The Los Angeles Rams travel to Santa Clara for Thursday Night Football. The 49ers are coming off a nail biter in Seattle and the Rams are coming off a close game of their own versus the Redskins. Here are my five burning questions for the Thursday night showdown.
5. Will RB Carlos Hyde continue rolling?
I believe so. QB Brian Hoyer has been a complete failure. Yes, the 49ers have had their fair share of offensive line issues, but Hoyer’s showing has produced zero touchdowns along with two interceptions in as many games. RB Carlos Hyde, on the other hand, is coming off of 124 yards rushing in Seattle. 102 of those rushing yards came in the first half. The last person to rush for over 100+ yards in the first half in Seattle was Adrian Peterson in 2012. The Rams gave up 179 yards rushing before contact this past Sunday. RBs Carlos Hyde and Matt Breida are in for a big day.
4. Will the passing attack improve?
I think it will, just not on Thursday. The 49ers are coming off a short week with not a lot of time to change personnel. I foresee Shanahan working rookie WRs more into the offense over time. I partially answered this question above and highlighted the Rams incapability to stop the run. They are giving up 152 yards rushing per game (30th in the NFL). I expect a huge day from the backfield.
3. Will the 49ers be able to contain RB Todd Gurley?
LB NaVorro Bowman vs RB Todd Gurley will be one to watch Thursday. If the 49ers can limit Gurley from breaking off big plays they will deliver the first win in the new regime era. The 49ers have massively improved their yards allowed per play which was dead last in 2016. They are allowing 4.2 yards per play, which ranks 4th best in the NFL, through two games. I believe Saleh will load the box and commit to stopping the run and hold Gurley under 100 yards rushing.
2. Who will start with safeties Eric Reid and Jaquiski Tartt dealing with injuries?
49ers played a physical game on Sunday. FS Jimmie Ward and SS Jaquiski Tartt were making their presence known early against the Seahawks offense, delivering hit after hit. Unfortunately, that style of play has landed Tartt on the injury report (neck) and could miss Thursday’s matchup due to the short week. On the other hand, Eric Reid’s PCL injury to his left knee may keep him out for multiple games. So who will be lining up next to Jimmie Ward? I’m going to roll the dice and say UDFA FS Lorenzo Jerome. Jerome had a solid offseason making play after play at practice, which ended up earning him a roster spot. ESPN’s Todd McShay ranked him the best UDFA on the market when the draft ended. Calling him “a better football player than athlete.” He’ll have his chance to show why he earned himself a roster spot come Thursday night.
1. Who will be the gamechanger in this matchup?
My guess: DE DeForest Buckner. Buckner has been wrecking havoc on offensive linemen. Through two games he has a graded 88.4 amongst interior defenders, which ranks 5th. He is playing like an All-Pro. He earned the game ball versus the Seahawks with 9 total pressures (four hits, five hurries) and 2 run stops, 90.8 grade by PFF. He’s been facing multiple double teams and still manages to disrupt the backfield. That doesn’t show up on the stat sheet. He’s been on the field for 121 snaps, third most amongst interior linemen, and he’s the 49ers best defensive player right now. The Rams offensive line will have their work cut out for them.