After surviving the defending champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers 30-27 on Sunday, the Los Angeles Rams return home to clash against the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship.
Based on the numbers, it may seem like the odds are against the Rams but the team has been battling the odds all season. After tearing his Achilles before training camp, running back Cam Akers has recovered and returned to the field. Although wide receiver Robert Woods and running back Darrell Henderson Jr were sidelined with injuries, the Rams clinched the NFC West.
Los Angeles has a defense that is known to pressure quarterbacks out of the pocket. It also houses one of the best corners in the NFL in Jalen Ramsey. Trading for Super Bowl 50 champion Von Miller midseason has also boosted their defensive intensity.
On offense, the Rams possess wide receiver Cooper Kupp who became the fourth NFL player in history to lead the league in catches (145), receiving yards (1947), and touchdown receptions (16).
While the Rams have stellar assets, the Niners have won their past six games against them. The most previous loss on January 9 gave San Francisco their spot in the playoffs.
To punch their ticket to Super Bowl LVI, the Rams must not beat themselves. Los Angeles made costly mistakes in both their meetings with San Francisco this season. In their matchup in November, quarterback Matthew Stafford slung two interceptions, one resulting in a touchdown. In their January matchup, the Rams sat on a 17-3 lead in the third quarter, allowing the 49ers to get back into the game.
Los Angeles hit a similar lull during their game against the Buccaneers; the Rams had a substantial lead in the third phase before Tampa Bay rallied back, forcing overtime.
“In a lot of instances, when you’re up 27 to three mid way through the third, you’re thinking let’s try to keep the clock moving … but probably some stretches there where you get a little bit conservative,” said Rams head coach Sean McVay. “You want to be able to close people out.”
A solid weapon of the Niners is wide receiver Deebo Samuel who has already racked up 82 receiving yards and 111 rushing yards in this postseason. Injuries plagued the Rams rushers; that, along with the Niner’s defensive efforts possibly caused the Rams to only have 52 rushing yards in their first meeting this season and 64 rushing yards in their bout in January.
McVay noted the talent of the 49ers’ defense and acknowledged the efforts of their personnel and coaches.
“I think [49ers defensive line coach] Kris Kocurek does an outstanding job with those guys … they got speed on the second level,” McVay said. “All 11 tackles on this defense … they play with a relentless, fanatical effort every single snap.”
McVay also sung the praises of the Rams in their victory over the Buccaneers and how they remained focused even during the final minutes after the Rams committed four fumbles and Stafford was sacked twice.
“I never sensed any sort of panic,” McVay said. “To be able to turn it over four times, to do some of the uncharacteristic things that we did and still find a way shows that mental toughness, that resilience.”
To thwart the Niners, McVay wants to contain their ability to “create angles and leverage in the run game.”
“Making sure that we have some counters to that, being able to mix it up, keep them off-balance,” he said. “Because if you give them the same type of thing, they do an excellent job being able to exploit it.”
The L.A. Rams will face the San Francisco 49ers on January 30 at 3:30pm in Sofi Stadium.