Over the last three seasons, the San Francisco 49ers have controlled the rivalry against the Los Angeles Rams. The Rams are 0-6 against the 49ers in the regular season since 2019. The last win in the regular season against the 49ers for the Rams came all the way at the end of 2018.
Sean McVay has not had a lot of success against the Kyle Shanahan in recent years. However, he finally got over the hump in the NFC Championship Game back in January. The Rams won that game 20-17 on their way to the Super Bowl.
The question is, can the Rams replicate that win and take early control of the NFC West or will they allow the 49ers to get back to their regular season dominance? Here are five things that the Rams need to do to beat their division rival.
1. Take Away the Middle of the Field
One of the biggest things that Jimmy Garoppolo brought to the 49ers offense following the Trey Lance injury was his ability to hit the throws in the middle of the field that are so important to the Shanahan offense.
If you look at the passing chart from his first start against the Denver Broncos, 12 of his 17 completions came in that middle-third area of the field. The Rams must make things difficult for Garoppolo and force him to make those outside the numbers throws that he’s not great at.
With that said, they also need to get pressure on him with four rushers so that they can drop more defenders into coverage and keep the passing lanes tight. When Garoppolo hasn’t been blitzed this season he’s completing just 54.1 percent of his passes and averaging 6.2 yards per attempt.
Von Miller allowed the The Rams to do this in the NFC Championship game and they took away throws inside the hashes. It resulted in Garoppolo going 16-of-30. This was different than even Week 18. Taking away that middle area of the field is going to come down to the effectiveness of Bobby Wagner and Ernest Jones in coverage.
This season, Wagner ranks 19th in coverage among linebackers on Pro Football Focus. He’s allowed four receptions on four targets, but those four receptions allowed are tied for the fifth fewest in the NFL. His five yards allowed per reception also ranks seventh.
Meanwhile, Jones’ 6.3 yards allowed per reception ranks 11th. However, offenses have picked on him more as he’s allowed 12 receptions on 15 targets.
Garoppolo is very good at bouncing back after a loss. Monday Night will be a big test for this linebacker pairing. The Rams signed Wagner for matchups like this against the 49ers.
2. Protect Matthew Stafford
This one seems obvious, but it’s so crucial. The Rams can’t let this game turn into what the opener against the Buffalo Bills turned out to be. If the 49ers are able to rush four and get 15+ pressures on Stafford, it’s going to be a recipe for disaster.
In the last two weeks, the Rams offensive line has played well and allowed a combined 10 pressures. Stafford was pressured 23 times in Week 1 against the Bills.
The 49ers blitzed 21 percent of the time last year. However, that dropped to 13.2 percent when playing the Rams. This season, they have a 43 percent pressure rate on non-blitzing drop-backs. That can’t be the case on Monday night.
The Rams allowed a four-man rush to dictate their W1 loss in a major way. 49ers like to play them the same way (the Bills ran a lot of 49ers “stuff” against them in fact). In 2021 the 49ers blitzed 21% of the time overall but just 13.2% of the time in three matchups vs. Rams.— Jourdan Rodrigue (@JourdanRodrigue) September 30, 2022
The Rams must force DeMeco Ryans send extra pass rushers. Stafford is the second highest graded quarterback against the blitz according to Pro Football Focus.
Achieving this is going to be a challenge for the Rams offensive line. Joe Noteboom has allowed 12 pressures this season which is the third most in the NFL. On the other side, Nick Bosa has recorded 16 pressures this season which is the third most in the NFL. Most of those pressures came against the Bills, but Bosa will be Noteboom’s biggest test since facing Von Miller.
It’s going to be on McVay to leave in a running back or tight end to pass-block when necessary, but also rely on the quick passing game so that the 49ers don’t have time to get to Stafford. The Rams have also had a lot of success with tight end screens this season.
The 49ers have better linebackers and more disciplined pass rushers than the Arizona Cardinals, but the tight end screen and screens in general are going to be a ploy to slow down the pass rush.
3. Allen Robinson Needs to Step Up
The Rams desperately need a wide receiver outside of Cooper Kupp to step up in this game. Looking at the three meetings in 2021, there’s a big difference on offense from the NFC Championship game to the games in the regular season.
In the early season blowout, Kupp had 11 receptions for 122 yards. The next closest receiver was Van Jefferson with three receptions for 54 yards. In Week 18, Kupp again led the way with seven receptions for 118 yards. Tyler Higbee was behind him with six receptions for 55 yards.
Now, let’s take a look at the NFC Championship game.
Kupp still paced Rams wide receivers with 11 receptions for 142 yards. However, Odell Beckham Jr. was right behind him as he played a key role and finished with nine receptions for 113 yards. The Rams still had Blanton with 57 yards on five receptions, but Beckham Jr. gave the offense a legitimate second option.
This is a game that the Rams need Robinson to step up in. He has seven receptions over the first four games. Kupp is the most double-teamed wide receiver in the NFL in man coverage. The attention is going to be on him. Robinson needs to take advantage.
4. Avoid the Play-Making Safeties
There’s no Jaquiski Tartt this year to bail the Rams out with a dropped interception. Last season, 12 of Stafford’s 20 interceptions were thrown to safeties. Jimmie Ward intercepted Stafford three times last year. Kevin Byard, Chuck Clark, and Jessie Bates also all had interceptions on Stafford.
Talanoa Hufanga has been one of the largest bright spots on an already good 49ers defense. He’s very opportunistic and gets his hand on the football. He’s tied for the lead among NFL safeties with two pass breakups. He’s also allowed just three receptions on nine targets and ranks tied for third in the NFL with four tackles for loss.
On the other side, the 49ers have Tashaun Gipson. Despite Ward being injured, Gipson is playing at a very high level across from Hufanga. In coverage, Gipson is allowing a 0.0 passer-rating while Hufanga has allowed a passer-rating of 2.8. This is a very solid backend of the secondary.
In a game like this, Stafford just needs to take care of the football and not force throws into tight windows. That doesn’t mean he needs to play it safe or can’t take risks, but this safety duo has the ability to force Stafford into mistakes.
5. Tackle in the Secondary
This is always the biggest key when playing the 49ers. In both losses in the regular season last year, the Rams missed eight tackles in coverage. In the NFC Championship game, that was cut in half.
The 49ers are going to get their yards after the catch. The Shanahan scheme is designed to open up those opportunities. The key here is coming up to make tackles. In Week 10 and Week 18, the 49ers were a combined 17-for-28 on third down conversions. That’s a conversion rate of 61 percent.
In the NFC Championship Game, they were 3-for-9 on third down. A key part of that is making that initial tackle in the secondary to not eliminate yards after the catch, but limit the damage.
Raheem Morris and the Rams defense can play by keeping plays in front of them. However, in the key moments, they need to be able to come up and make the tackle.
The defensive front has done a great job against the run this season. However, if runs break into that second level, the Rams secondary must be willing to get physical and contain Jeff Wilson Jr. and Deebo Samuel.