What to watch when the 49ers and Rams meet in the NFC Championship Game

As head coaches, Shanahan, 42, has had the upper hand over McVay, 36, but the Rams this year filled the talent gap by aggressively growing their roster. General manager Les Snead traded much of the team’s draft capital to acquire cornerback Jalen Ramsey in 2019, then quarterback Matthew Stafford and linebacker Von Miller this season. Wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. also joined mid-year as a free agent.

Although his 17 interceptions in the regular season are tied for first in the league, Stafford also threw for 4,886 yards and 41 touchdowns, both in the top three. Cooper Kupp led the league in yards (1,947), receptions (145) and touchdowns (16), and Beckham turned into a reliable second option, giving the Rams the big-play options McVay likes to use to stretch the tusks.

Stafford can be pushed to make mistakes, however, and the 49ers defense has bottled up the Rams for long stretches in both of their games this season. The front line of Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead, in addition to Arden Key, is a powerful force. Key in particular was a surprise. Signed as a free agent after three years with the Raiders, Key had 6.5 sacks, 17 quarterback hits and five tackles for a loss. Collectively this postseason, the defensive front has helped hold two of the league’s best offenses — Dallas and Green Bay — to 27 points, and have done so on the road on both occasions.

Los Angeles’ offensive line has allowed seven sacks in the last two games against San Francisco and needs to protect Stafford from the pass rush so receivers can exploit the 49ers’ secondary, a weak point.

In contrast, San Francisco’s offense is based on exotic moves and passing play in midfield, the latter of which is enabled by Jimmy Garoppolo’s quick release (in their last two meetings, Garoppolo’s throws have been timed as leaving his right hand in 2.35 seconds, according to NFL NextGen Stats).

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