Nick Bosa screamed around the edge, and Aaron Rodgers had hardly any chance to get a pass off.
The San Francisco 49ers, whose Super Bowl odds are +450, had given up a long pass from Rodgers to Aaron Jones the play earlier. Less than 30 seconds before halftime and 14 yards away from the end zone, the Green Bay Packers were aiming to go into intermission with a two-possession advantage.
Instead, Bosa scooted right past Packers right tackle Dennis Kelly. As Rodgers gathered himself to throw, the 49ers defensive end poked the ball loose. The Packers recovered but didn’t have enough time for another shot at a touchdown.
Their ensuing field goal attempt was blocked. The 49ers remained in reach.
The 49ers’ pass rush is graded in the top three in the NFL by Pro Football Focus. The Los Angeles Rams, whom the 49ers face-off against in Sunday’s NFC Championship, is No. 1. The contest will be a battle up front, and it may be decided by who can best neutralize those strengths.
“We’ve gotten stronger as the year has gone,” 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan said. “I thought we did a hell of a job versus them last game, which was huge for us, especially in that second half. Their past rush, it’s as good as it gets also.
“… Usually the teams at this point in the year all have good pass rushes. I think it’s pretty hard to get to this point when you don’t have one. But I think we’re two of the top.”
Aaron Donald, Nick Bosa lead defenses
The efficiency of both teams goes beyond their pressure. The Rams have the best run defense, according to PFF, while the 49ers are sixth. San Francisco and Los Angeles are ninth and 10th, respectively, in tackling.
On offense, the Rams are superior in pass blocking and 12th in run blocking. The 49ers have the No. 1 spot in run blocking and are seventh in pass blocking.
“They’re really well-coached you can see,” Rams head coach Sean McVay said. “… They’ve got great players, they’ve got a great scheme, they’re really sound and they play with a relentless, fanatical effort every single snap. And you can see there’s a real commitment to a philosophy, and you earn every yard you get against them.”
Both sides have premier players in the trenches. Among interior defensive linemen, the two teams have two players rated by PFF in the top 25, with LA’s Aaron Donald at No. 1. Among edge players, the Rams’ Von Miller is No. 4, and Bosa is fifth.
San Francisco quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo said he constantly needs to be aware of where Donald is before the snap.
“It all starts with [Donald] who is just a generational talent,” Shanahan said. “Then you add in all the guys around him and some pretty good coverages with it.”
really nice job by LT Joe Noteboom here on the Rams Jet Sweep.
Manages to get around JPP aligned outside and flip his hips. Huge key block to get the whole play going. pic.twitter.com/sVjHdHXuCJ
— Nate Tice (@Nate_Tice) January 26, 2022
On offense, Rams left tackle Andrew Whitworth is PFF’s top pass blocker among offensive linemen, while 49ers left tackle Trent Williams is the best run blocker and 11th-best pass blocker.
Both, though, have missed time lately. Williams was sidelined in Week 18, and Whitworth didn’t play a week ago due to injuries. However, the 49ers turned to Colton McKivitz in that regular-season finale and defeated the Rams in overtime. A week ago, Joe Noteboom stepped in and helped the Rams defeat the Packers in the Divisional Round.
Both Whitworth and Williams appear on track to play this week. But this all signifies both teams have impressive depth.
“They have a very physical front, very physical team, everybody out there from tight end, fullback, quarterback, offensive line, even the receivers,” Miller said. “They’re just a tough, physical team.”
watch #15 Jauan Jennings driving on his block pic.twitter.com/ScegLGSlxZ
— Nate Tice (@Nate_Tice) January 27, 2022
Divisional rivals match up again
The two head coaches know each other well apart from these matchups. They coached together earlier in their careers.
Shanahan has had the upper hand as of late. The 49ers exploited the Rams’ weaknesses in their two matchups in the regular season. The 49ers ran the ball more effectively, averaging 4.4 yards per carry to the Rams’ 2.4 in their last clash.
Shanahan doing this to 51 is just cruel. pic.twitter.com/Ts48XVZzVf
— Robert Mays (@robertmays) January 27, 2022
The 49ers also successfully delivered the ball to their skill players quickly. Garoppolo averaged only 2.41 seconds before he threw and ended up with 316 yards. Of his 35 dropbacks, the Rams hurried him seven times and sacked him three times.
On the other side, Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford threw in 2.85 seconds but was sacked seven times and hurried on 16 of his 37 dropbacks.
The Rams are determined to change the outcome this time, while the 49ers desire to repeat it.
“If we can go out there and play our brand of football, I like our opportunity,” Miller said. “I like our chances.”