The Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers have represented the NFC in the last two Super Bowls and the Rams would like to make it back again this year. Even though the 49ers went more recently, it sure looks like Los Angeles is better equipped to make a run.
San Francisco has had an abundance of key injuries, none bigger than losing pass rusher Nick Bosa for the season. The list of others who they have lost for a game or the season is too long to recount and too difficult to keep track of but Kyle Posey of Niners Nation is going to help us get acquainted with the team as it stands today.
The Rams did not expect to be facing a 2-3 49ers team coming off of a blowout defeat to the Miami Dolphins this Sunday night. But they should also not expect beating San Francisco to be easy either. I sent Kyle 5 Qs and in kind he sent me five corresponding As.
Q - Last Week 14, Jimmy Garoppolo led the 49ers to a 48-46 win over the Saints, throwing four touchdown passes in a “Game of the Year” type game. But in the nine games since then, including playoffs, Garoppolo has eight touchdowns, seven interceptions and the Niners are 5-4, seemingly winning in spite of him rather than because of him like against New Orleans. In the Super Bowl, Garoppolo led SF to a 20-10 lead late in the third after a Patrick Mahomes interception, but the 49ers failed to pick up a third down the rest of the game, they went 2 of 11 on third down in Week 1, and they went 1 for 7 on third down on Sunday against the Dolphins when Garoppolo was in the game, including two picks to end the half. Other than Week 2 against the Jets, maybe the worst team in football, the 49ers offense seems to have stalled with Garoppolo.
What are your thoughts on Garoppolo and the San Francisco offense since that win against the Saints (is there a common thread?) and would you trade a 29-year-old Jimmy Garoppolo for a 38-year-old Matt Ryan right now in an attempt to fix things if you could?
A - Well, when you put it like that ...
There’s no denying that Garoppolo has struggled. Part of that is due to poor offensive line play, but that’s an excuse. We can isolate QB performance, and, when you take your fan goggles off, it’s easy to see Garoppolo doesn’t see the field, throwing with anticipation, throwing receivers open, and it’s putting a ceiling on what the 49ers can do on offense.
I’d take Ryan in a heartbeat as he could put the offense in better situations. With that said, the 49ers are better off acquiring a younger QB who could develop. I also think the Niners need a quarterback who could challenge defenses down the field. Ryan’s arm isn’t getting any better, and Jimmy has never been the type of quarterback to hurt you down the field. In Jimmy’s defense, the offense has been banged up, and he’s had one game with his full complement of wideouts, but Deebo Samuel had only practiced four times since the Super Bowl.
Q - Ahead of playing the Dolphins, you mentioned defensive tackle Kevin Givens as an under the radar player to watch and the 2019 UDFA had a tackle for a loss against Miami. Kerry Hyder has emerged four years after his last healthy and productive season to post 3.5 sacks and nine QB hits already. We know the past success that the 49ers have had with the development of first round players like Nick Bosa, DeForest Buckner, and Arik Armstead. D.J. Jones has two sacks and four tackles for a loss. It’s easy to imagine a bright future for first-round pick Javon Kinlaw given the coaching and defense around him and what we’ve seen from those who came before him under the care of Kyle Shanahan and Robert Saleh.
Who is the 49ers defensive line coach? What are some factors that have helped San Francisco consistently generate a pass rush despite the loss of players like Bosa, Solomon Thomas and Buckner from last season? And if you had to pick two defensive linemen who you think will have the best opportunity for success this Sunday night, who would that couple be?
A - Kris Kocurek is the Niners d-line coach, and he had Hyder in Detroit. It helps to have good players, even with all of the injuries. Saleh has blitzed more, and that’s helped put QBs under pressure. Fred Warner is an excellent blitzer and is among the team leaders in QB hits. They’ve also received solid production from sending defensive backs off the edge. The issue there is it’s exposed an inexperienced secondary, which has cost the 49ers at the worst possible times.
Givens is on his way to becoming an above-average player. He’s given every offensive line fits. Hyder and Armstead have played well and have been disruptive all season. If I had to narrow it down to two, I’d lean Armstead since he can win both inside and out, and Givens since he’s the best interior pass rusher on the roster. Givens is the quickest and has come this close to multiple sacks.
Q - The 49ers do not have a win this season against a team that has a win this season. The Eagles have their only win this season over the 49ers. The Dolphins had their largest margin of victory in three years last week against the 49ers. The Cardinals have only beaten Football Team, Jets, and the 49ers.
Setting aside the cause for this result through five games (with full acknowledgment that injuries have played a significant part) and looking ahead to the next seven opponents — 4-1 Rams, 2-2 Patriots, 5-0 Seahawks, 4-0 Packers, 3-2 Saints, Bye, 4-1 Rams, 4-1 Bills — have you readjusted your expectations for the Niners this season and how much of that answer would hinge on the results of this game?
A - Oh, 100%. We make season predictions each week. Before the Dolphins game, there was a belief that the 49ers would still reach nine wins. Now, many believe that there’s a good chance San Francisco doesn’t get to five wins this year. I’m not sure where I stand on this yet. The Niners are built to play against NFC West teams, so each divisional game will be a coin flip in my eyes. It’ll be difficult, there’s no doubt about it, and the offense has to play 100 times better, but by no means should the 49ers “tank.” Not yet, anyway.
The stretch of games you referenced will give us an idea of who this 49ers team is. Hopefully, they get their starting center back, which could mean their backup center now slides over to right guard, which helps some of the offensive line issues. Having Samuel in shape and Brandon Aiyuk developing as the season goes along should help as well. If the Rams make San Francisco look like Washington, then it’s time to pull the plug on all optimism this season. I’m the furthest thing from a homer, but I do not see a blowout game Sunday night.
Q - If you had to live in a house with six current 49ers for two months a la The Real World, which six players would you choose, and who is one 49er you’d veto as a possibility?
A - Oh, this is fun. It’s important to understand the person first. I’m not a “rah-rah” guy, so I’ll likely leave out some players that most fans would select. Jimmy G seems like a down to earth, chill, sit around the house type of guy that mayyyyy be down for a wild night here and there. Laken Tomlinson is another guy that I’d love to hang around with. I sat down with him last year, and I could see us lounging and playing cards. Trent Williams is an athlete that plays multiple sports. He probably should have been the first name I mentioned. We’d dominate at LA Fitness. Most of the 49ers are either outspoken or soft-spoken; there’s no real in-between. I’ll say my final three would be Fred Warner, we’re both from San Diego, Jason Verrett, we’ve flown on the same plane together and have the same music taste, and Jaquiski Tartt, who has a goofy side to him and loves to joke around.
Q - What were some positives or something encouraging you’ve seen from the 49ers in the last two weeks?
A - It’s bizarre to say this, but the defense didn’t play as poorly as the scoreboard would indicate. During the first half, I thought they controlled the line of scrimmage, flew around, and, outside of their practice squad CBs, played well. Fitzpatrick made plays down the field and picked on matchups that won’t be there for Goff.
Raheem Mostert looked like the real deal, and he has all season. Shanahan said that he feels like the offense is throwing too much, which is an indication of how he thinks about his line/quarterback or Mostert getting touches. It could very well be all of the above. The 49ers have speed and skill with Samuel, Aiyuk, Kittle, and Mostert. There’s no reason they should combine to score 37 against the Dolphins and Eagles, two subpar defenses.