After possibly the best football weekend of all-time, we now have our Conference Championship matchups set: Bengals at Chiefs in the AFC and 49ers at Rams in the NFC. Both are matchups we’ve already seen this season, with the Rams vs 49ers matchup being played out twice this season. Here, we’ll be focusing on the 49ers vs Rams game, specifically looking at their last six matchups over the last three seasons to try to draw insights for this upcoming game.
As divisional opponents, the 49ers and Rams face off twice each season. Over the last three seasons, the 49ers have won all six of those matchups. Prior to that, Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan had faced off four times in their two years since taking over as Head Coaches of the Rams and 49ers respectively, with McVay’s Rams being 3-1 in that span. Whatever adjustment Shanahan made after that point clearly made a difference in the matchup, so we are taking a look at the game plan they’ve used in those six games and what specifically has helped them to have success.
One big key for the 49ers is their ability to keep possession of the ball. This success is twofold: it means they are moving the ball well and putting up points as a result, but also that the Rams’ offense doesn’t have the ball as a result. The 49ers have possessed the ball for 214:16 out of the 368:08 of gametime in this span, good for 58.2% or the equivalent of 34:55 in a regulation game. Within this, they won the time of possession battle in five out of the six games.
The 49ers have been able to build this consistent possession advantage, in large part, because of superior third down conversion ability, converting 45.1% of their own 3rd downs and holding the Rams to a 35.1% conversion rate. Over those six games, that corresponded to 11 more conversions on eight more attempts and really helped them extend drives and hold onto the ball.
The last reason is one that has been somewhat misinterpreted over time. The 49ers have averaged 34.8 rush attempts per game in this span as opposed to 21.7 for the Rams. The reason this has been misinterpreted is that the first half differential is just 14.2 to 13 for the 49ers and Rams respectively. When the 49ers can build up leads as they have successfully built up first half leads in four of the six games, allowing them to run much more in the second half. Their success running the ball in those situations has been key to winning, as it has meant they have been able to successfully maintain leads and often extend them. Importantly though, this does not mean that the 49ers should simply run the ball heavily to try to win, as that has not been what’s brought them success, as their first half pass rate has been 53% versus 44.6% in the second half. As Joe Banner always likes to say, pass early to get the lead and then run more as the game progresses while you’re in the lead.
Some Key Player (and a Couple Team) Stats to Know from This Span
- Deebo Samuel has 440 receiving yards (394 YAC) with 2 receiving TDs as well as 104 rush yards and 3 rush TD
- George Kittle has 351 receiving yards and 3 TDs
- Elijah Mitchell had 51 carries for 183 yards in their two games this season
- Jimmy G has 5 INTs in the five games he’s played out of the six (9 TWP)
- Stafford threw 5 INTs in this season’s two matchups
- Cooper Kupp caught 31 passes for 340 yards and 2 TDs
- Tyler Higbee caught 25 passes for 260 yards and 3 TDs
- The 49ers had 13 sacks in those six games
- The Rams had 14 sacks, with Aaron Donald having 4.5 of them himself