Image Credit: Andrew Giesemann
On the surface, Sunday’s match-up seems to be two teams heading in opposite directions. The 49ers are surging in the early part of the season, coming off a dominating 31-3 victory over the Cleveland Browns on Monday Night Football, while the Los Angeles Rams come into the game on a two-game losing streak and may have relinquished their hold on the NFC West. Still, the Rams are favorites Sunday according to the national media and it may be premature to write them off this early. But if the 49ers are able to secure the win and move three games ahead in the standings this early in the season, then it could be the end of the Rams’ dominance. The Rams may be injured prey, but that’s what could make them dangerous. What do the 49ers need to do to pull off the upset and announce themselves as divisional favorites?
The 2019 49ers resemble Jim Harbaugh’s teams from earlier this decade instead of the high scoring offense Shanahan had in Atlanta. San Francisco is rushing attempts per game (38.5) and rushing yards per game (200). Shanahan’s bread and butter has always been the outside zone, but this season we’ve seen him diversify his rushing attack, working in more counters, inside zone, and powering rushing plays. The biggest benefactor of the running game has been Jimmy Garoppolo; the running attack has allowed Shanahan to utilize play action on close to 40 percent of the team’s pass plays. Through his time with the 49ers Garoppolo has thrived while using play action and this season has been no different. The Rams rank fifteenth in the NFL against the rush, allowing 106.8 yards per game so there’s little reason to believe that 49ers won’t have success on the ground, though the loss of fullback Kyle Juszczyk and right tackle Mike McGlinchey could be problematic, Shanahan should be able to scheme an effective running game Sunday.
What was once a strength for the Rams has turned into a liability. L.A.’s offensive line has been poor in both pass protection and in the running game. While Goff had ample time to throw last season, that success hasn’t carried over to 2019. He currently ranks twenty-fourth in time to throw with an average of 2.79 seconds per drop back. With a porous offensive line and Goff’s long delivery the expected outcomes have manifested, Goff has been sacked eight times, thrown seven interceptions, and fumbled four times. Where Shanahan has worked a quick passing game to mask the loss of Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Staley, Sean McVay continues to work his receivers downfield hoping to take advantage of Goff’s arm strength. But with the increased pressure Goff has been uncomfortable in the pocket and hasn’t be able to deliver the ball accurately downfield.
More than likely new defensive line coach Kris Kocurek can’t wait to unleash his pass rush Sunday. In one of Brian Baldinger’s “Baldy’s Breakdowns” this week he referred to the 49ers’ pass rush as “Shark Week” and called Baker Mayfield “chum in the water.” While Mayfield may not be the most elusive quarterback in the NFL, he’s much more capable then Jared Goff. With running back Todd Gurley out of practice it’s likely that his backup, Malcolm Brown, is inserted into the starting line-up putting even more pressure on Goff to deliver in the face of the 49ers’ pass rush. It seems likely the 49ers continue to find their way to the opposing quarterback and with Goff’s propensity to turn the ball over when pressured, the defense should continue to build on their strong play through the first five weeks of the season.
The Rams should be the toughest test the 49ers have had this season, but where the 49ers are finding success correlates to where the Rams are struggling. If San Francisco can build on what’s gotten them to 4-0, then they should leave L.A. 5-0 and in clear command of the NFC West.
49ers 27 Rams 21
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