Can the San Francisco 49ers be LA’s most-heated rival in the NFC West when it is not them but the Arizona Cardinals who actually threaten to take the division away from the Rams? Well, there’s nothing the Cardinals can do about that if the Rams take care of business against the 49ers this Sunday.
LA has lost their last four bids to beat the Niners—but they were the dominant team during Sean McVay’s first four tries against Kyle Shanahan—which 49ers team can we expect to show up this weekend as the Rams look to win the NFC West and hold onto the two-seed in the NFC?
Here is everything you need to know!
San Francisco 49ers
2021 record: 9-7
HC: Kyle Shanahan (career: 38-42, vs LAR: 5-3)
It took five years, but Shanahan has finally posted his second career winning season as a head coach. Shanahan is looking to win his fifth straight game against Sean McVay, but keep this in mind: When the Rams had a good offense from 2017-2018, McVay went 3-1 vs. Shanahan with the only loss coming in a Week 17 game and Sean Mannion as the starting QB. And McVay’s offense averaged 40 points per game in the other three contests.
Shanahan needs this win. So does McVay. The players must do the rest.
OC: Mike McDaniel
Said former 49ers offensive tackle Joe Staley:
“He’s really, really instrumental in the offense, as far as game-planning and designing runs,” 49ers veteran left tackle Joe Staley said. “He’s very, very special as a coordinator.
“He’s right up there with Kyle, as far as his overall knowledge of football. Those guys blow me away with their understanding of the game.”
Mike McDaniel’s journey to the NFL started when he introduced his mom to Broncos staff member Gary McCune and the two got married. For real. He’s been with Kyle Shanahan since 2006 and the 49ers had to work hard to keep him from leaving in 2021. Could McDaniel be the next head coach of the Minnesota Vikings or his hometown Denver Broncos? That’s a scenario that seems probable and the 49ers are ranked fifth in offensive DVOA with a balanced top-five ranking in both passing and rushing.
Key Week 18 Personnel Notes:
- RT Mike McGlinchey, IR
- RB Raheem Mostert, IR
- ST Trenton Cannon, IR
- WR Mohamed Sanu, IR
- RB Trey Sermon, IR
- QB Jimmy Garoppolo, Doubtful
- LT Trent Williams (DNP Wed)
- RB Elijah Mitchell (DNP Wed)
Trey Lance or Jimmy Garoppolo?
Shanahan gave Lance a soft landing first start last week: the Houston Texans. Against one of the worst defenses in the NFL, Lance was 16-of-23 for 249 yards with two touchdowns, one interception, and eight carries for 31 yards. He was aided by a strong run game—Elijah Mitchell had 21 carries for 119 yards—and a soft Houston defense. Lance is also supremely talented but is he ready for Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey yet?
Ian Rapoport reported that Garoppolo is unlikely to return from injury in Week 18, while Shanahan is going to keep that news a secret until Sunday.
Who is Elijah Mitchell?
In 2018, Matt Breida had 153 carries for 814 yards, averaging 5.3 yards per carry.
In 2019, Raheem Mostert had 137 carries for 772 yards and eight touchdowns, averaging 5.6 yards per carry.
In 2020, Mostert and Jeff Wilson had 230 carries for 1,121 yards with nine touchdowns, averaging 5.0 yards per carry. Now it’s Mitchell’s turn.
Though San Francisco picked Trey Sermon in the third round, it’s sixth round pick Elijah Mitchell that’s starring in the backfield: He has six games with at least 90 rushing yards despite only making 10 appearances.
Mitchell has 186 attempts for 878 yards and five touchdowns, averaging 4.7 yards per carry. And yet the 49ers best running back might still be the guy who is their best receiver.
Samuel could make first-team All-Pro alongside Cooper Kupp this season. If only he didn’t switch so many of his opportunities to running back. Samuel has 45 carries for 298 yards over the last seven games, compared to 24 catches for 428 yards in that timeframe. Over a 17-game season that would amount to over 1,000 receiving yards and over 700 rushing yards.
The Rams must prepare for Deebo Samuel as a “weapon” and not at any one position.
2021 offensive ranks
Pass attempts: 29th
Rushing attempts: 5th
Net yards per pass attempt: 1st
Passing touchdowns: 14th
Rushing yards: 7th
Yards per carry: 16th
Rushing touchdowns: 6th
Points per drive: 13th
Red Zone O: 1st
3rd down: 21st
Time of Possession: 15th
DVOA: 5th (5th passing, 5th rushing)
Offensive “strength of schedule”: 26th
*Essentially, FootballOutsiders is saying that last season the Ravens have faced an “Easy” schedule of defenses in the NFL by average DVOA.
Offensive Depth Chart
DC: DeMeco Ryans
It could be just as probable that Ryans gets a job as it is that McDaniel does. Though it is only his first season as a defensive coordinator, Ryans had 10 years as a middle linebacker held in high regard and has been on Shanahan’s staff since the beginning in 2017. The 37-year-old should draw some interview interest this month.
Key Week 18 personnel notes:
- LB Azeez Al-Shaair (DNP Wed)
- LB Dee Ford, IR
- DT Javon Kinlaw, IR
- CB Jason Verrett, IR
- CB Emmanuel Moseley, IR
- DB Tarvarius Moore, IR
- S Tavon Wilson, IR
- LB Justin Skule, IR
- CB Ambry Thomas, Covid-19 list
- S Jimmie Ward, Covid-19 list
- DB Dontae Johnson, Covid-19 list
- CB K’Waun Williams, Covid-19 list
In last week’s game, San Francisco had Jaquiski Tartt and Jimmie Ward at safety, as expected going into the year. Ambry Thomas, K’Waun Williams, and Josh Norman were starting at cornerback. If the Covid-19 list players are activated, the secondary should look rather “normal” but even then, the 49ers have placed a lot of DBs on IR. If those players do not return, San Francisco must reach deep into the well for help, including rookies Talanoa Hufanga and Deommodore Lenoir. Safety Jarrod Wilson was picked up from the Jets just a month ago.
Samson Ebukam’s emergence
Will Ebukam force the 49ers to pay him his $8.5 million salary in 2022? Few probably expected that to happen when he signed a two-year deal in 2021, but Ebukam has come on of late: In 10 games as a starter, he has 10 QB hits, 5 TFL, and 4.5 sacks. Is that him or is that just a product of playing where he’s playing? The true breakout linebacker is Azeez Al-Shaair, a player with 102 tackles, two sacks, five passes defensed, one interception, and nine tackles for a loss in 13 games.
Meanwhile, Nick Bosa has 30 QB hits and 15 sacks, including four games with two sacks. He’s as dominant as expected when he was the number two pick in 2019.
2021 Defensive Ranks
Points Allowed: 20th
Yards Allowed: 25th
Turnovers Forced: 31st
Net Yards per Pass Attempt Allowed: 32nd
Passing Touchdowns Allowed: 28th
Rushing Yards Allowed: 1st
Yards Per Carry Allowed: 5th
Rushing Touchdowns Allowed: 7th
Points Per Drive Allowed: 17th
TOP allowed: 2nd
Red Zone D: 10th
3rd down rate: 3rd
DVOA: 8th (18th vs pass, 2nd vs run)
Defensive “strength of schedule” rank: 21st
Last 3 games
W 31-13 vs Atlanta Falcons
L 20-17 vs Tennessee Titans
W 23-7 vs Houston Texans