So far, this season has required equal parts vision and patience from Los Angeles Rams fans. A couple close wins, a solid victory over the Saints minus Drew Brees, an embarrassment against Tampa Bay, and then last week’s heartbreak in Seattle. Regardless of outcome, we look for signs of things to come, but signals have been mostly mixed or concerning so far. It has been a truly puzzling season to figure out so far, but after this week we should have a much clearer idea about how to ultimately view this season.
The San Francisco 49ers are feeling great after a Monday Night Football shellacking of the Cleveland Browns and are currently in sole position of first place in the NFC West. Although the 49ers have yet to play an opponent with winning record, their ground game, stout defensive line, and Kyle Shanahan’s play book, means that the 49ers qualify as serious test for the Rams. Vegas has the Rams as -3.5 point home favorites, which means the teams basically considered equals at this point, which is great. This Sunday should provide clarity.
Lurking sentiments that the Rams are still the class of the West could be emboldened with a convincing triumph over their rivals. It’s certainly a possibility that the Rams defense employs some of the same strategies that have been used to limit Sean McVay’s outside zone schemes since late last season. If the Rams are able to contain running backs Matt Breida and Tevin Coleman, it’s hard to see the 49ers having much offensive success. Perhaps the Rams offense decides to establish an early ground game and attack the strength of the 49ers defense, as they did early in the Seattle game, setting up Jared Goff to pick apart the Niners defense at his leisure.
If these things happen, we could have a completely different view of the Rams standing in the NFC by Sunday night. We will be able to believe in a battle tested team’s ability to step up in big moments. As the Rams prepare for a stretch of games that shouldn’t be as daunting as their first six games, maybe we’ll all be able to look back at early struggles as part of the process, and think rich man thoughts, like who we’d like to see in the playoffs and if a bye will be possible.
Maybe it’s more of the same. Maybe the 49ers jump out to an early lead. Maybe the Rams offensive line continues to look shaky, and Goff ends up throwing multiple picks. Maybe the Rams can’t stop the run, at all. Maybe George Kittles is wide open over the middle every other play. Maybe the Rams are playing from behind all day, become one dimensional, and the day becomes a nightmare.
If that happens, it’s likely that we’ll have tempered expectations for the rest of the year. Nothing will be a given, and every victory will feel like survival. It will become a season of scoreboard watching, where we increasingly wonder about the team’s long-term future, and whether or not the Rams Super Bowl loss last season will be the pinnacle of the “We Not Me” Rams.
That’s putting way too much on this week’s outcome. Of course the Rams could lose this week, then rattle off wins against the Atlanta Falcons, Cincinnati Bengals, and Pittsburgh Steelers and be sitting at a respectable 7-4 record heading into the Bears game.
But still, this one feels really big. Nobody’s trying to watch the 49ers take the division or win in the House of Ram. One things for sure, if this team does have a switch to hit, they should show up this week. If they don’t, then we probably should expect more of the same for the next ten games.