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3 matchups the 49ers must win: Bosa has to take advantage of the Rams’ tackles

Plus, Hufanga and Lenoir.

NFC Championship - San Francisco 49ers v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images

The Rams' offense has plenty of star power with the likes of Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp, but it has struggled early in the season, ranking in the bottom half of the majority of traditional offensive stats.

The 49ers' defense has just as much star power but have been performing at a top-five level. For that reason, all three matchups to watch this week are the 49ers' defense against the Rams' offense. The 49ers' offense feels like it is in a state of disarray right now, which makes it that much more important for the defense to continue its high level of play.

Here are the three matchups that could decide the Monday night divisional game against the Rams:

CB Deommodore Lenoir vs. WR Cooper Kupp

49ers fans know all too well just how good Cooper Kupp is. 2021 was a career season for Kupp as he led the NFL in receptions (145), receiving yards (1,974), and touchdown receptions (16). Kupp has had some struggles in the past against the 49ers, averaging 4.7 receptions and 51 yards per game over seven career games against the 49ers but averaged 127 yards on just below ten receptions over three games in 2021 against San Francisco.

All signs point to Deommodore Lenoir getting the snaps as the 49ers nickel back on Monday night after Lenoir played all 35 of his snaps on defense in the slot against the Broncos Sunday night. Monday night will mark the first time Lenoir has taken a defensive snap against the Rams after only playing special teams in their Week 9 game last season and not playing a single snap in Week 18 or the NFC Championship Game. Kupp has played 49 percent of his offensive snaps in the slot with 59 percent of his passing snaps in the slot, so Lenoir will see plenty of Kupp throughout.

DE Nick Bosa vs. LT Joseph Noteboom

49ers fans also know very well how good and game-breaking Nick Bosa can be. Bosa is tied with Josh Allen and Maxx Crosby for the fifth-most amount of pressures by edge rushers with 16 through three games. 13 of Bosa’s 16 pressures have come over the last two weeks, with him recording three sacks and six quarterback hits over the same stretch. Bosa has recorded only 1.5 sacks against the Rams over four regular season games.

While 1.5 sacks over four games doesn’t seem too impressive for what we’re used to with Bosa, there will be a change from the Rams that might free things up for the 49ers' pass rusher. For the first time in his career, the 49ers will face the Rams without two-time All-Pro tackle Andrew Whitworth at left tackle, with veteran Joe Noteboom replacing him.

Noteboom has been off to a poor start allowing the third-most amount of pressures (12) in the league through the first three weeks. While Bosa does play the majority of his snaps, don’t be surprised if DeMeco Ryans takes advantage of this matchup a few times Monday night.

S Talanoa Hufanga vs. TE Tyler Higbee

Quick! Without looking: name the Rams' second-most targeted pass catcher behind Cooper Kupp. The title of this section probably gives it away, but it’s tight end Tyler Higbee who also has the second-most number of receptions (16) and receiving yards (171) for the Rams on his 24 targets. Higbee has been favored so much by Stafford that his 24 targets are just one fewer than Ben Skowronek’s (13) and Allen Robinson’s (12) combined targets. Watch for Higbee early as 11 of his targets have come on first down, with four of the six receptions resulting in another first down.

While Higbee will likely see his fair share of matchups against the 49ers linebackers, Talanoa Hufanga will likely see his fair share of coverage snaps against the tight end. Hufanga has been solid through the first three weeks of the season, especially in coverage, allowing a 2.8 passer rating against on nine targets, allowing only three receptions for 22 yards. Three of those nine targets have come with Hufanga against a tight end, with the safety allowing just one reception for 10 yards. Higbee will be a good test for Hufanga, who has surprised the league with his play at safety.