When you look across the NFL this week, there are five teams with 1-5 records: the Arizona Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, New York Giants, Oakland Raiders and the Los Angeles Rams’ Week 7 opponent...the hated San Francisco 49ers.
Among those teams, the Niners are by far the best team in the bunch. They could easily be 3-3. The Niners have a strong running game headed up by RB Matt Breida. They offer competent wide receivers with Marquise Goodwin and Pierre Garcon . Couple that with better tight ends then the Rams and a formidable defensive line. What the Niners lack is a defensive secondary mirroring the Rams.
It’s not enough to just look at the win-loss records. In my class, students are required to think about the game in the bigger context.
Throughout NFL history, the only team which has remained a divisional opponent wit hthe Rams is the Niners. Gone are the Baltimore Colts, New Orleans Saints, Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers. The battle between NorCal and SoCal is storied and hotly contested.
When the Niners made their run in the 80’s ask any player that played on those teams and they will tell you the Rams were their toughest opponent. Even when during this period San Francisco was winning multiple Super Bowls as long as the Rams beat the Niners once, Los Angeles could still be proud. This is equally true of the rivalry with the power shifting to the Rams the last two years.
Emotions about this match run high. Management of both teams knows it. The coaches know it, and the players know it. This is not just another regular season game. It’s about who is California’s undisputed professional football champion.
Diehard Ram fans like myself always keep an eye of what is happening with the Niners. While watching my Rams, I continually check out the outcome of the 49ers game. A Rams win is good weekend, but coupled with a Niners loss is even better. If the Dallas Cowboys also lose, then it’s a great weekend.
This where the Professor’s thought process begins. Take your emotions out the game. Play Rams football, because in the end the better team is not the Niners.
All of the things Angelenos want to see happen to the Niners during this game will come, if the Rams focus on the goal—win the game. Head Coach Sean McVay can’t allow his overly aggressive offensive philosophy take away his focus. Nor can the players allow their desire to crush the Niners to negatively affect their play like trying to make the extra yard and fumbling in the process or sacking Niners QB C.J. Beathard so hard they get an illegal roughness penalty.
Stay in the moment. Play smart, and all things good will happen.
What the Rams need to do on offense
Don’t expect RB Todd Gurley to get 200 yards this game on the ground. If he can pop a 10+-yard run now and again, this will clearly help the Rams in the passing game.
QB Jared Goff needs to be accurate. Gone is WR Cooper Kupp for this game. The Rams can’t dwell on the injury though. Kupp’s replacement, WR Josh Reynolds must take advantage of the opportunity as McVay is not going to go into a shell regarding his playcalling merely because one of his starting wide receivers is out.
The Niners’ secondary is a liability which the Rams need to take advantage of. In this area, I would like to see the Rams try to get TE Tyler Higbee or Gerald Everett more involved in the passing game since I would assume that All-Pro 49ers CB Richard Sherman, the only decent Niners secondary player, will be all over WR Brandin Cooks. This leaves Goff with only two other options down the field, WR Robert Woods or Reynolds.
The Niners are clearly aware of their vulnerability having been torched last week by Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers. That’s where the tight ends come into play. If the Niners’ gameplan is not to worry about whomever Sherman covers, this is time when the rarely used Rams tight ends can exploit the coverage.
If the Rams come up with a way to effectively use their tight ends in the passing game, it will open things up for Gurley as well. Once the Rams get a couple swing passes out to him, it will force the Niners to adjust to the short pass and then Goff can go down the field to his wide receivers.
None of this can be achieved without keeping Goff clean in the pocket. The Niners defensive line is formidable. They may not be the best, but they do put pressure on the quarterback even when not blitzing.
That’s the gameplan. Take what the Niners defense is giving you. Get out to an early lead, and then the Rams offense can afford to take their shots.
What the Rams need to do on defense
The Rams must follow up on their improved run defense from last week. If the Rams are intending to have any success, it’s completely dependent on making Beathard look like the backup he was intended to be.
Niners Head Coach Kyle Shanahan has no intention of throwing away his own aggressive offensive philosophy just because Beathard is in there. He hasn’t been that bad in Shanahan’s offense which is highly dependent on stretching the field with playaction passes and utilizing his tight ends. This will be a test for the Rams’ outside linebackers and safeties in coverage.
The last time the Rams faced off against a opponent who uses the tight ends as much as the Niners do was the Oakland Raiders on Monday night in Week 1. In that game, former Rams and now Raiders TE Jared Cook had a career day.
If the Rams don’t shut down the Niners’ tight ends, it’s going to be long day and could lead to a shootout.
I would love to see CBs Troy Hill and Sam Shields alongside Marcus Peters and the safeties, Lamarcus Joyner and John Johnson III, have the breakout Lock Down Los Angeles game. Not only because its the Niners, but because this will boost their confidence level for future games. And once CB Aqib Talib returns, we’ll be as formidable as advertised regardless of who’s back there in the secondary.
What the Rams need to do on special teams
PK Greg Zuerlein returns from his hamstring injury. This is good news, but I need to see that he is fully recovered. One misstep could lead to aggravating his hamstring again. So just be careful out there. If Greg thinks he can put his full weight behind a long one, let him take the shot since there’s no better way to know that you’re 100% back until you get the chance and perform to perfection.
PR JoJo Natson Jr. has to have a big game. Whether this is a shootout or a close dogfight until the end, a big punt return can change the momentum of the game.
P Johnny Hekker—If I never see him all day, things are going well.
The 49ers had a short week to get prepared for the undefeated Rams, but a short week of prep time is nothing when familiarity breeds contempt. I expect this to be non-factor.
This is very meaningful game for the Niners. If they can beat the Rams, it will make their season as they have no hope of making the playoffs while our team is well on its way. Not only will beating the Rams rekindle optimism for the future, it will end the Rams’ undefeated streak. A double whammy.
On the other hand, the Rams need to get this win as the next three weeks the Rams face the Packers, the Saints, Seattle Seahawks and then the Kansas City Chiefs. That’s a formidable stretch of games to expect the Rams to remain undefeated.
The bottom line is that it doesn’t matter where these two play, whether its Santa Clara or Los Angeles. These two teams don’t like each other. They respect the rivalry, but that’s as far it goes.
So now it’s time to close your book and actually think about what it’s really going to take to beat the Niners. The Niners could care less about the stats, the rankings or the records of either team.
In these kinds of games when the focus is there, the better team should win. The Rams are the best team in the NFL bar none. Now go out play like it.