Rams vs. 49ers Preview
Overview: These are complex games to predict. On paper, the Rams have a better team and should win. But that was the case in both 2020 matchups of these traditional rivals, yet the San Francisco 49ers came away with two victories. They have won four in a row, and some think the Niners match up well in these games, regardless of the records.
Some believe that the Niners coach Kyle Shanahan has the magic bullet when beating his old friend and former assistant, Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay. We do not believe that, but the records in these games the last couple of years certainly don't disapprove of that idea.
Two other factors are worth mentioning. First of all, the Niners have their backs to the wall, playoff-wise. The division is probably outside of their grasp, but if they have a real shot at even a wildcard slot, this is almost a must-win game for them.
The other factor that is hard to measure here is the loss of Rams wide receiver Robert Woods. "Bobby Trees," as he is sometimes known, is not only an excellent wide receiver, but he is in many ways the heart and soul of the Rams, along with players such as Aaron Donald, Andrew Whitworth, and Matthew Stafford. He epitomizes the "We Not Me" attitude that coach McVay preaches.
His replacement, Odell Beckham Junior, doesn't exactly bring that kind of reputation to L.A.. although, in fairness, he has yet to take a snap as a Ram.
Rams Offense vs. Niners Defense: Despite the generally disappointing performance for the Niners in 2021, most problems have not been on this side of the ball. San Francisco is 8th in the league in yards per game, and they have been giving up 25 points per game so far this season. The points total is a little higher than you would like, but it isn't terrible. They still have Nick Bosa, a pass-rushing terror from his edge rusher position, and Fred Warner is an elite linebacker by any measurement.
The Rams offense is coming off an abysmal performance against Tennessee Titans, one in which the previously-excellent L.A. offensive line got whipped badly on passing downs in particular. That allowed the Titans to rush four and drop seven into coverage. You can bet that San Francisco was taking notes on that defensive strategy.
Did the Ram's offensive line have a terrible game, or are they that bad? Give the Titans some credit, but our opinion is that it was more the former than the latter. It had better be because if the Rams O-line is that bad, the outlook for this team is pretty grim.
Another concern upfront is the possible absence of center Brian Allen for the Rams. The chemistry between the quarterback and center shouldn't be underestimated, especially for a team that operates from the shotgun as often as the Rams do. Hopefully, the extra day of rest for the Rams will help Allen get on the field.
One of the key matchups will involve Rams left tackle Andrew Whitworth against defensive end Nick Bosa. As bad as the Rams O-line was last week, Whitworth didn't play bad, probably the only Rams O-lineman of whom that could be said. He will need to contain Bosa throughout the game.
The Rams hope to take advantage of cornerback K'waun Williams, who will probably see a lot of Cooper Kupp in this game. Williams hasn't been great this season, and on paper, that matchup will favor the Rams. But, with the loss of Woods and OBJ still learning the dynamics of the offense, the Niners have a better opportunity to double up on Kupp.
Speaking of OBJ, he will reunite with an old friend in Niners cornerback Josh Norman, assuming Beckham gets significant snaps. Norman is not the player he once was, but whether OBJ will see enough action to take advantage of a declining Norman remains to be seen. McVay has said that OBJ will play, but having been on the team less than a week would imply he won't be on the field all that much.
Then again, McVay may well dial-up some plays designed explicitly for Beckam and use him as a decoy on other downs. So, we shall see the outcome of his presence because someone has to take the defensive focus off of Kupp. Which is another reason the Woods injury is devastating with this offense.
Every week we wonder if the Rams won't go smashmouth and run the ball more. But whether it's a lack of confidence in the Rams running game or simply a case of McVay wanting to throw the ball, it never seems to occur. L.A. has thrown the ball 65 percent of the time so far this season. The Niner's banged-up secondary, that trend probably will continue on Monday night.
We will check this box for the Rams with the idea that they bounce back from last week's dreadful performance, but this is a Niners defense that is still capable of playing well despite injuries.
Rams Defense vs. Niners' offense: The Niners are a solid 13th in offensive yardage this season but only averages 18 points per game. Part of the problem is that they have not run the ball very consistently. In recent years, Raheem Mostert has been something of a "Ram Killer" is done for the season and replaced by rookie running back Elijah Mitchell. Mitchell has been their feature back; however, he has been up and down with injuries. He's rushed for 469 yards in eight games, averaging about 55 yards per game. The general thinking around the league is that Ram's defense is weaker against the run than the pass. It will be interesting to see if the Niners try to expose that theory.
The disappointment of the 49ers season has been one positive of Deebo Samuel, who has been outstanding at wide receiver. He's second to Cooper Kupp in reception yardage and will match up with Jalen Ramsey, one of the marquee matchups in this game.
The Niners will be missing right-tackle Mike McGlinchey, generally expected, but not confident that Von Miller will make his Ram's debut. A pass rush that features Aaron Donald, Miller, and Leonard Floyd would challenge any offense. Even without Miller, the Rams lead the NFL with 28 quarterback sacks.
The 49ers may have the NFL's best tight-end not named Travis Kelce in George Kittle. He could be a safety valve if the Niners go to a short passing game to counter the expected fierce pass rush. The Rams miss safety John Johnson, who used to draw Kittle in most coverages.
The 49ers quarterback situation is somewhat confusing. Most around the league consider starter Jimmy Garoppolo to be "just a guy." Jimmy is comparable to an Andy Dalton or maybe even to "Big" Ben Roethlisberger at this stage in Rothlisberger's career. Players won't kill you if they are your starter, but not someone who can carry a team either. San Francisco sold the farm to move up to overall number three selection to draft Trey Lance from North Dakota State. Lance hadn't played much, and when he did play, he had less-than-stellar action in place of an injured Jimmy G.
That's a little unusual in today's NFL, where the prevailing philosophy seems to be to get highly drafted rookie quarterbacks in the game sooner rather than later. Shanahan has also been less than enthusiastic about Lance in some of his comments to the media.
That's all San Francisco's problem, and barring injury, we expect to see Jimmy G for most or all of the snaps on Monday night.
Special Teams: The Ram's special teams weren't awful last week, which is progress for the 2021 Rams. There is talk that the Rams may use OBJ as a punt returner. We always have injury concerns about using key offensive players as return men.
But on the other hand, it might inject some life into a problematic area of the team's return game. All of that aside, the Niners get the advantage here.
Coaching: Typically, this is an automatic edge for the Rams. But given Shanahan's success and seemingly magical powers against the Rams in recent years—and his track record against McVay—we are going a different direction this time.
Hey, we have to be honest here, and the track record argues for Kyle Shanahan. We hope McVay proves us wrong!
Final prediction: The oddsmakers had the Rams as an only four-point favorite even before the Woods injury. The battle between the North vs. South is a pretty even matchup between the two teams. But we are Rams fans, and we refuse to predict a San Francisco win. There are just some things we won't do.
Rams 30, Niners 27