively because they have a talented and deep rotation on the defensive line, a mutant linebacker who can do anything in coverage and versus the run, and two versatile safeties.

Like many modern defensive coordinators, Demeco Ryans likes to base most of what he does out of a two-high shell. The 49ers spun to a lot of Cover 3 from that two-high look against the Rams, but they will also mix in a lot of Quarters as well. They don’t run much man coverage by design, but they do a great job of making zone coverage look like man with the way they react to motion.

Frankly, Ryans does a great job answering almost any question an offense asks of him. It’s a whole lot easier when he has bodies like Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead, and D.J. Jones dominating the line of scrimmage against the run while still being able to get after it on passing downs. They get creative in their line games as well, particularly on third down when they’re able to pin their ears back.

The Rams’ offensive line must perform better than Week 18

There was no semblance of an LA rushing attack in their second meeting of the season. The Rams’ offensive line struggled to gain any ground against the 49ers’ front four. It didn’t matter how many blockers the Rams used, the 49ers’ group was first in class.

Los Angeles consistently failed to generate a push no matter what formation or personnel grouping they tried using. They tried using heavy personnel groupings with an extra lineman on the field multiple times. Still, Sony Michel could only muster 2 yards per carry on his 21 touches.

They didn’t generate much more push against the Buccaneers, either. Cam Akers has taken over the reins as the feature back in LA, but he could only generate 2 yards per carry on 24 attempts. Although Tampa Bay’s defensive front is also stout, they don’t have the pass-rushing upside that San Francisco’s line does.

That’s where the 49ers’ true defensive genius lies. Being almost impossible to run against, so teams get caught behind the chains where they’re forced to throw. That’s when the 49ers’ defense goes from dangerous to terrifying.

49ers’ run game must work to win

They simply can’t rely on Jimmy Garoppolo in the dropback passing game. It’s not totally his fault per se, given his injuries. He has a torn ligament in his throwing hand, and he’s playing through a strained shoulder on top of that. He actively tried bringing the Cowboys back into the game on Wild Card Weekend, and the 49ers’ offense was nonexistent against the Packers.

San Francisco’s offensive line is as much of a strength as their skill-position players. Trent Williams is the best left tackle in football, and every other spot aside from Tom Compton at right tackle is filled by a plus player. In their last game, the 49ers rushed for 135 yards, and both Elijah Mitchell and Deebo Samuel rushed for over 4 yards a pop.

It won’t be easy. Aaron Donald understandably gets most of the hype when it comes to the Rams’ front seven, but I’ll take every opportunity to sing the praises of Greg Gaines. He’s a presence in the middle that makes everything difficult for the offensive interior and allows the linebackers to run free.

But with the motion and misdirection the Niners employ in their rushing attack, that’s easier said than done.

49ers vs. Rams Prediction

  • Spread: Rams -3.5 (Odds courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook)
  • Moneyline: Rams -180, 49ers +155
  • Total: 45.5

The Rams went all-in at the trade deadline by acquiring Von Miller from Denver and signing Odell Beckham Jr. after losing Robert Woods for the season. They traded draft capital to upgrade to an older top overall pick at quarterback in Stafford. Les Snead is not messing around.

So, it wouldn’t look great if Shanahan can lead a comparable roster with a markedly less talented signal-caller to the promised land. After six straight losses, maybe the Rams are due. Maybe Stafford has the talent to overcome a nonexistent run game.

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But it won’t be easy to follow up what the Buccaneers did and make the Super Bowl a home game.

Garoppolo isn’t Eli Manning, but this 49ers team feels like an evolved version of those two Giants teams that were destined for greatness their regular season deemed they didn’t deserve.

49ers vs. Rams Prediction: 49ers 27, Rams 24

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