Preview: Maybe this should say "Preview?" because you never know what to expect with this Los Angeles Rams team. When the team that kicked an excellent Seattle Seahawks team all over the field a couple of weeks ago takes the field, they can beat anybody in the NFL. If the team that got blown out in Dallas takes the field, beating the Miami Dolphins might be asking too much. We never know with the 2019 Rams. However, a loss tonight or a Minnesota Vikings win on Monday night against the Green Bay Packers eliminates the Rams from the postseason. We cannot do anything about the Vikings game, but a win tonight at least means the season is not over yet. Besides, beating the San Francisco 49ers is always a joy and a pleasure.
Rams Offense vs. Niners Defense: While the 49ers have a good offense, this is the side of the ball where they are truly elite. In the first meeting between these two teams, San Francisco won the war in the trenches in a big way. Jared Goff was held to a career-low 78 yards passing in 20-7 49ers win that was not as close as the score makes it sound. Todd Gurley missed that game, and he needs to be a factor this evening if Los Angeles is to pull the upset. There has been a consistent pattern this season for the Rams offense. When they run the ball effectively, and TGII gets many touches, they win. When Head Coach Sean McVay channels his inner Mike Martz, and they come out in pass-first mode--as they did last week against Dallas--they usually lose. Rams quarterback Jared Goff has said they ''have something special" for this game. Let us hope it involves a heavy dose of Todd Gurley, whether as a runner or receiver, or better yet, both,
The Rams have a different offensive line than they did in the first meeting, which is probably a good thing. While the new unit was not great last week against Dallas, they have mostly been better than the 0-line that started the season. Old-pro Andrew Whitworth, who is probably playing in the next to last game of his career, had been playing a lot better before last week when he got hit with a couple of crucial flags and generally had an off day. He needs to return to form this week against Niners super-rookie Nick Bosa. The Rams O-line, in general, will be tested by what may be the best defensive front in the NFL. If they can hold their own, Los Angeles can win this game. If not, hello 2020 in terms of any playoff hopes.
One player that has emerged for the Rams in recent weeks is tight-end Tyler Higbee, who has been a monster of late, even notching 111 yards in last week's debacle in Dallas. One of the best counters to a fierce pass is an actual short passing game, and Higbee and Gurley are the guys in this offense who are most able to make that happen.
San Francisco's defense is limping, as Cornerback Richard Sherman expected to play through a hamstring injury, but whether he will be 100 percent remains to be seen. If he is not Rams wideout, Robert Woods could have a big game, assuming Goff can get some time to throw.
The 49ers will be missing linebackers Dee Ford and Julian Taylor and safety Jaquiski Tartt. A bigger question may be whether corners Sherman and K'waun Williams are genuinely healthy.
Rams Defense vs. 49ers Offense: The Rams gave up 263 yards on the ground in Dallas last week, and that cannot happen again if Los Angeles is to have any chance of winning. There are some rumors-unconfirmed at this point--that Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips may not return next season. If there is any truth to the idea that he might not be back, how the Rams D performs in this game could play a critical factor in that decision.
The funny thing about that is that this unit has mostly been pretty good, but when they have been wrong (as last week or against the Ravens), they have been just awful. We have rarely seen as weak an effort at tackling as what this team exhibited last week, and fixing that issue is job one in this game. The arm tackling and generally lackluster attempts at bringing down opposing call carriers that we saw last week cannot continue. This unit, in general, looked dispirited and lethargic. Let us hope that being embarrassed on national television by a Dallas team that came in with a losing record wakes them up. It better, or we may not see Wade on the sidelines in 2020, and we can forget about the playoffs this season.
The 49ers have the second-ranked rushing attack in the league, and unlike the first meeting between these two teams, San Francisco will have both of their tackles, Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey, will start. Staley is the San Francisco version of Andrew Whitworth--past his prime, but still better than most left tackles in the game. Rams edge rusher Dante Fowler will try to take advantage of Staley is one of the more significant matchups in this game.
While San Francisco is a run-first team, they also have probably the best tight end in the game in George Kittle. Rams safety Taylor Rapp will try to contain Kittle.
We cannot talk about the Rams defense without mentioning Aaron Donald, so we just mentioned him. He will no doubt see his usual double and even triple teams, something he is used to, and that does not always shut him down by any means. When AD gets loose, bad things happen for opposing offenses. When he does not, it is up to the rest of this defense to win their matchups. Of course, despite seeing multiple blockers, Aaron Donald can and often does take over a game like no other defender in the modern NFL can take over a game all by himself. If he goes on a rampage in this game, the Rams will probably win, assuming they can put a few points on the board.
WE probably should check this box for San Francisco, but NOT going to play a hunch here and hope the Rams defense is angry after being embarrassed last week in front of the entire country. They certainly should be.
If they cannot get up to play their best game of the season against Public Enemy Number One in a do-or-die game, something is seriously wrong here.
Special Teams: As if the Rams do not have enough problems, kicker Greg Zuerlein has been battling a quadriceps injury all week. That is not good news.
Prediction: It is hard to see how the Rams win this game on paper. We probably should pick San Francisco, but there are some things we will not do. So we are going to go with our heart over our head
Rams 27 Niners 24
(In Vegas, with our head making the decisions, it would be Niners 37, Rams 24 )