Rams pass offense vs. 49ers pass defense
Quarterback Matthew Stafford has not had a pass intercepted in two playoff games — a streak the Rams need to continue against a defense that forced four turnovers by Stafford during the season. Receivers Cooper Kupp, Odell Beckham Jr., Van Jefferson and tight end Tyler Higbee are Stafford’s main targets, but running back Cam Akers also is a threat. The 49ers secondary includes cornerbacks Emmanuel Moseley and Ambry Thomas and safeties Jaquiski Tartt and Jimmie Ward, who came up big last week in Green Bay and returned an interception for a score against the Rams during the regular season. The 49ers pass rush, led by ends Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead, produced five sacks in each of the last three games, including a 27-24 overtime defeat of the Rams. Protection will be a key.
Rams run offense vs. 49ers run defense
Running back Sony Michel’s role has diminished since Akers’ return from an Achilles injury. Akers got 24 carries and lost two fumbles in last week’s victory over Tampa Bay. Michel, who fumbled only once in 229 touches this season, got one carry. Coach Sean McVay has said he plans to use Michel more against the 49ers. Left tackle Andrew Whitworth will return from an ankle injury, but Joe Noteboom, who has lined up as an extra tight end in heavy formations, is questionable because of a chest injury. Tackles Kentavius Street and D.J. Jones, and linebackers Fred Warner, Dre Geenlaw and Azeez Al-Shaair anchor the 49ers' stout run defense.
49ers pass offense vs. Rams pass defense
Jimmy Garoppolo has enjoyed success against the Rams, largely because the 49ers rushing attack rarely left him in difficult circumstances. But Garoppolo also has come through in third-and-long situations. Deebo Samuel has been tough on the Rams as a receiver, running back and, in the season finale, as a passer. Samuel and tight end George Kittle are threats wherever they line up. Aaron Donald and linebackers Von Miller and Leonard Floyd lead an increasingly formidable pass rush that could give the Rams the edge, especially with 49ers left tackle Trent Williams hobbled by an ankle injury that kept him out of practice all week. Jalen Ramsey anchors a secondary that could welcome the return of safety Taylor Rapp (concussion).
49ers run offense vs. Rams run defense
The 49ers have demonstrated absolutely no fear of running right at the Rams. Remember that 18-play drive on their first possession of a November victory at Levi’s Stadium? Elijah Mitchell rushed for 91 yards in 27 carries in that game, and 85 yards in 21 carries in the season finale. Samuel is a major threat out of the backfield or on fly sweeps. He had a season-high 10 carries in each of the 49ers' playoff victories. Fullback Kyle Juszczyk also is a threat. Donald and tackles A’Shawn Robinson and Greg Gaines must clog the middle, with linebackers Troy Reeder and Travin Howard filling gaps.
Both teams’ kickers — the Rams’ Matt Gay and the 49ers’ Robbie Gould — made game-winning field goals in divisional-round victories. Gould has made all 20 career postseason field-goal attempts. Rams punter Johnny Hekker appears to have regained his All-Pro form. Mitch Wishnowsky punts for the 49ers. Kick returner Brandon Powell has sparked the Rams. The 49ers blocked a field-goal attempt and scored on a blocked punt against the Packers.
McVay and Kyle Shanahan coached together as assistants in Washington, and both have led their teams to Super Bowls as coaches. Both are elite strategists and play-callers with staffs of talented assistants on track to become future coaches. It’s not a stretch to say they are dead even — unless they are coaching against each other. Shanahan has not lost to McVay since 2018. That narrative finally could change in this game. But until then ...
Gary Klein's pick
The Rams shook off their season-ending defeat by the 49ers and then dispatched the Arizona Cardinals and survived four lost fumbles against Tom Brady and the Buccaneers. And now they get to play at home. Stafford has been efficient in the playoffs and the pass rush led by Donald is heating up. Garoppolo, Samuel and the rest of the 49ers showed grit in victories over the Dallas Cowboys and the Packers. But key players also absorbed a pounding. Despite the 49ers' apparent edge, the Rams' collection of star players will be too much to overcome with a home Super Bowl on the line.
RAMS 30, 49ERS 23
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.