Rams, 49ers Attack Each Other's Weaknesses

Deebo Samuel, San Francisco 49ers
Deebo Samuel, San Francisco 49ers
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

NFL Conference Championship - Kyle Shanahan owns Sean McVay. Perhaps you have heard. Since the two head coaches were hired in 2017, Shanahan's 49ers are 7-3 against McVay's Rams, both straight up and against the spread. They've done this despite being underdogs in eight of those 10 games. They've won the last six in a row against the Rams. Now on Sunday, Shanahan's 49ers will meet McVay's Rams in the postseason for the first time.

Back in Week 10, the 49ers demolished the Rams on Monday Night Football by a final score of 31-10. The score was closer in Week 18, when the 49ers had to win in order to make the playoffs. San Francisco pulled off a win in overtime, 27-24. According to DVOA, the game was not as close as the final score. The 49ers gained 6.7 yards per play compared to 4.1 yards per play for the Rams and ended with an 88% Post-Game Win Expectancy despite the need for overtime.

The 49ers really are built to attack the weaknesses of the Los Angeles Rams defense. It's a big reason they keep winning games against them. But there are ways in which the Rams are built to attack the weaknesses of the San Francisco 49ers defense as well. The Rams were still the better team during the regular season and they've been the better team in recent weeks, even accounting for their losses to the 49ers. Can they finally pull off a victory against their rivals from northern California? Or will the 49ers complete the three-game sweep?

For those curious, this is the fourth time where a team has swept a division opponent during the regular season but then gone into the playoff rematch as an underdog:

  • The Rams swept the Seahawks in 2004 but were +4 underdogs. They won outright.
  • The Titans swept the Jaguars in 1999 but were +7 underdogs. They won outright.
  • The Seahawks swept the Raiders in 1983 but were +7 underdogs. They lost, 30-14.

The Rams may have home-field advantage in this game, but it's probably not going to feel like home-field advantage. When the 49ers played in Los Angeles in Week 18, the stands felt very split between Rams and 49ers fans.

If you are unfamiliar with the Football Outsiders stats, they are explained at the bottom of the page. Scroll down or click this link. Game charting data appears courtesy Sports Info Solutions, unless noted. All stats represent regular season only, except for weighted DVOA and anything else specifically noted.

DVOA 19.5% (6) 21.6% (5)
WEI DVOA 25.7% (5) 32.4% (3)
49ers on Offense
DVOA 14.9% (5) -8.3% (5)
WEI DVOA 9.0% (8) -18.5% (3)
PASS 33.2% (5) -1.0% (6)
RUSH 6.6% (5) -18.0% (5)
Rams on Offense
DVOA -7.0% (7) 10.6% (8)
WEI DVOA -17.9% (4) 4.9% (12)
PASS 5.8% (16) 26.6% (7)
RUSH -24.8% (2) -3.8% (12)
Special Teams
DVOA -2.4% (26) 2.7% (4)

All readers can click here for the open in-game discussion thread.

If you have FO+, you can click here to see all the matchup of DVOA splits for this game.


49ers offense Rams defense

As you can see from the week-to-week graphics, the 49ers' offense has not been at its best in the postseason, but otherwise the passing game had picked up in the second half of the season. San Francisco's pass offense DVOA had gone from 24.8% DVOA in Weeks 1-9 (11th) to 42.5% DVOA in Weeks 10-18 (second). Meanwhile, the Rams' defense has been better in the second half of the year with two particularly strong games in the playoffs. But the Rams' two worst games in defensive DVOA since midseason happen to be the two games against San Francisco.

You probably know the conventional wisdom by now. The Rams defense plays a lot with two high safeties, giving up runs and throws underneath as a trade-off to prevent big pass plays downfield. This is true in some ways, not true in others. Given that conventional wisdom, you might be surprised at my first piece of advice for the 49ers offense: spread the Rams out.

The Rams are not known for the strength of their off-ball linebackers, so it will surprise you to learn that they were a significantly better defense when they had more linebackers and fewer defensive backs on the field. Overall, NFL offenses average 5.2 yards per play against base defense (four defensive backs), 5.7 yards against nickel, and 6.2 yards against dime. But when the Rams put their defense on the field, the gap between base defense and dime defense was 2.5 yards per play, not 1.0 yards. And in the two games against San Francisco, the differences were even more extreme.

Rams Defense by Personnel, 2021
  Regular Season Weeks 10 and 18 vs. SF
Personnel Freq Yd/Play Def
Freq Yd/Play Def
Base 19% 4.1 -28.7% 52% 3.6 -46.6%
Nickel 54% 5.1 -4.8% 29% 6.8 47.7%
Dime+ 27% 6.6 0.1% 19% 11.8 121.4%

Turn things around and look specifically at the 49ers offense against various defensive personnel groupings, and you'll find the same splits. The 49ers had positive DVOA against each defensive personnel grouping, but the difference between the 49ers and the league average was bigger against nickel than base and even larger when opponents were in dime.

49ers Offense by Def. Personnel, 2021
Personnel Freq Yd/Play Off
Base 50% 5.7 12.4%
Nickel 35% 6.6 26.4%
Dime+ 12% 7.9 59.0%

The 49ers uses more 21 personnel than any other offense in the league, but I really don't think that's the way to go to beat the Rams. You want to get into 11 personnel and then run from that. Yes, that probably means a lot of Deebo Samuel running the ball. Here are some more interesting numbers, now looking at it from the perspective of the 49ers' personnel groups. It's interesting to note that the 49ers gained more yards per play from 21 personnel both rushing and passing, but had higher DVOA from 11 personnel both rushing and passing because of the down-distance situations and which opponents were faced more often by each personnel group.

49ers Offense by Personnel, 2021
  All Plays Passes Runs
Pers Freq Yd/Play DVOA Freq Yd/Play DVOA Freq Yd/Play DVOA
11 48% 6.8 35.5% 62% 7.7 47.7% 31% 4.4 13.7%
21 36% 6.2 13.6% 29% 8.2 29.3% 44% 4.6 2.4%
12 9% 5.7 -9.0% 6% 8.9 -21.1% 13% 4.0 -3.0%

Theoretically, part of the idea here is to make the Rams bring more defensive backs on the field, which usually leads to fewer men in the box, which makes running the ball easier. And in fact, the Rams do use the league's lowest average number of men in the box according to SIS charting: 5.96 on average each play, compared to the NFL average of 6.48. This has nothing to do with facing specifically pass-oriented down-and-distances. Even on just first-and-10, the Rams used an average of 6.07 men in the box, once again the lowest in the NFL with a league average of 6.60.

But this actually might not be part of the reason why the 49ers have been successful against the Rams. While teams in general are better running against lighter boxes, the 49ers were not this year.

Running by Men in Box, 2021
  San Francisco NFL Average
Men in Box Runs Yd/At DVOA Yd/At DVOA
1-6 98 4.30 2.8% 4.75 -3.5%
7 228 4.36 -1.8% 4.21 -8.4%
8+ 141 4.50 22.4% 3.59 -8.5%

It's interesting to note that the down/play splits match for the 49ers offense and Rams defense. Both rank fifth in the league on first-down runs. Both the 49ers offense (third) and Rams defense (second) excel on second-down runs. And both the 49ers offense (23rd) and Rams defense (28th) are then much weaker on third-down runs.

As far as where the 49ers should run, adjusted line yards numbers suggest the 49ers are much better running to the left than the right. The Rams have much stronger run defense against wide runs than against inside runs: first against runs left end and second against runs right end but 20th against left tackle runs and 13th against middle runs.

But the 49ers did not beat the Rams twice this year by running all over them. Sure, they had 156 yards rushing in the first game in Week 10, but that was because they took a big early lead and then just ran clock through the second half. In Week 10, the 49ers had their best passing day of the year by DVOA, but their run offense DVOA was about their average for the year. Things were more balanced in the Week 18, with both run and pass DVOA beating San Francisco's averages for the season.

So let's talk about that passing game. This is where the San Francisco offense really attacks the weakness of the Rams defense. The Rams rank second in the NFL against deep passes (16 or more air yards) but 22nd against short passes including 29th against short middle passes. The issue here is catch rate, not YAC. The Rams allow a slightly above-average YAC on short middle passes (the Rams allow a slightly above-average YAC on pretty much all passes) but also allow an 83% catch rate on these passes, the highest in the league.

And San Francisco? The 49ers throw a league-high 28.4% of passes into the short middle and rank fourth in DVOA on those passes. San Francisco's numbers on short middle passes in the first two games: 18-of-21, 10.1 yards per pass, and a 62% success rate. They don't throw a lot of deep passes, where the Rams defense excels. In the two playoff games, Garoppolo has only thrown the ball over 15 air yards three times.

The strength of the 49ers' passing game is that the receivers break a lot of tackles and earn a lot of yards after the catch. Overall, San Francisco broke tackles on 11.7% of plays according to SIS, fourth in the league. Deebo Samuel led all wide receivers with 37 broken tackles or that George Kittle was second among tight ends with 20. The Rams are roughly average as a tackling defense. Their defenders with the most broken tackles are linebacker Troy Reeder (15), edge rusher Leonard Floyd (11), and safety Nick Scott (10 despite only 23 solo tackles during the regular season).

It won't shock you when I tell you that the cornerback coverage stats suggest to stay away from Jalen Ramsey and go after third cornerback David Long Jr. Ramsey allowed just 4.9 yards per pass this year, compared to 6.4 yards per pass for Darious Williams and 8.5 yards per pass for Long. Long is not necessarily in the slot when the Rams are in nickel or dime; in fact, Ramsey (who moves all around in the "Star" position) will play a lot of snaps in the slot. In the first two games, it looked like the 49ers tried to get Ramsey lined up on Samuel but it confuses things when Samuel moves into the backfield.

The Rams were about average in general against wide receivers this year, and 24th in DVOA against running backs in the passing game. But the Rams were also fourth covering tight ends. They held Kittle to just 10 yards on 5-of-7 passes in the Week 18 game. It was mostly zone coverage, with different defenders on each pass. The scheme shut down Kittle more than one specific defender.

The place where the Rams defense really has it over the 49ers is when it comes to the pass rush. By a number of metrics, the Rams' pass rush is outstanding and the 49ers' pass blocking is very pedestrian. For example, the Rams rank first in ESPN's pass block win rate, led by Aaron Donald who is on a different planet than other defensive tackles in ESPN's pass-rushing stats. The Rams are also third in pressure rate and eighth in adjusted sack rate. The 49ers rank 18th in pass block win rate, 13th in presssure rate, and 17th in adjusted sack rate.

The weakness of the 49ers' offensive line is on the right side. Right guard Daniel Brunskill led the 49ers in blown blocks. Right tackle Tom Compton only started half the season but was second on the team in blown pass blocks. Pass block win rate has Brunskill 49th among 63 qualifying guards and Compton 51st among 68 qualifying tackles. By comparison, left tackle Trent Williams ranks ninth and left guard Laken Tomlinson is 14th. If the Rams move Donald to the left edge at all and have him going up against Brunskill or Compton, it could be brutal.

The trick to getting pressure on Garoppolo is to pressure him with just four pass-rushers. Garoppolo had a strange split this year. He was the second-best quarterback in the league when blitzed, according to ESPN QBR. He was also horrendous under pressure. Garoppolo averaged just 3.0 net yards per play when pressured and 2.1 net yards per play when pressured by just four pass-rushers. Both figures were near the bottom of the league. The 49ers will pick up your blitzes, but get to Garoppolo with four pass-rushers and he does not do well at all.

The Rams were roughly league-average in the frequency with which they blitzed. Incidentally, Garoppolo was not particularly good when the Rams blitzed him in the first two games. He averaged just 4.3 net yards per pass. There was a 40-yard touchdown to Deebo Samuel late in the Week 10 game, but only two other first downs out of 14 passes. But overall for the entire season, Garoppolo was fantastic against the blitz.

Finally, I usually don't think quarter or half splits mean too much, so file this under "head-scratching and maybe interesting." The Rams defense this year was worse after halftime and much worse in the fourth quarter. The Rams defense was No. 2 in the first half this season, but 13th in the third quarter and 29th in the fourth quarter. However, the poor fourth-quarter defense generally came when they were either winning or losing by a large amount. The Rams were much better when games were close after halftime: third in defensive DVOA in "late and close" situations.


Rams offense 49ers defense

The Rams' passing game was better in the first half of the season, but has rebounded with strong performances in the playoffs. Meanwhile, the 49ers defense has been gradually improving throughout the entire year and put up two of its best performances so far in the playoffs.

Rams Offense by Week, 2021
Weeks Off
Rk Pass
Rk Run
1-9 20.7% 2 44.7% 3 -3.4% 12
10-18 -1.3% 15 5.4% 16 -4.2% 13
19-20* 21.5% 3 114.0% 1 -47.8% 13
**Playoff ranks out of 14 teams
49ers Defense by Week, 2021
Weeks Def
Rk Pass
Rk Run
1-9 2.8% 16 20.9% 24 -19.5% 5
10-18 -16.4% 4 -7.3% 10 -30.7% 1
19-20* -40.3% 3 -54.7% 3 -18.1% 9
**Playoff ranks out of 14 teams

The Rams had a very good offense this season, even accounting for the decline in the second half of the year They finished the regular season in the top 10 of offensive DVOA for every down/play combination except third-down rushing, where they were dead last. That's going to be a problem for the Rams if they get into third-and-short situations; the Rams ranked 29th with a 54% success rate on short-yardage runs. San Francisco's run defense, meanwhile, ranked second overall in defensive adjusted line yards and 12th on short-yardage runs with a 66% success rate allowed. And there won't be many fourth-down runs. Sean McVay may be on the cutting edge of a lot of things in the NFL but not fourth-down decisions. McVay ranked 31st out of 34 head coaches in Aggressiveness Index on fourth downs this year. Kyle Shanahan isn't much better, ranking 27th.

We keep pointing this out in these previews, but the 49ers were very weak during the regular season against deep passes: 31st in the league. The Rams threw an above-average number of those deep passes during the regular season but ranked only 13th in DVOA on deep passes. In the first two games, Rams were 6-of-12 on deep passes for 178 yards. Matthew Stafford threw three picks on deep passes but they were VERY deep: 42, 49, and 51 yards.

The 49ers ranked fifth in DVOA covering tight ends this season and fourth covering running backs. They were 26th covering wide receivers, and to be more specific, they were 31st covering No. 1 wide receivers. Cooper Kupp had 122 and 118 yards in two games against the 49ers plus drew a DPI flag in each game. (As for tight ends, Tyler Higbee did go 6-of-8, 55 yards in the Week 18 game but was only 3-of-5, 20 yards in the Week 10 game.)

The 49ers cornerback coverage stats are led by Emmanuel Moseley, who was significantly better than his teammates this season.

49ers CB Coverage Stats, 2021
Player G GS Tgts Yd/Pass Rk Suc% Rk aDOT Rk
J.Norman 16 14 46 9.8 79 43% 76 15.4 2
E.Moseley 12 11 38 6.1 22 58% 24 14.3 8
K.Williams 15 8 27 8.7 72 33% 81 8.1 78
A.Thomas 12 5 23 11.9 -- 48% -- 19.4 --
D.Johnson 16 3 18 9.6 -- 44% -- 10.6 --

K'Waun Williams is the nickelback and is generally covering the slot. The other starter opposite Moseley is up in the air. Josh Norman has been mostly benched at this point. Ambry Thomas took over as a starter in Week 11 and while he was burned deep often in his first few games, he played better over the last couple games of the season, including the interception of an overtime pass to Odell Beckham that sealed San Francisco's Week 18 win. He missed last week's game with a bone bruise in his knee and Dontae Johnson took his place.

The battle in the trenches is much closer on this side of the ball, at least in the passing game. Stafford does not take a lot of pressure, as the Rams were the third-lowest team in pressure rate. The Rams also ranked first in pass block win rate and seventh in adjusted sack rate. The 49ers defense ranked ninth in pressure rate, fifth in pass rush win rate, and fifth in adjusted sack rate.

The Rams offensive line really shines on the edges. Andrew Whitworth and Rob Havenstein are third and fifth in pass block win rate. (Whitworth has been out since the first play of the wild-card game with knee and ankle injuries but is on track to return against the 49ers.) However, the interior can be a problem for the Rams. Austin Corbett is 51st and David Edwards 37th among guards in pass block win rate with Brian Allen 24th among centers. Corbett and Allen also led the Rams in SIS's count of blown blocks. Look for pass pressure from the 49ers' interior line, with Arik Armstead and the always underrated D.J. Jones.

Remember how I wrote above that Jimmy Garoppolo was the second-best quarterback in the league this year when blitzed, according to ESPN QBR? Well, the best quarterback in the league when blitzed was Matthew Stafford, with a fabulous 92.3 QBR. It's a good thing for the 49ers that they were near the bottom of the league in blitz frequency. This is a strong contrast to the two teams the Rams had to beat to get here, Arizona and Tampa Bay, who are at the top of the league for blitz frequency.

According to SIS, the 49ers blitzed Stafford 10 times in the first two games and he averaged 9.3 net yards per pass (including a 7-yard DPI gain) with just one sack and one incomplete pass. Both of his touchdown passes to Tyler Higbee in Week 18 came on blitzes in the red zone.

Yet Stafford also had the same strange dichotomy that Garoppolo had: fantastic against the blitz but horrible against pressure overall. Stafford averaged just 3.1 net yards per play when pressured and 2.5 net yards per play when pressured by just four pass-rushers. Both figures were near the bottom of the league and very similar to the numbers for Garoppolo. If the 49ers can get past the Rams' offensive line and bring pressure with just four pass-rushers, they should knock Stafford off his game.

Stafford also had interesting splits against man and zone coverage this season. He averaged 8.23 yards per pass with an 18:3 touchdown to interception ratio against man coverage, but 7.67 yards per pass with a 12:12 touchdown to interception ratio against zone coverage. The 49ers mixed zone and man coverage this year, but were a little lower than the NFL average in how often they used man coverage and a little higher using zone coverage.

The Rams do like to run the ball, and this is a matchup of strength against even more strength. The 49ers run defense was the best in the league over the second half of the season. As noted above, they finished the season second in adjusted line yards. In particular, the 49ers are strong at stopping runs where the Rams like to run. The Rams love their wide runs, ranking fifth in ALY left end and first right end. But the 49ers are also sixth against runs left end and first against runs right end.

Cam Akers' early return from an Achilles injury showed an admirable work ethic but it's worth asking if it was really the best thing for the Los Angeles Rams. Darrell Henderson was the running back for most of the year and finished with 10.2% rushing DVOA. Sony Michel played a lot as well, particularly after Henderson got hurt, and finished with 0.7% rushing DVOA. In two playoff games with 41 carries, Akers has an abysmal -54.9% rushing DVOA. He's averaging 2.5 yards per carry. Yes, he's much more useful as a receiver than Michel is, but as noted above, that's not a weakness of this 49ers defense. When the Rams want to run the ball -- although they really should concentrate on passing instead of rushing against this defense -- it's probably better for them to bring in Michel.


TThe Rams have an advantage in the third phase but their strengths don't really match the 49ers' weaknesses. The 49ers were particularly weak this year on kickoffs and kick returns, two areas of special teams where the Rams didn't particularly excel. The Rams were best on field goals and punt returns, the latter because of Brandon Powell who took over the job near the end of the season. Since he took over in Week 15, including the playoffs, Powell is averaging an astonishing 19.3 yards per punt return. However, the 49ers ranked fifth in net punt value during the regular season, the best part of their special teams unit. They allowed only two returns all year longer than Powell's average. One of them was... to Brandon Powell, a 31-yard return when these teams played in Week 18.

The other area where the Rams' special teams really excelled was on field goals and extra points, as Matt Gay ranked third in the NFL in value behind Justin Tucker and Chris Boswell while San Francisco's Robbie Gould was average. However, given the general inconsistency of field goal kickers and Gould's quality career numbers, it's hard to say that this is really an area of advantage for the Rams. Both teams should be able to trust their kickers if it comes down to a late field goal, at least as much as you can trust a kicker who isn't named Justin Tucker.


The concentration on San Francisco's matchup advantages does sort of undersell the quality of the Los Angeles Rams offense this year. The fact is, the Rams offense was very, very good and the 49ers defense was not as good over the course of the entire season. It's hard to cover Kupp, Odell Beckham, Van Jefferson, and Tyler Higbee, all at the same time. But it's easier if you can bring pressure with just four pass-rushers, and the 49ers can do that. That pressure makes up for their weakness on the back end.

On the other side of the ball, the 49ers really are built to attack where the Rams are weakest. When judging two teams in a rematch, it is best to look at the entire season rather than focusing on what happened the first time (or two times) those teams played earlier in the year. The larger sample size tells you more information, and rematches don't always follow what happened in the earlier games. But looking at stats from the entire season... the 49ers really are built to attack where the Rams are weakest. They will attack the short middle of the field. They will run the ball from every formation and personnel group. They will use motion to make it hard for Jalen Ramsey to key on Deebo Samuel. It's not a good matchup for the Rams -- but if the Rams can bring enough pressure, they can turn the tables on the 49ers.

Overall, I think this game is very much a 50-50 matchup. The Rams may be the better team from the regular season and the last two weeks as well, but the advantages that San Francisco has will neutralize that difference. Even though the Rams are the favorites, this seems like anybody's ballgame, and a 49ers sweep and return to the Super Bowl is a very realistic scenario.




DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) breaks down each play of the season and compares it to the NFL average based on situation and opponent. You'll find it explained further here. Since DVOA measures ability to score, a negative DVOA indicates a better defense and worse offense, and a positive DVOA indicates a better offense and worse defense.

Team DVOA numbers incorporate all plays; since passing is generally more efficient than rushing, the average for passing is actually above 0% while the average for rushing is below 0%.

SPECIAL TEAMS numbers are different; they represent value in points of extra field position gained compared to NFL average. Field goal rating represents points scored compared to average kicker at same distances. All special teams numbers are adjusted by weather and altitude; the total is then translated into DVOA so it can be compared to offense and defense. Those numbers are explained here.

Each team is listed with DVOA for offense and defense, total along with rush and pass, and rank among the 32 teams in parentheses. (If the DVOA values are difficult to understand, it is easy to just look at the ranks.) We also list WEIGHTED DVOA (WEI DVOA), which is based on a formula which drops the value of games early in the season to get a better idea of how teams are playing now (explained here).

Each team also gets two charts showing their performance this year, game-by-game, according to offensive and defensive DVOA. In addition to a line showing each game, another line shows the team's trend for the season, using a rolling average of the last five games. Note that the defensive chart is reversed so upwards is a more negative defensive DVOA (which is better).


76 comments, Last at 30 Jan 2022, 11:44pm

#1 by Sixknots // Jan 27, 2022 - 9:57pm

I'm a firm believer in going-for-it on 4th down near or beyond the 50.


McVay ranked 31st out of 34 head coaches in Aggressiveness Index on fourth downs this year. Kyle Shanahan isn't much better, ranking 27th.

And one of these guys is guaranteed to HC a team in the Superb Owl.

Points: 0

#9 by cstoos // Jan 28, 2022 - 8:19am

I imagine it is easier to get away with those decisions when your opponents also don't do it.  Between McVay, Shanahan, and Carrol those are three of the more conservative coaches in the NFL. 

Points: 0

#11 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jan 28, 2022 - 9:14am

Remember when Andy Reid couldn't manage clock?

Belichick is currently one of the most conservative coaches for 4th down attempts, even though he basically originally justified the idea.


Maybe it turns out the most easily-measured aspects of coaching actually aren't that important. Because boy, the best coaches seem to be bad at it, and maybe that should tell you something.

Points: 0

#13 by Will Allen // Jan 28, 2022 - 9:42am

Why, it's almost like it's kind of pointless, to have a generalized rule of thumb for in-game decisions, which does not specifically account for the particular players in that game!

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#20 by ImNewAroundThe… // Jan 28, 2022 - 12:04pm

If the model doesn't account for a specific player AND how they're feeling...maybe you're just not understanding it. Pointless to have a rule of thumb? Really? Lol

4th downs are a small percentage of plays. And 49ers let Dallas been into the game. Not that anyone has EVER said McVay and Shanahan are overall bad coaches.

Points: 0

#25 by Will Allen // Jan 28, 2022 - 2:02pm

In reply to by ImNewAroundThe…


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#22 by colonialbob // Jan 28, 2022 - 12:27pm

It's probably more fair to say "the most easily-measured aspects of coaching" don't necessarily correlate with the attributes that are overall most important for good coaching. That doesn't mean that those coaches are necessarily right to be so conservative (look at Sean McDermott for example), just that the stuff they do during the week is generally more important. The marginal things tend to matter a lot more in the playoffs, though.

Points: 0

#32 by MikeTolbertHOF // Jan 28, 2022 - 3:18pm

I'm not sure what we're supposed to take from that other than: we need better coaching metrics. 4th down aggressiveness really doesn't tell us much. These are two of the better coaches in the league in terms of game planning and play calling. Should they be more aggressive on 4th downs? Probably, but hard to say without knowing the situations specifically.

Points: 0

#34 by Pat // Jan 28, 2022 - 3:41pm

 4th down aggressiveness really doesn't tell us much.

Deciding whether or not to go for it on fourth down is literally one of the least important decisions a head coach makes. Most of the time in terms of EPA and win percentage it's almost entirely a wash - few percent either way. Play calls have way, way higher importance.

Points: 0

#41 by Tutenkharnage // Jan 28, 2022 - 8:37pm

The generally accepted option—namely, punting—involves voluntarily giving up control of the ball in a league predicated on offense. Most of the big fourth-down decision points are made at or past midfield, when the odds actually favor the offense, which makes punting a large mistake. It's also one of the few areas left in the game that can provide a large advantage for those who understand the math. Individual play calls do not change the odds of winning game by that much. (Aggregate play calls? Sure.) 

Points: 0

#57 by ImNewAroundThe… // Jan 29, 2022 - 6:56pm

Deciding to go for it or not doesn't really matter? Huh? It sure does matter if you're going to try and pick up a first vs punt/FG! 

The individual play calls are probably are what matter the least as long as you're TRYING (in the right situations). 

Points: 0

#62 by Noahrk // Jan 30, 2022 - 10:34am

In reply to by ImNewAroundThe…

Easy to debunk that notion: The Chiefs, facing 3rd and 10, call a draw. The 49ers, on 3rd and short, call a medium pass. On the same situation the Ravens call a direct snap... with Lamar Jackson split out wide.

Play calls, which are a result of the general design of the offense, are intended to make optimal use of players' abilities. Choosing to go for it is important, but play calls are even more important, as they are involved in the result of every single play, and surely a better reflection of how good the coaches are than going for it or not.

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#69 by ImNewAroundThe… // Jan 30, 2022 - 11:54am

You literally have to decide to go for it or not on FOURTH down. We're not talking about 3rd. Obviously 3rd is way different. 

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#72 by Noahrk // Jan 30, 2022 - 4:27pm

Well, change all the 3rds to 4ths in my example. What's the difference?

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#74 by ImNewAroundThe… // Jan 30, 2022 - 5:12pm

Who's strength is punting in obvious go for situations? You literally have to decide to go for it or not BEFORE you give the play call lol 

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#75 by Noahrk // Jan 30, 2022 - 11:10pm

I think there's been a misunderstanding, what I understood the others were saying was that play calls in general were more important than going for it decisions, not only 4th down play calls in particular. Like, that's why some coaches can get away with being too conservative because they call a good game.

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#76 by ImNewAroundThe… // Jan 30, 2022 - 11:44pm

Excluding a certain down doesn't make sense when the topic is the decisions on 4th downs. Everyone knows 4ths are rare. But they can still cost ya like it did the 49ers tonight

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#2 by Will Allen // Jan 27, 2022 - 10:45pm

I haven't watched nearly enough games this year to have an opinion on the matchup, other than a general observation: adding a player with OBJ's talent (which I suspect is mostly still there) in mid-November, with the player on a contract hunt, can mean significant leaps in team efficiency, on a game by game basis, come January. Niners better hammer Stafford good with 4. Woods was no slouch, but OBJ being the lesser concern, compared to Cooper Kupp, for the Niners dbs might be an issue.

I kind of like both teams, being unaware of any big reason to root against any prominent people of either franchise. Don't even think either fan base would be more devastated by a loss, which is my default outcome to pull for, as a bitter Viking fan who wants to spread the misery.

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#5 by bravehoptoad // Jan 27, 2022 - 11:56pm

LA doesn't really have a fan base, which is why the 49ers can count on it as a home game even though it's not their stadium. If you're routing to make the most people sad, you'd have to be routing against the 49ers.

Points: 0

#8 by Will Allen // Jan 28, 2022 - 5:24am

I'm a connoissuer of irrational fan agony, more than I'm a glutton. It's not so much the total quantity of fans made sad, but more the depth of devastation, and it's unique quality, adjusted for the replacement fan. DDUA, if you will. 

Points: 0

#63 by Noahrk // Jan 30, 2022 - 10:40am

Ha! I don't know, I think all fans are awfully good at being miserable. Just look at how badly Pats took it when their dynasty ended or when the Dolphins beat them on week 17 a couple of years ago (actually that was arguably the same moment). And I still remember, for some reason, another time the Dolphins beat the Pats, where in Audibles Aaron was ranting about how lucky a QB as bad as Tannehill was to complete an unlikely key pass.

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#70 by Tutenkharnage // Jan 30, 2022 - 11:54am

They count Brady's Super Bowl win and Mac Jones's close-but-no-cigar RotY campaign as part of it. I'm not even kidding. Go check out the Boston Globe sometime. It's amazing.

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#12 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jan 28, 2022 - 9:25am

Is there such a thing as a hardcore Niners fan? That's an empty stadium when they aren't a deep playoff team.

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#14 by AFCNFCBowl // Jan 28, 2022 - 10:03am

To be fair, they moved out to Levi's Stadium in 2014, so poor attendance likely had to do with that. It obviously didn't help that the team was horrendous for the next 4 years.

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#24 by ahmadrashad // Jan 28, 2022 - 12:44pm

The stadium location/access/seat licenses is an issue, but lots of fans were boycotting the owner after the whole Harbaugh/Tomasula/Kelly nonsense. 

Living in the SF bay area, the 49ers have tons of hardcore fans, and apparently they are one of the more popular teams in the LA area as well. 

Points: 0

#26 by matu_72 // Jan 28, 2022 - 2:26pm

Living in southern California, I can say that this is very true. The 49ers are one of the most popular teams down here. 20+ years without a team, that's a whole generation of fans that had to find someone else to root for.

This is why the rams efforts to limit ticket sales to people in the greater LA area was kind of wasted effort. There's still going to be plenty Niner fans at the game one way or the other. 

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#43 by ahmadrashad // Jan 29, 2022 - 12:39am

Yep, they say Niner fans "travel", and its like yeah but most of them are only traveling on the 405 & etc (not that that's fun.) Local sports radio is referring to Sofi as "Levi's South". 

Points: 0

#30 by matu_72 // Jan 28, 2022 - 2:51pm

It amazes me that he got another GM job. Trevor Lawrence might be screwed. 

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#44 by t.d. // Jan 29, 2022 - 5:36am

I didn't love the Leftwich hire-  if your credentials are "made Tom Brady look good", much like earlier "made Peyton look good" hires, color me skeptical, but at least he has the sense to be bringing in his own guy as gm (Adrian Wilson)

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#46 by Tutenkharnage // Jan 29, 2022 - 11:20am

But Leftwich, to his credit, designed an offense in which Jameis Winston led the league in passing yards, completions, and attempts. The Bucs have had great weapons for a long time, but that's still quite an accomplishment. His willingness and ability to shift the offense from Winston's bombs-away tactics to Brady's preference for the short and medium game is another feather in his cap. I think Giants fans have more to worry about, since Brian Daboll hasn't enjoyed success with any quarterback other than Josh Allen. (That said, Daboll deserves a good bit of credit for Allen's success, as do Dorsey, McDermott, Beane, and—most importantly—Allen himself.)

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#56 by t.d. // Jan 29, 2022 - 6:43pm

I am going to try for cautious optimism (though that was also my offseason attitude towards Urban Meyer last year after initially hating the hire);  thing is, football perspective (Chase Stuart's site, he wrote for the almanac one year and before that wrote for PFR blog) has pointed out for years, well before Arians got there, that Jameis was consistently among the league leaders in passing for yards and 1st downs (normally traits of an elite qb)- his only problem was turnovers (and it got worse, not better, under Arians/Leftwich).  I'll talk myself into him (and I'm glad the fanbase seems enthusiastic- his is the second-most popular jersey right now after Trevor Lawrence's), but I'd have preferred Daboll (perfect job building  Allen from "raw" into "elite"), Flores (Dolphins had almost no assets when he arrived, and he built a very good defense in less than a season), Bowles (did a better job w the Jets than was appreciated at the time), or Harbaugh (pipe dream, I know)

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#65 by mehllageman56 // Jan 30, 2022 - 11:37am

No, Bowles was terrible with the Jets.  Had a great 2015, with a huge free agency class and older team, and missed the playoffs because he couldn't beat Rex Ryan.  You had bad lockeroom juju in the first two years (Geno's Smith's busted jaw, the entirety of 2016), and he had a new offensive coordinator every year.  Gailey quit after one year, so that wasn't his fault, but John Morton did a good job in 2017 propping up Josh McCown throwing to Robby Anderson and then got fired.  In 2017 Bowles brought in Jeremy Bates to be the quarterbacks coach.  Bates was out of football for 5 years.  Bowles promoted him to OC in 2018 and kept him as quarterbacks coach so Sam Darnold could have a good start to his NFL career.  Meanwhile, Bowles kept his friend Kacy Rodgers as DC even though the defense struggled just as much as the offense.

So, no, Bowles did not do a better job with the Jets than was appreciated at the time.

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#29 by coremill // Jan 28, 2022 - 2:44pm

I can personally attest to this, as my dad was a Niners season ticket holder for >25 years at Candlestick who gave up his seats when they moved to Levi's (even though it's actually closer to where he lived) because he didn't want to have to pony up for the seat license + increased per game cost + the stupid preseason games.    

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#42 by ahmadrashad // Jan 29, 2022 - 12:29am

Agreed, it doesn't make sense. Remember reading about 50+ year season ticket holders, and rather than give them a deal, the 49ers directed them to a home mortgage salesperson. My dad also dropped his Viking tickets when the Metrodome went down, but he had the cheapest tier "coach film" seats because he wanted to support the team when they were getting blacked-out. 

My guess is a lot of these seat licenses are held by ticket brokers, so the Rams (and Chargers and Raiders) are never going to keep the opposition out. 

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#15 by ThatWasAHold! // Jan 28, 2022 - 10:04am

Attendance looks pretty stable to me https://www.statista.com/statistics/197399/nfl-regular-season-home-attendance-of-the-san-francisco-49ers-since-2006/

Points: 0

#16 by Chuckc // Jan 28, 2022 - 10:18am

Why would you spend money to support the team when they stink?

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#19 by Will Allen // Jan 28, 2022 - 10:50am

Especially when the league organizes the presentation of the games with the t v. experience highly prioritized, and the experience of the stadium audience very much a secondary consideration.

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#50 by Kaepernicus // Jan 29, 2022 - 2:06pm

Stafford and the Rams feast on blitz happy teams. SF does not blitz very often at all and gets pressure consistently with the front 4. Root for SF to win this and the SB and watch all of NFL media lose their minds over the bad QB winning it all on a rushing first offense. Also even though the Rams lack fans, losing to the same team 7 straight times to miss the SB is about as devastating as it gets after trading for all of those stars the last 2 years. If the 49ers lose it will be because Jimmy goes TO crazy and sinks the team while getting pressured 40% of the time. He was the only reason the second game was not a blow out for SF as well. The SF defense owns the Rams because it completely shuts down their running game which forces them to be a conventional drop back passing team. 

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#55 by jheidelberg // Jan 29, 2022 - 6:09pm

Jimmy G. Is known by the media as an excellent QB if he wins the SB.  Do you remember seeing anywhere in the media that Nick Foles or Joe Flacco were mediocre or worse?


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#58 by Tutenkharnage // Jan 29, 2022 - 8:05pm

And "ELITE!" has been a running joke about Flacco for even longer than that. If Garoppolo wins the Super Bowl, he's almost certain to be the latest addition to the Dilfer list.

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#60 by Joey-Harringto… // Jan 30, 2022 - 7:42am

I live the Balitmore area too, and I had no idea this shirt exists.  Now I want to purchase it and wear it around town ironically.

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#61 by Bob Smith // Jan 30, 2022 - 10:09am

Elite----a select group that is superior in abilities to the rest of the group.

They may have been saying that the group they are putting Flacco in is the group (33) of QB's that have won at least 1 S.B. game. And since Joe played a very good game he would satisfy the superior in abilities portion of the definition. 

I have no idea of how big this "group" is, but it must be thousands of QB's that were on NFL rosters over the years and since even a non-QB (Tom Mattey) has already started a playoff game, I think we have to count all of them as potential S.B. winners.

Therefore, they have a point-Flacco would qualify as elite if that is how "they" are looking at it-he was 1 of 33 out of thousands. 

Also Joe's Passer Rating of 124.2 in that S.B. game is I think Top 5 of All-Time. "They" might have been considering that.

And if you consider the fact that he was named MVP of the S.B., then that select "group"  (22) of QB's is even smaller. Maybe that is how "they" are looking at it.

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#66 by Bob Smith // Jan 30, 2022 - 11:38am

I was simply trying to help you see how "they" might have justified making up Flacco is Elite t-shirts, that is all.

I really agree with Kerry Byrnes' Definitive List of Top 10 QB's from his CHFF site years ago. He would have to update it now however to include Brady, P.Manning, Brees, Rodgers, etc., if he saw fit to do so and I'm pretty sure he would add some if not all to his old list.

Kerry uses stats and facts to back up his Rankings and I like that idea. I think you can still google it but again it needs updating.

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#67 by jheidelberg // Jan 30, 2022 - 11:40am

Foles also won SB MVP

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#71 by Bob Smith // Jan 30, 2022 - 12:20pm

So I guess you want some FACTS about Foles' Super Bowl run???       He was very good in all 3 games.  He went up against the No.1 Defense  in the League (Minn.) in his Conference Championship Game. Minn. Defense was No.1 Overall, No.1 for Least Points Allowed, No.1 for Yds. Given Up, and No.1 for Least Passing TD's Allowed.

In spite of that great Defense Foles was facing, he put up a Rating of 141.4  with 3 TD's and 0 INT's and led his team to the Conference Championship.

P-F-R has a stat called Career Passer Rating in the Super Bowl. Flacco is 2nd on that list (however they forgot to list him) with a Rating of 124.2 and Foles is 7th on that list with a Rating of 106.1.  

Conclusion-all Foles had to do AS A BACKUP QB was to beat the best Defense in the League in the Conf. Champ. Game and then outplay the GOAT QB in the S.B. game.

And outplay Brady is what he did. Consider this: Brady led his offense on 6 total scoring drives- 4 TD's and 2 field goals while Foles led his offense on 8 total scoring drives-5 TD's and 3 field goals to win the S.B. game and be named MVP.

Those are the facts that I can come up with for you.

Points: 0

#68 by Tutenkharnage // Jan 30, 2022 - 11:52am

In reply to by Bob Smith

Bad quarterbacks play good games all the time. They also get hot for four-game stretches all the time. (See Sam Darnold's September slate from this season.) Joe Flacco was never "elite" as defined by "a select group that is superior in abilities to the rest of the group," provided that you define "the rest of the group" as "other NFL quarterbacks" rather than "all the quarterbacks who didn't make it to the NFL."

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#3 by LionInAZ // Jan 27, 2022 - 10:50pm

I've read this preview and Verhei's Rams-Bucs preview last week, and they leave me to wonder: what do the 49ers have that make them a better matchup, even without home field advantage? It can't possibly be their QB or the receivers. 

I mean, were the Bucs a much worse matchup against the Rams strengths, given who played, as opposed who Vince assumed were going to not play? Worse, Aaron had a week to see how the Bucs actually fared with those players available.

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#4 by matu_72 // Jan 27, 2022 - 11:36pm


Steven Ruiz has a good write up on Fred Warner and the niners defense. They've just been a very tough defense in the second half of the season and the bucs haven't been as good as last year. 

I think the bucs offense just wasn't the same with injuries to the WR group and OL. That rams DL went off in that game. I think Shanahan has more creative solutions than what the bucs could offer, but the rams D is still going to be tough. 

Thinking about it more now, this could be a more defensive game than it was a few weeks ago. 

Points: 0

#6 by bravehoptoad // Jan 27, 2022 - 11:59pm

I'll see you Ringer article and raise you one: https://www.theringer.com/nfl-playoffs/2022/1/26/22902126/kyle-shanahan-sean-mcvay-five-years-evolution

Points: 0

#7 by matu_72 // Jan 28, 2022 - 12:44am

I read that as well. Another great write up. The NFC West is probably going to run through CA for awhile. 

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#21 by Sixknots // Jan 28, 2022 - 12:26pm

Except for the fact that neither CA team has a first round draft pick the rest of this century.

And both may be on salary cap thin ice in 2022.

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#23 by colonialbob // Jan 28, 2022 - 12:30pm

If Lance pans out, the 9ers are set up to keep the train rolling for quite a while. Rather large if at this point though.


Rams will presumably face a salary cap reckoning at some point, although as the Saints showed you can usually string that along quite a while before the bill really comes do, if you're so inclined.

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#28 by bravehoptoad // Jan 28, 2022 - 2:42pm

I'm really quite rosy about the 49ers future. 

After seeing what Shanahan could do with the likes of Nick Mullens and Jimmy Garoppolo, it really doesn't seem Lance has to clear a very high bar to make the team a contender every year.  And there's still a non-zero chance the guy might be really good, in which case, woo hoo!

As for the loss of the next two year's firsts, well, this 49ers front office seems to do its best work in later rounds.  Their only great first-round pick has been Nick Bosa, who's surely great, and Aiyuk's pretty good, but Solomon, Foster, McGlinchey, Kinlaw?  Enh.  It's 3+ where they find their best guys.  Kittle, all their LBs, all their CBs, all their RBs, etc. 

Points: 0

#31 by colonialbob // Jan 28, 2022 - 3:14pm

Yeah, I tend to agree. Unless Lance is real bad, they're set up to be at minimum a solid wildcard team for the next several years, and if he does turn out to be an upgrade over Jimmy G (which I would not be at all surprised by), then they're probably fighting for the 1 seed most years. The Rams have the higher floor but also a more definite end of the window in sight. The Seahawks look headed for at least a partial rebuild, and the Cardinals... who knows.

Meanwhile the surest thing in the rest of the NFC might be the Cowboys, which I doubt strikes too much fear into anybody's heart (and I say that as a fan). If Brady retires and Rodgers leaves, who knows who else will rise to take their place.

Points: 0

#47 by Sixknots // Jan 29, 2022 - 12:39pm

It's 3+ where they find their best guys....all their CBs


The loss of the next two year's firsts has gotta hurt.  But, assuming Lance is good, can the Niners trade Garoppolo for some picks?  What's the situation with him?

Points: 0

#48 by Bryan Knowles // Jan 29, 2022 - 1:03pm

Garoppolo had a no-trade clause in his contract...but only for 2021.

2022 is the last year on Garoppolo's deal, so presumably, a team that wanted to trade for him would want to work out an extension, but the numbers work out fine. 

Trading or cutting Garoppolo would save the 49ers $25.6 million against the cap with only $1.4 million of dead money -- and since they only have $5.7 million in cap space at the moment and only 34 players under contract, it's pretty much a must-do move, regardless of how good Lance is.  The new team would pick up his $24.2 million base salary for 2022, but again, they'd almost surely want an extension of they were going to trade for him, so the actual cap numbers are a bit fungible on that side.

I doubt that the 49ers could get a first-round pick for him, because of the need to re-sign him and the knowledge that the 49ers kind of have to get rid of him no matter what.  Maybe they could get a Wentz-esque deal: a couple mid-round picks that escalate if Jimmy G plays a full season and leads his new team to the playoffs, etc etc.

Points: 0

#52 by bravehoptoad // Jan 29, 2022 - 2:18pm

A lot of good players are on one-year deals or the last year of their deal, like Tartt, Verrett, Mostert, K'Waun Williams, Al-Shaair, and like half the D-linemen including Givens, Willis, Hurst, Key, and D.J. Jones.  These are a consequence of having had a super tight cap this year.  Not all of those guys are going to be expensive, but there's so many of them, and so many have played well this year.

It's also time for the 2019 class to start to get paid, so guys like Bosa, Deebo, and Greenlaw.  Those first two, particularly, big $$$.

The 49er front office is going to have their work cut out for them.

Points: 0

#53 by Bryan Knowles // Jan 29, 2022 - 2:55pm

And that work gets a lot easier if you're not sitting on a $25 million quarterback who you've already drafted a replacement for!


I would imagine Verrett and Mostert are gone.  Al-Shaair and Givens are restricted and exclusive-rights free agents, so no real concern there.  Key, Hurst and Willis are all replaceable, but someone has to get paid for those spots.

It's Jones and Tartt that are the issue for 2022, with the Bosa and Deebo extensions being the real monsters lurking behind.

Points: 0

#49 by matu_72 // Jan 29, 2022 - 1:11pm

He's got 1 year left on his deal at around $25M. I don't think Shanahan/Lynch have said what they plan to do for next season. Me personally, I would trade him this offseason and make Lance the starter.

Points: 0

#40 by Kaepernicus // Jan 28, 2022 - 6:49pm

Jimmy G has actually been far better against the Rams than almost any team over his career. He may be terrible outside the numbers and deep but he is one of the best in the NFL over the short/intermediate middle. His best game by far since the thumb injury against the Titans was against LA when he threw 2 picks while averaging nearly 10 yards an attempt. Deebo, Aiyuk, and Jennings all had 90+ yards receiving as well. The 49ers have blown them out in 6.5 out of 8 quarters this year. They also torched them on third down 9/14 in the last game. Shanahan does a really good job exposing the weak links of their defense and Jimmy lives in their weakest area.

Points: 0

#10 by AFCNFCBowl // Jan 28, 2022 - 8:20am

What was so great about 49ers defensive performance against SEA week 13?

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#33 by Vincent Verhei // Jan 28, 2022 - 3:29pm

Four sacks for a net loss of 50 yards, four fumbles forced (two recovered), one interception, 4.8 yards allowed per play. And that last number is deceptive because it includes Travis Homer's 73-yard touchdown on a fake punt. That goes down as a run so it counts in defensive DVOA, but it's not good when 20% of your yards come on one snap. Take that out and Seattle averaged 3.8 yards on their other 67 snaps. And Seattle finished seventh in offensive DVOA so they get a nice boost in opponent adjustments too.

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#35 by AFCNFCBowl // Jan 28, 2022 - 3:48pm

What's crazy about that is the 49ers lost that game 30-23. Seattle scored 30 points somehow with that poor offensive performance!

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#37 by Vincent Verhei // Jan 28, 2022 - 4:22pm

Seven points on the fake punt, seven more on a 28-yard touchdown drive after an interception, and two points on a safety. The offense only had three drives the whole game that lasted more than six plays. Two ended in touchdowns, the third was a last fumble at San Francisco's 2-yard line.

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#45 by coremill // Jan 29, 2022 - 11:07am

Also one of those TD drives over 6 plays was twice extended by roughing the passer penalties.  Just a weird game.

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#51 by Kaepernicus // Jan 29, 2022 - 2:15pm

Extending drives with penalties was an SF specialty this year. The Colts game was the most egregious example with Wentz chucking ducks in the rain for PIs as the primary form of offense for them. If penalties were included in DVOA I am sure it would drop the SF rating by at least 5%.

Points: 0

#36 by bravehoptoad // Jan 28, 2022 - 4:10pm

Replies like this, Vince, just make me love the site all the more.  I love your site.  Love it.  Just so you know. 

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#39 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jan 28, 2022 - 4:37pm

but it's not good when 20% of your yards come on one snap.

That works out pretty well if it's a 99 yard play. Last two teams that had those went to the SB. Played each other, even.

Points: 0

#17 by ThatWasAHold! // Jan 28, 2022 - 10:19am

Since (to my knowledge) DVOA doesn't account for weather or injuries, I think it's overrating last week's Rams performance against a shell of a Tampa Bay team, and underrating the 49ers performance last week in Green Bay in frigid weather.


Notably, the other big dip in the 49ers DVOA is that massive slosh fest vs. the Colts on Sunday night football earlier this season.


I think it's anyone's game, but with the implications of those factors above, I think the metrics should favor the 49ers more.

Points: 0

#18 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jan 28, 2022 - 10:40am

That also means DVOA overrates the first game the Rams played without Woods and with OBJ having been on the team for about an hour.

Points: 0

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