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7 things 49ers must improve from divisional round to win NFC championship

The 49ers didn’t play their ‘A’ game in the divisional playoffs. They may not have even played their ‘B’ or ‘C’ game. It was a mostly rough outing that saw the more talented San Francisco team make a handful of plays that allowed them to pull out a win.

In the NFC championship game the talent gap will close when the Detroit Lions enter Levi’s Stadium. Another subpar performance won’t be overcome with a handful of plays in the closing minutes. If the 49ers want to ensure they don’t fall short in a third consecutive NFC championship, they’ll need to improve these seven things:

QB Brock Purdy

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Purdy certainly wasn’t the worst version of himself against the Packers, but he was uncharacteristically inaccurate and appeared to have trouble settling into a rhythm during the game. Perhaps it was just the elements. At press time there’s no rain in the forecast for Sunday which bodes well for a bounce-back from the 49ers’ QB. San Francisco’s offense is talented enough that even an off night from Purdy is survivable, but the Lions are too good on both sides of the ball for Purdy to be as bad as he was against Green Bay. He’ll need to be more decisive, accurate and careful with the ball for the 49ers to get over the hump and win an NFC championship.

Pass rush

(Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
(Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

The 49ers’ pass rush didn’t record a sack against the Packers. In fact, they managed only six QB hits and Nick Bosa accounted for five of them. Overall they amassed 22 pressures, which is a fine number that may result in more sacks and hits against a less mobile QB like Lions signal caller Jared Goff. Detroit has a better offensive line than the Packers though, so it’ll require A-plus games from the stars on San Francisco’s uber-expensive defensive line. That’s the unit that drives this defense, and it needs to be significantly more effective against Detroit than it was in the divisional round.

Missed tackles

(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

It’s hard to envision a 49ers win where Detroit gets its ground game going behind RBs David Montgomery and Jahmyr Gibbs. A key reason Packers RB Aaron Jones (and other RBs this season) found success against San Francisco is because of the 49ers’ penchant for missing tackles. They whiff far too often in the first and second levels which leads to short gains going for bigger plays that put teams ahead of the sticks. They missed nine tackles against the Packers – not their worst outing of the year – but the Lions are just too dynamic on the ground to make those kind of mistakes and expect to not pay for them. Not to mention the dynamic playmaking of WR Amon-Ra St. Brown and TE Sam LaPorta. They’re also capable of turning short throws into explosive plays. The 49ers have to be as sound as they’ve been all year when it comes to tackling or they’ll get shredded by a high-octane Lions offense.

CB Ambry Thomas

(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

This is really about one play – a 41-yard pass interference penalty that allowed the Packers to convert a third-and-forever. Thomas had position on the play. He was with WR Bo Melton with his eyes turned back toward the football. Then he inexplicably appeared to panic, wrapped up the WR and drew the easiest pass interference flag an official will throw all postseason. Combine that with a missed tackle that allowed a big gain and it’s a recipe for disaster for Thomas, who also got flagged for holding early in the game. He’s undoubtedly going to get picked on by Detroit, and he has to respond better than he did in the divisional round.

Not falling down

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

This is sort of tongue-in-cheek, but also sort of serious. Several Packers big plays came because 49ers defenders fell down. A lack of precipitation should help this.

Helping RT Colton McKivitz

Dan Powers-USA TODAY Sports
Dan Powers-USA TODAY Sports

McKivitz and left guard Aaron Banks both allowed five pressures against the Packers. Detroit will enter Levi’s Stadium with one of the NFL’s best pass rushers, Aidan Hutchinson. He’ll get plenty of work against McKivitz and if the 49ers aren’t diligent about throwing help his way it could turn into the type of nightmare performance the starting RT had against TJ Watt in Week 1 where Watt posted three sacks and a forced fumble. Hutchinson can wreck the 49ers’ entire game plan if McKivitz plays like he did in the divisional round. Helping him out should be priority No. 1 for San Francisco’s offense.

Kickoffs

Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports
Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Honestly, the 49ers need to stop messing around with kickoffs. They should have kicker Jake Moody launch every kick out of the end zone. It’s pretty straightforward. They should avoid a big kickoff as much as humanly possible.

Story originally appeared on Niners Wire