What is the ‘1 Mismatch’ Working in the 49ers’ Favor vs. Rams?

Samson Ebukam

Getty Samson Ebukam (middle) lifts the Vikings' Tyler Conklin while Jaquiski Tartt (No. 3) and Emmanuel Moseley close in for the 49ers during their November 28, 2021 home win.

Can the San Francisco 49ers continue to put the Los Angeles Rams at a disadvantage on Sunday, January 30 as both teams pursue a trip to the Super Bowl?

Here’s what the 49ers already have going for them: The influx of fans expected to help fill the “Rams House,” how red-hot the 49ers have been since their 31-10 thrashing of their NFC championship game opponent back on November 15 and finally, the fact that the ‘Niners have dominated this series with six straight wins over the Rams.

But that’s not the only trio working in the 49ers’ favor. According to one NFL analytics expert, the 49ers have “one mismatch” that works in their favor against the NFC West champions.

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Bringing This Type of Pressure

Cynthia Frelund, who handles NFL data science and analytics for the NFL Network, wrote what her “Championship Sunday Mismatches” are on Wednesday, January 26.

Frelund is a believer that the 49ers’ defensive pressure puts them at a significant advantage over the Rams. However, it’s this kind of pressure from defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans and company that gives the ‘Niners their “one mismatch:” Generating effective pressure without blitzing.

Here are two key analytical stats Frelund came up with in looking at the 49ers’ next opposing quarterback Matthew Stafford in games against the 49ers:

When Stafford faces a blitz: 158.1 passer rating, 2 touchdown passes, no interceptions, 88.9 completion percentage, 20% pressure rate.

When not facing a blitz: 61.3 passer rating, 2 touchdowns, 4 picks, 60.9 completion percentage, 31.4% pressure rate.

One would think that when it comes to drop step quarterbacks with little mobility, an aggressive defense like the one Ryans has in S.F. would dial the blitz and send the likes of Fred Warner, Dre Greenlaw, Jimmie Ward, etc.

Except, if you go back to the Week 18 comeback win the 49ers snatched in their last trip to SoFi Stadium, the 49ers got 4.5 of their five sacks off of defensive line pressure. Only Warner was the lone non-defensive lineman to swoop up Stafford for the quarterback loss.

The 49ers are at their best when they bring four on passing downs. And Frelund herself is a believer in this philosophy. She adds:

“The ‘Niners lead the NFL in 2021 with a 30.5 percent pressure rate when rushing four or fewer (including playoffs). With Los Angeles’ O-line banged up, the Niners’ ability to keep pressuring Stafford through all four quarters will shape this game — especially because of the Niners’ complementary ability to execute quick, effective passes on offense that exploit physical mismatches at the linebacker and safety level.”

One Defender Has Risen His Game a Notch

Anyone who has followed the 49er trenches already knows who the leading sack master is: Nick Bosa.

Bosa, even with 15.5 sacks during the regular season plus 2.5 added during the playoffs, has gotten help, though. And it’s come from a Swiss Army-knife type in the trenches: Arik Armstead.

Armstead joined Bosa as the two 49ers who snatched Aaron Rodgers for two sacks in the 13-10 road upset of the NFC’s top seed the Green Bay Packers on Saturday, January 22.

Here’s one example captured by David Lombardi of The Athletic of the impact of the 6-foot-7, 290-pounder. During this sequence, the 49ers rush four on Stafford but the Rams focus on the best pass rusher on the field in Bosa. Armstead, however, is aligned at defensive end after sliding over from the “B” gap defensive tackle spot. Armstead draws the solo blocking matchup, then finishes with the loss of yards.

Going back to the G.B. contest, this scenario highlighted by Lombardi shows the 49ers lining up six across the line of scrimmage. The 49ers do send the safety Ward on the blitz, but it’s Armstead who makes this sack happen by slipping past his block and getting Rodgers in, what Lombardi said, was in less than three seconds.

One ‘Key’ & Other Options

The 49ers front line is more than Armstead and Bosa. They have an additional key — Arden Key.

Despite standing at 6-foot-5, 240-pounds and looking nothing like a defensive tackle, the 49ers still plug Key inside…and his speed has proven to be too much for guards:

Meanwhile, Samson Ebukam has shown his own hustle and impact, especially in the last playoff win.

Outside of the three, the 49ers got the pressure/sacks combo from Kevin Givens, Charles Omenihu and D.J. Jones in the wildcard win over the Dallas Cowboys.

The 49ers are bringing the pressure to Inglewood — which is the belief that’s their “one mismatch” for Sunday.

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