NFC Championship stats you need to know: Matthew Stafford has to be smart; Jimmy Garoppolo needs to get the ball out fast

Nearly three weeks ago, the Rams led the 49ers 17-0, and San Francisco’s playoff hopes were hanging by a thread.

Then the 49ers pulled off a massive comeback behind Jimmy Garoppolo and have won two playoff games on the road, against the Cowboys and the Packers, mostly despite him since.

The Rams, meanwhile, followed up that shocking meltdown with a dominant win over Arizona, then narrowly avoided an even bigger meltdown, delivering a thriller on the Buccaneers.

Now, with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line, they reunite. Here are the key areas for both teams in their third game.

When the 49ers have the ball…

When I 18 week meeting preview, I noted that Jimmy Garoppolo needed to get the ball out quickly to beat a dangerous Rams pass rush. Three weeks later, it’s still true. In the Week 10 win, Garoppolo took just 2.06 seconds to throw on average, his fastest this season. In Week 18, tasked with leading a big comeback, Garoppolo threw an average of 2.49 seconds, still his fifth fastest in 18 games this season, including the playoffs. This season, Garoppolo is averaging less than 2.6 seconds to start seven games; the 49ers went 6-1 in those contests.

Jimmy Garoppolo against the Rams this season

2.7 seconds or less to throw

Over 2.7 seconds to launch

Percentage complete

79%

64%

TD-Int

3-1

0-1

Success rate

63%

50%

Passer ranking

122.5

59.3

It also helps Garoppolo get the ball out early as his receivers are great at turning quick, short throws into longer wins. The 49ers are averaging 6.6 yards after catch this season, league highs, and that number has actually increased to 6.8 in the two games against the Rams. In the Week 18 game, the Rams defense missed nine tackles on passing plays, their most all season. In Week 10, they missed eight of those tackles, their second most all season. Do you sense a trend? It’s up to Garoppolo to get the ball back to his playmakers.

I’ll also be interested to see how Garoppolo handles the blitz and if the Rams bring more blitz. In the Week 18 game, when Garoppolo had a lot more to do than in Week 10, he struggled when Los Angeles brought in at least five passers.

Jimmy Garoppolo vs. Rams in Week 18

Blitzed

Not blitzed

TD-Int

0-1

1-1

Yards Per Attempt

6.6

11.9

Passer ranking

50.3

109.8

When the Rams have the ball…

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On paper, the 49ers are the perfect foil for Matthew Stafford and the rest of the Rams offense. Stafford thrives when blitzing opponents. But the 49ers have blitzed on just 21.7% of opponents’ comebacks this season, the eighth-lowest rate in the league, and that number actually fell to just over 19% in the playoffs. In both meetings with the Rams this season, San Francisco blitz on just 12.3% of Stafford dropouts.

On the rare occasion he was bombed, Stafford made the 49ers pay.

Matthew Stafford against the 49ers this season

Blitzed

Not blitzed

Returns

ten

71

Percentage complete

89%

61%

TD-Int

2-0

2-4

Yards Per Attempt

12.4

5.8

Passer ranking

158.1

61.3

I’d be shocked if the 49ers blitz more than a handful of times on Sunday. They really don’t need it, and that’s what makes them so good. This regular season, when the 49ers haven’t blitzed, they’ve still pressured opposing quarterbacks on 30.4% of their second-best cutbacks in the NFL.

Stafford tends to overdo it in these scenarios: When not blitzed this season, Stafford’s average pass has gone 8.5 yards down, the fourth-highest number in the NFL. Of his four non-blitz interceptions against the 49ers, three were misguided deep balls thrown at least 20 yards down, like this:

Stafford is a gunslinger by nature. The mindset that produces mistakes like the one above also produces winning moments like the one from last week:

Give Stafford credit: After tying Trevor Lawrence for the NFL lead with 17 interceptions in the regular season, he didn’t throw a pick – and threw just one interceptable pass according to Pro Football Focus – in playoffs. On Sunday, the 49ers will stay in cover and hope he makes the same risky throws that cost the Rams both regular season meetings. If he can avoid that, the Rams should be set up to succeed.

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