We offer the arguments for and against why San Francisco can reach the final stage of the campaign, or fall by the wayside, in the NFC Championship Game
For the second time in the last three seasons, the San Francisco 49ers are in the NFC Championship Game. They will travel –within the same California stadium– south to meet at the luxurious sofi stadium of Inglewood with Los Angeles Rams for the right to dispute, in the same property, the Super Bowl LVI.
This is a remarkable achievement for the Ninersafter a streak of five losses in six games during the first half of the regular season seemed to have them far from contenders.
Throughout the campaign, they beat the ramsfirst 31-10 in Week 10 –in fact, the game that brought them out of the losing streak–, and then in Week 18, 27-24 in overtime, in a game that San Francisco I needed to win, yes or yes, to get into the postseason. In fact, the 49ers string six consecutive victories over the ramstwo per year in 2019, 2020 and 2021.
That does not mean that we should write down the game that awaits us on Sunday, at 5:30 p.m. Central Mexico time, as an automatic victory for the Niners. Here are the five reasons why San Francisco will again surpass The Angelsfollowed by the five reasons why Niners will fall, this time, before the rams…because it’s always fun to present both sides of the argument.
Five reasons the 49ers will advance to Super Bowl LVI
1. Defensive line. It took the unit a full season to recover from the departure of DeForest Buckner, and the injury loss of Javon Kinlaw didn’t help, but somehow the Niners’ current group of defensive linemen has returned to the level shown on the most recent trip. to the Super Bowl, that is, dominance. The 49ers finished the season with 48 sacks, tied for fifth-best in the NFL, and as a team, they also ranked fifth in the wins-against-blocks metric on passing plays leading ESPN, with 45.9 percent. Against run blocks they did even better, placing third with a 33.2 percent win rate. The unit led by Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead has the potential to create much, much chaos.
2. Ground game. No NFL team better employs the committee backfield concept than the Niners. Elijah Mitchell was an absolute revelation in his rookie season, and he currently leads all players in rushing yards so far in the playoffs. The system takes full advantage of good offensive line mobility, coupled with the best blocking tight end in the league, and a wide receiver group that truly sacrifices downfield when it comes to blocking. All that without forgetting the key role of fullback Kyle Juszczyk, of course, the offensive Swiss Army knife we mention two paragraphs below.
3.George Kittle. Did we mention that Kittle is the best blocking tight end in the entire league? Well, let’s delete the blocker. Kittle is the best tight end in the league in 2022, overall. It doesn’t matter if he’s offering a point block to the running back behind, or he’s roasting safeties and linebackers at will in the passing game, engage Kittle early and often in the game. He should have several favorable matchups against a Rams defense decimated at safety.
4. Deebo Samuel. Speaking of favorable matchups, I don’t know if there’s an antidote in the NFL for what Samuel can bring. The wide receiver’s versatility to contribute from a multitude of positions in the formation, coupled with his effectiveness at catching the ball, running after the catch, or carrying the ball from the backfield, has him in a special category.
5. Offensive scheme. 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan dominates the facet of the game that has to do with creating opportunities for his players through scheme. This means, he finds the way through formations and moves in the formation prior to the cross, and through route combinations after the cross, to open up gaps between pass coverage for passing goals, or open up lanes for the ground game. In other words, play design is his thing. In a game that is expected to be open from an offensive point of view, seeing Shanahan’s work displayed on the field with the movements of the players is a delight.
Five Reasons the 49ers Won’t Advance to Super Bowl LVI
1. Injuries. Trent Williams is the best offensive tackle in the NFL, but his role is in doubt for Sunday. Deebo Samuel was a hero in the Divisional Round, but he finished the game leaving the game limping after a key first-down conversion. There, they are two of the three most important players for San Francisco’s offense. Of lesser weight is the injury to running back Jeff Wilson Jr., but you don’t want to jump onto the field without adequate depth. The Niners have already dealt with postseason injuries to the likes of Nick Bosa and Fred Warner, admirably, but if Williams doesn’t play, the offensive performance will be severely hampered.
2. Game administration. Head coach Kyle Shanahan has many qualities. Managing a football game when he’s ahead and needs to team up with the clock isn’t one of them. The Niners blew a double-digit lead against the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV, and during Super Bowl LI, the Atlanta Falcons’ offense — led by Shanahan — ran dry after going up 28- 3, leading to the biggest collapse in Super Bowl history. As if that were not enough, San Francisco already threatened to let the Wild Card Round game slip against the Dallas Cowboys in the current postseason.
3. Jimmy Garoppolo. Sure, Garoppolo has two wins as the starting quarterback leading the Niners in the current postseason, but there’s little to brag about with his numbers. They have been 27 of 44 passing attempts for 303 yards with no touchdown passes and two interceptions. He allowed four sacks against the Green Bay Packers in the Divisional Round. His combined Total QBR is 40.0, on a 0-100 scale, and his 61.4 percent completion rate places him far behind the other three quarterbacks still alive in the playoffs, as does his inaccurate passing rate of 20.9 percent. These numbers aside, perhaps the most worrying thing is that, in every game, the team is going to require certain players to pull the rabbit out of the hat in high-pressure situations, and no remaining quarterback possesses less magic than Garoppolo.
4. Secondary defense. Throughout the regular season, the Niners’ defense ranked 29th in the NFL in completion percentage allowed (68.3 percent), 26th in interceptions (nine), and above average in the league in yards per pass attempt (No. 17, 7.11 yards). Those are not exactly encouraging numbers when you consider that they will see the current holder of the ‘Triple-crown’ in NFL passing game, Cooper Kupp, on the other side of the field. Cornerback Ambry Thomas missed the game against the Packers, but everything points to him being able to return in time against the Angels.
5. Delivery margin. None of the four remaining teams has a worse turnover differential than the Niners, at -4. In fact, San Francisco is the only one with negative numbers. Throughout the regular season, there were 24 turnovers for 20 steals. So far in the postseason, they are 2-2, leaving the margin unchanged. The extra opportunities the defense gets for the offense are critical, particularly against high-octane offenses like the Rams, capable of scoring on almost any drive. The Niners are going to require extra possessions on Sunday, and I’m not sure the balance of offense and defense will deliver them.
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Five reasons the 49ers will advance, and five reasons they won’t, to Super Bowl LVI