Overview: At a glance, this seems like a favorable matchup for the Los Angeles Rams. The San Francisco 49ers are coming off of a dreadful performance at home in a 43-17 loss to a mediocre Dolphins team. It got so bad that quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was benched after the first half by head coach Kyle Shanahan, supposedly to protect Jimmy G from injury. The Niner's offensive line has been foul, injuries to the starting cornerbacks ravage the secondary.
The defense is also missing several key pieces, including its best pass rusher, Nick Bosa, and long time stalwart DeForest Bruckner, who was traded to Indianapolis Colt in the offseason, a move that seems “less than brilliant” at this point. D-lineman Solomon Thomas is out for the year with an injury, and several other players are at less than 100 percent healthy.
That includes Jimmy G, generally expected to play on Sunday night, but who may not recovered fully from a high ankle sprain.
But for all of that, the 49ers are still defending NFC champs. They have the best tight end in the game in George Kittle and a brilliant coach in Kyle Shanahan. They also will be playing for their season, as a loss to drop them to 2-4 would likely crush any lingering hopes of winning the NFC West (they are a longshot even with a win). And put their playoff hopes on life support. They are also coming off a bad loss at home and will be out to redeem themselves, and division games in the NFL are rarely easy.
Coaching: A couple of the game’s brightest offensive minds will match wits on Sunday night. Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay are good friends who worked together with the Washington Redksins and knew each other well, making this matchup even more enjoyable.
The 49ers may have a slight edge at defensive coordinator, where Robert Saleh is undoubtedly the more established versus the Rams’ Brandon Staley. But Staley has done a great job so far this year, particularly in disguising his schemes and keeping opponents off balance. Staley has something of the surprise element in his favor because he is so new that opponents don’t know him yet. Saleh is widely considered a head coach in waiting, and Staley may not be far behind based on what he has done so far.
So, we are going to rate this as a tossup.
Rams Offense vs. 49er Defense: Once again, the war in the trenches could be critical on this side of the ball as well. The 49ers dominated the Rams offensive line last season first meeting between these teams in 2019, the balance of power seems to have shifted radically over the past year. As mentioned earlier, San Francisco will be without pass-rushing demon Nick Bosa, who is out for the season with an injury. They traded star defensive tackle DeForest Buckner on of the best tackles not named Aaron Donald.
The plan was to replace Bruckner with the first-round pick Javon Kinlaw. Kinlaw certainly is not a bad player, which may work out for the 49ers over the long term. But Kinlaw has yet to record his first NFL sack, and as of right now, they miss Buckner. Also missing from the D-line is Solomon Thomas, a somewhat underachieving but talented player. That leaves Arik Armstead as the 49er's main pass-rushing threat. His battle against Rams tackles Rob Havenstein could be critical on Sunday night.
The Rams rejuvenated running game has been a key to their offensive success so far. One offensive lapse in the teams—the run game a rather "ugly" 17-9 win over the Giants a couple of weeks ago- That's no accident, as the Rams explosive passing game features much play-action and generally is not as effective when the running game is a non-factor.
With the Cardinals' 180-yard performance in an opening day loss, the Niners have mostly been solid against the run. The Rams feature a three-headed running game of steady Malcolm Brown and the more explosive Darrell Henderson and Cam Akers. Akers broke off a 46-yard run against Washington last week that showed a bit of what the Rams were hoping for when they took him in the second round of the 2020 draft, but Rams coach Sean McVay seems to go with whoever the hot hand is at running back. That can be any of the trios on a given day, and each can catch the ball as well.
The 49ers are missing starting corners Richard Sherman and K'Waun Willaims, and that could be a problem. They made Dolphins quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick look like Dan Marino last week, like Fitzpatrick, will all due respect, is no Jared Goff. The Niners need to pressure Goff, or the Rams wide receivers could have a field day against this secondary. Don't forget about tight ends Gerald Everett and Tyler Higbee, either. As with the Rams running backs, you never know who the hot hand will be at tight end, and either can be deadly on a given day.
The bottom line here is that the 49ers need to win upfront because this secondary is overmatched if Goff gets time to throw the ball. The Dolphins receivers killed them last week on crossing patterns in particular, and Miami's receivers, with the possible exception of tight end Mike Gesicki, and not nearly as good as the Rams.
Rams Defense vs. Niners Offense: San Francisco problems start up front with an offensive line that has not been very good this season. The 49ers thought they were upgrading at left tackle when they replaced the retired Joe Staley with former Washington Football Team star Trent Williams. Considered Williams the best- offensive left tackle in the game going into this season, but so far, that hasn't been the case in 2020. Whether it's rust from sitting out the entire 2019 season with Washington (he had a cancerous growth on his head), a matter of a player in decline, or just taking a while to hit his stride with a new team—or some combination of all three—Williams has not been good this season. Last week against the Dolphins, Two words: Aaron Donald.
Donald has been a holy terror this season, notching four sacks last week against the Washington Team. San Francisco had better have their act together this week, or Jimmy G may relegate back to the bench. Maybe the witness protection program would be an even better idea.
However, the Niner's troubles don't end on the left side. Right tackle Mike McGlinchey has been even worse than Williams so far. The Rams will line up Donald just about anywhere to take advantage of favorable matchups. That could mean McGlinchey sees much of AD this week. It's a given that Donald will be double-teamed, of course, but so far, that hasn't slowed him down much.
The Rams will be without a couple of key defenders. Linebacker Obo Okoronkwo, who had been coming on as a pass rusher, is on injured reserve. The Rams hope linebacker Terrell Lewis, a rookie who made his debut last week, can pick up some of the slack. Lewis is a third-round draft selection out of Alabama who expected to help take some of the pressure off Aaron Donald in the pass rush. He came into the league with a label of '" talented but injury-prone."
The other Rams injury looms even more extensive. Starting rookie Safety Jordan Fuller, who has been a critical player in the Rams secondary, is out for at least three weeks with a shoulder injury. Former starter Taylor Rapp'll replace him in the lineup. While Rapp would probably start for many NFL teams, he's been somewhat disappointing so far this season. He needs to step it up on Sunday night and redeem himself from a blown coverage against the Niners last season, leading to a game-winning field goal by kicker Robbie Gould.
Safety John Johnson will likely see a lot of George Kittle in what could be a key matchup. There is even some discussion that the Rams may put their best cornerback, Jalen Ramsey, on Kittle. You don't often see lockdown corners assigned to cover tight ends. Then again, you don't often see tight ends like George Kittle, who is an absolute monster and easily the 49er's best offensive weapon.
The Rams will likely see Micah Kiser back in action at inside linebacker. That's good news if the Rams hope to contain running back Raheem Mostert and the 49er running game. Shanahan has always favored a "run first' offensive philosophy, but he needs better blocking than San Francisco has featured so far this season to make that work.
Special Teams: The Rams Sam Sloman missed an extra point last week. That's never a good sign. The Rams special teams, aside from punter Johnny Hekker, remains a concern. As good as Cooper Kupp may be as a receiver, he doesn't seem to do much as a punt returner other than many fair catches. The Rams had Nsimba Webster, who has been returning kickoffs, run back a couple of punts last week, and McVay seemed to indicate we would see more of that in the future. Webster probably offers a more explosive option, but he doesn't necessarily strike fear into the hearts of opponents either.
If the Rams have an Achilles heel, this is it.
PREDICTION: The Rams are favored by 3.5 on the road. Keep in mind that the 49ers are a wounded, angry team and are playing for their season, so an upset would not be a huge shock here. But on paper, you have to like the Rams chances.
Rams 24 - 49ers 21