The San Francisco 49ers are set to face the Los Angeles Rams Sunday in the NFC Championship Game.
The lone previous postseason matchup between the longtime NFC West rivals came in the NFC Championship game following the 1989 season, with the 49ers winning 30-3 on the way to their fourth Super Bowl title.
Thinking back to being in the Candlestick Park crowd that day, there are three plays that still stick out.
The first came on the Rams second possession of the game. Los Angeles had kicked a field goal on their opening drive and held a 3-0 lead when Flipper Anderson beat Daryl Pollard to get open deep down the right sideline. Out of nowhere came a blur of red to get a hand on the ball and force an incompletion. Ronnie Lott’s spectacular play kept the score from being 10-0 as the defense stood tall.
After being stopped on their opening possession, the 49ers offense turned the ball over on their second when tight end Brent Jones fumbled. From that point on, the San Francisco offense exploded for touchdowns on their next three possessions, including the second memorable play.
With time winding down in the half, San Francisco had the ball on the Rams 18. Joe Montana took the snap from center, located John Taylor on a slant to his left and drilled the throw to the wideout to beat tight coverage and send the 49ers into the locker room with a 21-3 lead.
One of the most defining moments of the 49ers defensive domination in the game came late in the fourth quarter. With the Rams facing third and ten at their own 22, Jim Everett dropped back to pass felt pressure coming from Charles Haley around the right side. The Los Angeles quarterback dropped to the ground, giving himself up. There was still over a quarter left in the game, but everyone watching knew the game was over.
On to this week’s mailbag:
Silence Dogood @SilenceCourant – Green Bay was so efficient on that first drive, then something changed. What happened for the 49ers to essentially stop them cold after that?
On the Packers second offensive possession, they moved the ball well until Aaron Rodgers threw a completion to tight end Marcedes Lewis who fumbled when he was hit by Fred Warner and the 49ers recovered.
After that point, Rodgers seemed determined to exclusively throw the ball to either Davante Adams or Aaron Jones.
San Francisco recognized this and began to double team Adams. Rodgers began to miss open receivers.
Here is one example from late in the fourth quarter after the 49ers had tied the game at 10. Rodgers has Allen Lazard open for a big gain over the middle but chooses to launch it deep to a well-covered Adams instead.
XrPatrick @xr_patrick – How are the Rams favored after losing to the 49ers six consecutive times?
The Rams are currently listed as 3.5-point favorites. Odds makers usually give the home team three points, so this shows how close they think this game will be. At 3.5, they are basically telling you it’s a pick ’em.
B Traven @ btraven12 – Should the 49ers be concerned with Trent Williams hobbled and Tom Compton struggling in pass protection against Green Bay? Now they must face Von Miller, who has found his stride.
This absolutely must be a concern for the 49ers. Rashan Gary gave Compton fits last week, and the Packers pass rush was able to sack Garoppolo four times on just 23 drop backs.
Do not forget San Francisco was without Williams for the season finale. Despite getting hit a number of times after Colton McKivitz lost in pass protection, Garoppolo was able to lead the offense down the field in the closing moments of the game to send it into overtime.
Williams being available would be the best option for San Francisco though.
SeanJay @DAOfficialJBird – How can the 49ers offense find George Kittle more open space? He has a lot more to give than the 2 receptions for 30 yards he averaged over the last five games.
This is part of what makes the 49ers offense so difficult to defend. Taking away a player like George Kittle opens space and opportunities for other playmakers such as Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, Jauan Jennings or Kyle Juszczyk.
The low totals in recent weeks also fall on Kittle as well. On the 49ers third possession Saturday night, the tight end broke wide open down the middle of the field for what should have been a 64-yard touchdown, but he dropped it.
To his credit, Kittle came back later with two big receptions to help the 49ers get the win.
Mike @ friscokid808 – Unlike Green Bay and Rodgers, Matthew Stafford will spread the ball around. Knowing this, how do you gameplan against Cooper Kupp and Odell Beckham Jr? Do you leave Beckham 1-on-1 and double Kupp, or it is a constant variety of coverages to confuse Stafford and hope the defensive line wreaks havoc?
I feel like you somewhat answered your own question here. Los Angeles does a much better job of spreading the ball around to its playmakers, so the 49ers can’t simply double Kupp all game long. Stafford and McVay will pick that apart.
For San Francisco to stop the Rams, the defensive line will need to win consistently and force Stafford to get the ball out earlier than he wants. That’s the biggest key for the 49ers on defense this week. Get after Stafford and keep it close. He’s shown that he will start to wilt under the weight of the game if you can do those two things.