Friday Morning Huddle: The End of the Beginning

In Week 3, the 49ers played the Rams at Levi’s Stadium and lost 41-39. Brian Hoyer was the starting QB, Navarro Bowman and Ray Ray Armstrong were the starting linebackers, and rookie defensive back Ahkello Witherspoon was on the bench. That game was only 14 short weeks ago, but this is the NFL and things change quickly.

For starters, the 49ers have completely accepted the youth movement. Rookies Reuben Foster (LB), Solomon Thomas (DE) and Ahkello Witherspoon (DB) are all starters on the defense. Wide receiver Trent Taylor, running back Matt Briedaand tight end George Kittle all get significant playing time on the offense. Oh yeah, and the 49ers have a franchise QB now. Jimmy Garoppolo has changed the 49ers franchise since GM John Lynch made the trade with the New England Patriots on October 30th for a 2nd round pick in the 2018 draft (thanks a million Bill!). The 49ers are on a four-game win streak and will be going for a fifth in a row to end the season on Sunday in LA. The Rams will be resting a lot of their starters in this game, as their head coach, Sean McVay, decided that resting players was more important than seeding in the playoffs. Well, a good old fashion ass kicking isn’t good for moral going into the playoffs either, and the 49ers are currently the hottest team in the NFL.

Keys to the game

49ers HC Kyle Shanahan vs. Rams DC Wade Phillips

Kyle Shanahan had Jaguars defense’s number in Week 16. Shanahan repeatedly hit Jaguars defensive coordinator Todd Wash over the head with a baseball bat for four quarters and Wash never ducked. Shanahan used crossing routes and quick passes to attack the middle of the Jaguars top-rated passing defense. He made it clear that he had no intention of attacking the teeth of the defense by throwing at two of best corners in the NFL (wise decision). This week, Shanahan has to deal with one of the best defensive coordinators in the NFL in Wade Phillips. Phillips won’t have all his weapons due to the McVay resting key players. Defensive lineman Aaron Donald is probably the best defensive player in the NFL, and he will be sitting on the bench enjoying the California sun. Shanahan is one of the best in the business at creating a game plan that focuses on exploiting the opposing team’s weakness.

Can the 49ers defense slow down Rams HC Sean McVay’soffense?

Sean McVay is probably going to win Coach of the Year in 2017, and it’s well deserved. He inherited a team that Jeff Fisher couldn’t even get to 7-9 and turned them into a Super Bowl contender. Last week, the 49ers’ defense did a pretty good job of slowing down the hot Jaguars offense. The Jaguars, as good as they’ve been this season, don’t have the offensive gurus like the Rams do. McVay is one of the better young offensive minds in the NFL and will have a game plan ready to exploit what the 49ers don’t do well on defense (I’m looking at you DontaeJohnson). Quarterback Jared Goff and running back Todd Gurley, an MVP candidate, aren’t playing in this game, and theyhave been the Rams’ best offensive playmakers all season. Gurley has been an absolute monster in the 2nd half of the season. The Rams will be playing with a backup QB and a backup RB,and I don’t see them being able to keep up with Jimmy G and the 49ers offense.

This, unfortunately, is the last game of the season for the 49ers. This is a team that has finally found its stride and has lookedlike one of the better teams in the NFL over the past four weeks. Last week’s triumph over Jacksonville is the Niners’ signature win of the 2017 season. The Jaguars are a team with a defense and a running game that can potentially drag QB Blake Bortlesto a Super Bowl, and the 49ers dominated them for four quarters. Jimmy Garoppolo has injected life into this franchise and excitement into the fans. If you want to see how excited this fanbase is for this team, look to the stands Sunday in LA and you will see a lot of red.

The 2017 season saw the 49ers start 0-9, followed by a 5-1 runduring which they acquired their franchise quarterback. The last few offseasons have been long for fans due to the uncertainty in the 49ers’ future, but the future is brighter now and this offseason will be a long one for a different reason: anticipation. Fans will be dying to see what Kyle Shanahan can do with Garoppolo after having an entire offseason to prepare. See you in 2018.

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