You may have heard, the San Francisco 49ers are undefeated through four games, and their stock is pointed upwards with many buying them as contenders.
One argument for the 49ers is that they have played really well in the trenches on both sides of the ball, certainly a trait shared by many playoff teams. Also, the 49ers offense is currently 2nd in scoring and 4th in total yardage gained. Symmetrically, their defense is ranked 4th in points allowed and 2nd in yardage surrendered. Perhaps most impressive, has been the Niners’ ground game, which currently leads the entire league in yardage gained, on the shoulders of running backs Matt Breida, Raheem Mostert, and Tevin Coleman, who average 6.5, 5.8, and 5.5 yards per carry respectively. Any time the rushing attack is that productive, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo should be at least serviceable in a Kyle Shanahan offense that is firing on all cylinders. So far, Garoppolo has not been spectacular, but has completed 69% of his passes at a solid 8.1 yards per attempt, enough to get it done for the 49ers.
Outside receivers Deebo Samuel, Marquise Goodwin, and Dante Pettis won’t have the Rams losing much sleep, but tight end George Kittle might already be the best in the game and is on pace for 90+ receptions. The big problem for the 49ers offense this week will be the absence of their two starting tackles, Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey, as well as their super-fullback Kyle Juszczyk. That could make it difficult for the 49ers to get their backfield going, which might ultimately undo their so-far prolific offense. Needless to say, the 49ers will be praying that Daniel Brunskill will play decently in his first NFL start, and Justin Skule can keep from getting dominated by Aaron Donald and Dante Fowler Jr. Edge Clay Matthews’ absence will help Brunskill on the right side, but expect the Rams to rotate their personnel to keep the pressure on.
An argument against fully buying into the 49ers is their caliber of opponent so far. Their victories have come against the 2-3 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the 0-5 Cincinnati Bengals, the 1-4 Pittsburgh Steelers at home, and the 2-3 Cleveland Browns at home. That’s part of what makes this weeks game so intriguing. The 49ers will have a chance to prove whether or not they belong in the conversation for NFC West supremacy with the Rams and Seattle Seahawks.
On the other side of the ball, the additions of defensive ends Nick Bosa and Dee Ford, along with their currently thriving WILL backer Kwon Alexander have greatly improved the defense. Behind a dominant front four that features Bosa, Ford, DeForest Buckner, and Arik Armstead, the secondary has played well so far. While the Rams’ trio of receivers are a tall test for any secondary, starting corners Richard Sherman and Ahkello Witherspoon have the advantage of playing with a really good nickel back in K’Waun Williams, who should help the Niners in that matchup. At the end of the day, even without Todd Gurley, expect the Rams to try to establish the run with Malcolm Brown early to keep the 49ers pass rush honest, so that Jared Goff can find a rhythm.
For both Shanahan’s and McVay’s offenses, getting their running backs going early will unlock things for their young quarterbacks. Of course, that may be easier said than done, so let’s see what happens tomorrow at the Coliseum.