Why the 49ers are playing for the NFC Championship

Discussions about the NFL are often centered on offense and quarterbacks, however in the words of legendary Alabama coach Paul “Bear” Bryant: “Defense wins championships.”

If you need proof this is still accurate, look no further than the 2021 San Francisco 49ers.

San Francisco earned its second trip to the NFC Championship Game with a 13-10 victory over Green Bay on Saturday night.

How did they pull it off? With the offense scuffling to get itself going, it was on the shoulders of the defense to keep the game close.

After allowing Green Bay to open the game with a 10 play 69-yard touchdown drive, the 49ers defense held the Packers to only 194 yards and three points over the final 54 minutes of the game.

Along the way they forced five three and outs, six punts, and sacked Aaron Rodgers five times.

This isn’t anything new, the defense has been playing at a very high level since being embarrassed by an Arizona Cardinals offense led by Colt McCoy on November 7.

Over the final nine games of the regular season and first two games of the postseason, the 49ers defense has not allowed an offense to score more than 24 points.

Among the offenses faced during that stretch have been the Cincinnati Bengals, Dallas Cowboys, Minnesota Vikings, and the Los Angeles Rams twice.

For San Francisco it all starts with the pass rush. Nick Bosa is the key that unlocks the rest of this unit. His presence on the field often forces opposing offenses to focus their pass protection on him, giving the other rushers one on one matchups.

Since the Arizona loss referenced earlier, the 49ers pass rush has averaged 3.7 sacks and 7 quarterback hits per game according to Pro Football Reference.

Arik Armstead, moved to defensive tackle full time against Chicago in week eight has continued to grow in his new role. After having only three sacks and nine quarterback hits over the first 15 games this season, Armstead has caught fire. In the final two regular season games and playoffs Armstead has recorded six sacks and nine quarterback hits.

Against Green Bay on Saturday night, it was a sack from Armstead that forced Green Bay to punt late in the fourth quarter leading to a blocked punt and touchdown for San Francisco.

The depth of the 49ers pass rush may be better in 2021 than it was when they reached the Super Bowl in 2019. Samson Ebukam, D.J. Jones, Arden Key, Kevin Givens, Charles Omenihu and Jordan Willis allow San Francisco to bring waves at opposing quarterbacks all game.

Among the rotation players along the defensive line, Jordan Willis needs to be highlighted.

San Francisco traded its 2022 sixth-round pick to the New York Jets on October 27, 2020, for Willis and a 2021 seventh-round.

Willis has come on strong of late, recording a quarterback hit or sack in six of the last eight games, and the 49ers likely are sitting at home right now if not for his play.

Against Dallas in the Wild Card round it was pressure from Willis that forced Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott into an interception which turned into a 23-7 second half lead for the 49ers.

Then in Green Bay, it was Willis who helped create two of big moments on special teams.

On the final play of the first half, Willis chopped down the arm of a Packers lineman allowing Jimmie Ward to break through to block the Mason Crosby field goal attempt.

In the late moments of the fourth quarter, it was Willis who once again came up big, blocking a Packers punt that Talanoa Hufanga would scoop up and carry into the endzone to tie the game at 10.

While the defensive line wreaks havoc on opposing quarterbacks, Fred Warner sets the tone for San Francisco at the second level with Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt doing the same for the secondary.

Warner may not have been named an All-Pro as he was last season, however he set a career high in tackles with 137 and had seven tackles for loss for the second time.

As is the case for the defensive line with Nick Bosa, the presence of Warner in the middle sets the tone. The attention Warner receives helps free up Azeez Al-Shaair and Dre Greenlaw to make play after play.

Ward and Tartt are the undisputed leaders of the 49ers secondary. Their presence on the backend of the defense is a big reason why opponents struggle to get explosive plays.

In addition to Ward and Tartt, Emmauel Moseley needs to be recognized for his strong play. Moseley’s ability to lock down one side of the field allows the safeties to help in coverage on the other side to help Ambry Thomas, Dontae Johnson or Josh Norman.

For the 49ers to win the NFC Championship and reach Super Bowl LVI, they will need another strong performance from Bosa, Warner, Ward, Tartt and the rest of their defense.

This article has 17 Comments

    1. Idk, Patriot, before you do that I hope you consider that even if we blew them out, a low probability in itself, they’d likely score at least one TD in garbage time. Stafford would probably have turn up inactive for you to hit on that one.

      1. I was actually half way joking just to highlight how well the 49ers have been playing on defense in the playoffs. Holding the highest scoring offense in the NFL to 17 points and then holding Aaron Rodgers to a career low 10 points. That’s pretty damn good. If I were to place that bet I wouldn’t put the full $300 on it. I keep 2 betting accounts. Never really bet that much on anything. Just to keep things fun. One has a good amount in it and the other was down to $38 so I was just going to bet that down to $0 and close the account. I took the ML win over the Cowboys. Then I bet the Bengals 1st half +3 over the Titans. Then I bet 49ers ML over the Packers. Then I bet the Over 48 on the Bucs vs Rams. Then I bet the Over 27 on first half of the Bills vs Chiefs. I’m on a little streak right now. That original $38 is now over $400. 49ers ML is at +150 so I’m thinking of betting the entire amount on the 49ers ML. If I don’t do that I’ll probably do $300 on the ML and then take some other fun bets like anytime TD scorer or maybe Elijah Mitchell number of carries.

    2. Wait until the super bowl and make prop bets for super bowl MVP. In 2019 I got 200-1 odds on Fred Warner and Arik Armstead.

      The Rams not scoring a TD is a bad bet you will lose.

  1. Hey Jack, I watched your 49ers – Packers Instant Reaction on Youtube. Great stuff. I want to commend you on staying sober after that win. I was nervous drinking throughout that entire 4th qtr so I can just imagine how I must have sounded after the game.

    Hey, the guys on Locked On 49ers were saying Elijah Mitchell went the wrong way on that 4th and 1 in the 4th qtr. If he went the correct way to follow the blocking it was a likely TD. I didn’t see that. When you watch film did you see that 4th and 1 play? Any thoughts?

    1. Here is what Shanahan had to say about that 4th and 1 play yesterday, “That was power, which usually goes to the outside when everyone plays their gaps right. Starts in the A-gap (inside) and it usually ends in the D-gap (outside), which is where Trent was cleaning up. But we got split inside, so Elijah never had the chance to bounce out there.”

      1. I rewatched it again. Tough to ask Mitchell to do anything else but if he jump cuts to his right basically as soon as he gets the ball then it probably would have been a big gain. Brunskill gets absolutely manhandled by Kenny Clark – pushed him 2 yards into the backfield. Then Woerner whifs on his block of Rashan Gary. Mitchell did have a split second to cut right but saying Mitchell went the wrong way is wrong in my opinion. That was Brian Peacock and Eric Crocker who said that.

    1. If we go by this or that ranking in the NFL, Niners shouldn’t be in the final 4. Yet here we are.

      If both Niners and Chefs make it to the SB, you can bet game film from last years SB will be required viewing.

    2. I would love to see KC in the SB and avenge our lost! Their Def is not as good 2 years ago and their offense is about the same.

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