The LA Rams got swept by the San Francisco 49ers last season and flipping those two results would have made a monumental difference in Sean McVay’s third season as head coach. The games were won 20-7 and 34-31 by the eventual NFC Champion 49ers, but you only have to go back to 2018 to find the last time that the Rams were the much better team.
LA appears to be the better team so far in 2020 but that could change win a single loss this Sunday. Here are three matchups that proved to be important in last season’s games.
George Kittle vs Rams linebackers, secondary
Kittle caught eight of eight targets for 103 yards in the first meeting, then five of eight for 79 yards with a go-ahead fourth quarter touchdown in the next. He has 537 yards and three touchdowns in six career games against Los Angeles.
The Rams biggest test at tight end this year has been Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert of the Eagles in Week 2. Ertz caught five passes for 42 yards, Goedert had four for 30. However, it turns out that Philadelphia’s passing game has struggled all season, including little production from their star tight ends.
Kittle missed two games but returned in Week 4 to catch all 15 of his targets and gain 183 yards with a touchdown. So it’s not the time to start celebrating any success against San Francisco’s offense yet.
Cam Akers, Darrell Henderson, Malcolm Brown vs 49ers run defense
In 2018, the Rams ran for over 250 yards three times, including 273 in a division playoff win over the Cowboys. They failed to rush for at least 130 yards in only five regular season games and whether you believe that high rushing totals only come when that team has the lead or not (they don’t), McVay knows how important it is for his offense to have a dangerous rushing threat.
In 2019, the Rams’ season high rushing total was 166 yards and they only reached 130 yards three times. LA ran for a total of 181 yards over those two losses to the 49ers.
Brown had 11 carries for 40 yards in the first meeting, backed up with 39 yards on six carries for Henderson. Todd Gurley had 15 carries for 48 yards in the second meeting.
The Rams have added Akers to the backfield and he had their most explosive run of 2020 last week, adding an element to LA’s offense that had been lacking while he was injured. Akers also isn’t experienced and doesn’t seem to get much playing time on downs that don’t involve him touching the ball, but perhaps he’s the type of weapon that McVay hopes will create mismatch issues for San Francisco’s talented linebackers.
The 49ers gave up 180 rushing yards to the Cardinals in Week 1 but have been stout in that area against almost anyone other than Kyler Murray.
Rams corners vs 49ers receivers
One player who was on LA’s roster in Week 16 but not Week 6: Jalen Ramsey. His presence had an immediate impact on the rivalry, intercepting Jimmy Garoppolo for his first pick as a member of the Rams. Fitting that he replaced Marcus Peters, who picked off Garoppolo in Week 6. Not left out of the party is Darious Williams, who also intercepted Garoppolo in Week 16.
Garoppolo threw two interceptions at the end of the half in Week 5, getting benched for Nick Mullens against the Miami Dolphins. He also threw two interceptions in the 49ers Super Bowl loss to the Chiefs. He has thrown two picks in three of his last eight starts.
Ramsey hasn’t had an interception since that one against Jimmy Garoppolo. Williams has had several. They would both like more and if the Rams can create two more turnovers off of San Francisco’s QBs — whoever they end up being that day — it could be the play that changes the outcome of the game.