It’s not too early or hyperbolic, in Week 3 of the 2022 season, to call the Monday night matchup between the Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers a must-win game. Both teams have started the year with inconsistencies. L.A. at 2-1 and leading the Western Division needs to play a complete game and the win to stretch out their lead, The ‘Niners are 1-2 and have shown a meager offense. They just can’t afford to fall too far behind their hated rivals.
The narrative surrounding the two teams could not be more different. L.A. is repped with a wide-open offense and reactive bend-but-don’t-break defense. The ‘Niners have the old school “Ground Chuck” run game mentality and aggressive, physical defense labels.
One thing will be certain, San Francisco will run the football and stay with it come-hell-or-high-water. After three weeks, the 49ers are running the ball 53.4 % of snaps. With Jimmy Garopollo stepping in at quarterback for Trey Lance, the 49ers trade a running threat for a lumbering pocket passer.
Will, or can L.A. defy the narrative? The prospects are good for the Rams. Injuries, minor scheme changes, and better top-to-bottom roster talent will create a matchup advantage. Offensively, if the Rams stay disciplined with the run game and utilize play action off of it to neutralize the S.F, linebackers those prospect move to very good. Defensively, it’s all about defending the middle of the field and forcing Garopollo off his timing.
Rams defensive line vs. 49ers offensive line
A big piece of the ‘Niners offensive mass and power are lost now that anchor left tackle Trent Williams (320 lbs.), a perennial Pro Bowl selection, is out with a high ankle sprain. In his stead steps Colton McKivitz (305 lbs.). 2021 starting guard, Daniel Brunskill (300 lbs.) has just returned to limited practice from a preseason hamstring injury. Center Jake Brendel (286 lbs.) and guards Aaron Banks (325 lbs.) and Spencer Burford (295 lbs.) man the interior. Matt McGlinchey (310 lbs.) handles right tackle.
No doubt they will be well prepared, but are thin on experience. Brendel’s undistinguished career has been through five teams. Burford is a rookie, Banks in year two, and McKivitz in his third. McGlinchey is solid player coming back from a torn quadricep that limited him to eight games last year and some preseason irritation of a previously surgically-repaired knee this past August.
L.A.’s defensive line should take a totally approach against ‘Frisco. In the first three weeks it was imperative to watch their spacing and force the athletic opposing quarterbacks (Kyler Murray, Marcus Mariota, and Josh Allen) to stay in the pocket. Aaron Donald (280 lbs.), Leonard Floyd (240 lbs.), and Terrell Lewis (262 lbs.) are more about speed and turning it to power than being monoliths. Greg Gaines (312) and A’shawn Robinson (325 lbs.) add the bulk. The reserves are all on the smaller size, but have seen little action thus far. Maybe that changes tis week.
On Monday night, the pass rush needs to let loose, Garopollo is a rhythm passer whose efficiency goes down when forced out of it and into multiple reads. He likes to work the middle of the field from the shotgun and is not particularly adept at throwing or extending drives on the move.
Garoppolo's release times, air yard averages and accuracy splits vs Rams last season.— David Lombardi (@LombardiHimself) September 28, 2022
In Wk10, Shanahan moved into shotgun 96% of the time and Garoppolo delivered NFL's fastest release split of the season.
More of same without Trent Williams? Big piece: https://t.co/UBaaYQ0xg6 pic.twitter.com/uL4XHcM1r8
Rams offensive line vs. 49ers defensive line
After three games, it looks as if the Rams have substantially moved away from the outside zone run game and are concentrating on an inside and mid zone attack. It’s more of a downhill scheme than horizontal, utilizing double teams inside and one blocker sliding off to the next level and seal blocks on backside pursuit. This suits the L.A. line, they are not maulers, but have requisite size and footwork to
San Francisco doesn’t have a big defensive line, Javon Kinlaw is their largest player at 320 lbs,, but hasn’t practiced all week. Nor has the ‘Niners other interior player, Arik Armstead (290 lbs.). They are both questionable for Monday and if they can’t go, the tackle slots will be manned by Kevin Givens (285 lbs.), and Hassan Ridgeway (300 lbs.).
As bookends on the line, Nick Bosa (265 lbs.), Samson Ebukam (245 lbs.) and Drake Jackson (255 lbs.) can certainly turn speed to power, but are not huge slabs of lane-plugging mass. Rotational players who sub-in on both the interior and/or end, Kerry Hyder (275 lbs.), Charles Omenihu (280 lbs.) and journeyman Akeem Spence (305 lbs.) are better suited size-wise to the edge.
The Rams offensive line matches up very well from a size standpoint and this current lineup, after a flurry of injuries now has now had two games to mesh. L.A. isn’t currently at the vanguard of NFL rushing stats, #31 according to Pro Football Reference, but they have improved their yardage gained in each game. Having only 29 total offensive drives over three games (#31t) and 179 plays (#27) is a big part of those numbers being so low.
Team offensive efficiency percentiles for designed runs and passes pic.twitter.com/GLoHT0sGQc— Kevin Cole (@KevinColePFF) September 27, 2022
Can the Rams beat the 49ers at their own game?
#1- The ‘Niners have played three of the NFL’s weakest offensive teams and lost two of them (Chicago Bears, Denver Broncos) and beat the Seattle Seahawks, weak on both sides of the ball. Playing the Rams is a huge step up in class.
#2- The addition of Bobby Wagner to help stymie the run game. The Rams five-man front can cause matchup problems for the outside zone. Wagner has the experience, smarts, and discipline to clean things up in pursuit.
For all the ballyhoo about the 49ers running the explosive run game, in last years three games, they ran 95 times for 341 yards, a 3.6 clip. Since 2017, the McVay vs. Shanahan years, the ‘Niners have averaged 30 carries for 123 yards.
#3- Injuries cannot be discounted only overcome and both teams have their share. But in this matchup, the worrisome problems for San Francisco are in their perceived strengths, the offensive and defensive fronts.
#4- And finally, for all the Shanahan and 49ers have dominated talk. The two teams are long and storied rivals and looking into the past shows many runs going both ways. The two teams have tussled in 11 meetings since 2017, with the ‘Niners leading 7-4. Of those, five have been by three points or less and in the final game of 2017, the Rams sat their starters.
Wins? Yes. Domination? Hardly. Just two good teams with a long, heated and passionate rivalry between the organizations and of course, the fans. For many Rams fans (and the 49er fans I personally know) these games are as big as any year in and year out. Monday night will be another good one.