The San Francisco 49ers aren't like the other remaining teams in the NFL playoffs. They don't have an offense that's going to outscore you with flashy plays downfield. They simply beat you into submission with their physicality.
If the Kansas City Chiefs, Los Angeles Rams or Cincinnati Bengals can't out-offense you in a matchup, they are in trouble. That does not apply to the 49ers. Kyle Shanahan's squad can ride its defense -- and even its special teams -- to victory, just as we saw last week against the Green Bay Packers. Still, as the No. 6 seed in the NFC, the 49ers have been underdogs in every playoff game they've played, and that's going to continue moving forward.
The 49ers have a legitimate chance to win the Super Bowl this year, but they will have to continue to play some of their best ball of the season. Below, we will break down three keys to a San Francisco 49ers Super Bowl LVI victory.
Jimmy Garoppolo: Efficient game manager
"Game manager" is probably the least-sexy descriptor you can apply to a starting signal-caller, but it's what the 49ers need from Jimmy Garoppolo. In two playoff games this year, Garoppolo has failed to pass for more than 172 yards and has thrown an interception in each contest with zero touchdowns. No one is asking him to light up the scoreboard like Patrick Mahomes, but if he can serve as an effective, efficient game manager and eliminate turnovers from here on out, the 49ers have a real chance.
It's about getting the ball to your playmakers in Deebo Samuel, Elijah Mitchell and George Kittle. That's how the 49ers have been using Garoppolo this entire season. In fact, he hasn't thrown more than two touchdowns in a single game in 2021! Being an effective game manager doesn't just have to do with turnovers, however. Jimmy G is going to have to step up in the moment and take control of the game in other aspects than throwing the football. For example, he can't snap the ball when Trent Williams isn't set after being sent in motion on fourth-and-1 with 40 seconds left in the fourth quarter -- like he did against the Cowboys. Initially, I wondered why Williams was being sent in motion, but Shanahan answered my question this past weekend.
That one ticky-tack mistake almost led to a Dallas Cowboys game-winning drive two weeks ago, but thankfully for the 49ers, Mike McCarthy got a quarterback sneak confused with a Hail Mary.
Being an efficient game manager also means being more consistent moving the chains and sparking more offensive consistency in general. Your first 13 plays can't go for a total of -10 yards like we saw last Saturday night.
Win on defense and special teams
The 49ers statistically have the worst offense among the four remaining playoff teams, but they say defense wins championships for a reason. San Francisco finished the regular season with the No. 3 defense in the league, and lead all remaining playoff teams in average points allowed per game in the postseason with 13.5. Holding the Cowboys to 17 in Dallas was an accomplishment, and so was holding the Packers to 10 in Green Bay. Being able to bottle up the offenses of the Rams and then the Chiefs/Bengals is incredibly important for the 49ers to win the Super Bowl.
One of the reasons why the 49ers have been so great defensively is the pass-rush. The defensive front is consistently getting pressure on quarterbacks, sacking each quarterback it has faced in the postseason five times. The last time it faced Matthew Stafford in the regular-season finale? Five sacks as well.
The 49ers also may have the best special teams in the playoffs, and they carried them to victory last weekend. The 49ers blocked a field goal at the end of the first half vs. Green Bay to keep the score 7-0 and then blocked a punt that was returned for a touchdown to tie the game late in the fourth quarter. To top it all off, Robbie Gould kicked the game-winning field goal.
San Francisco gained seven points on special teams and took away three in a tight game.
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This may be the most important step of San Fran's plan to win the Super Bowl. The 49ers need to avoid slow starts and slow finishes. While they kept it close with the Packers before scoring the final 10 points of the game, the 49ers didn't score a single point until the third quarter. The 49ers also needed to mount a huge comeback last time out against the Rams, as L.A. scored the first 17 points of the game in Week 18.
Tapering off after hot starts has been something to watch, too. While the 49ers jumped out to a 13-0 lead against the Cowboys in Super Wild Card Weekend, they allowed a 10-0 run to almost blow the game in the fourth quarter. Additionally, remember that the 49ers were outscored 21-0 by the Chiefs in the final seven minutes of the Super Bowl two years ago.
If a team is going to allow the 49ers to get out to a double-digit lead, Shanahan is going to have to find a way to maintain said lead. The 49ers also can't start slow. If they go down 17 to the Rams this time around, there's no guarantee they can pull off another comeback.