The Los Angeles Rams will play their biggest game of the 2022 season to date on Sunday when they take on the San Francisco 49ers. If the Rams want to win the NFC West and make the playoffs, Sunday’s game in almost a must-win.
With a win, the Rams can grab some momentum coming out of the bye while also sending the 49ers to 3-5. They can take control of their season and make things very difficult for a division rival. Here are five things the Rams need to do to defeat the 49ers in Week 8.
1. Tackle on Defense
This is the most important thing for the Rams when it comes to beating the 49ers. On both of the 49ers’ big plays against the Rams in Week 4, it came on plays in which players on the backend of the defense didn’t tackle. Jeff Wilson made several defenders miss on his touchdown run and Deebo Samuel evaded defenders on his way to the end zone.
Now, the 49ers add Christian McCaffrey who will have a full week of practice to be integrated into the offense. Between George Kittle, Samuel, and McCaffrey, the 49ers now have three of the top five players in yards after the catch over expected since 2018. Meanwhile, the Rams have surrendered the fourth-most yards after the catch over expected (+189) of any unit this season.
The 49ers now have 3 of the top 5 players by YAC over expected since 2018 after acquiring Christian McCaffrey.— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) October 27, 2022
On Sunday, they will take on a Rams defense that has surrendered the 4th-most YAC over expected (+189) of any unit this season.#SFvsLAR | #FTTB pic.twitter.com/2dYK1dWd1Y
The Rams defense needs to be disciplined and wrap up. Samuel could be out with an injury, but McCaffrey brings that same ability from a dynamic standpoint and will be in a better offense this time around. The yards after the catch aren’t going to be eliminated. However, the Rams need to be able to limit the damage.
2. Take Control on Offense
The Kansas City Chiefs provided the blueprint on the 49ers. Despite going down by 10 points, the Chiefs quickly turned it around and took control. This took the 49ers out of their ball control offense and put the ball in Jimmy Garoppolo’s hands.
Kyle Shanahan is 1-29 when going into the fourth quarter trailing by three or more points and 7-30 when trailing at halftime. Garoppolo’s career record with the 49ers when he throws more than the offense runs is 9-15.
The Rams were well on their way in doing this in Week 18 last year, but the offense went stale and the 49ers mounted a comeback. The Rams must make the 49ers uncomfortable on offense if they stand a chance. The Rams can’t play the 49ers game. In the NFC Championship game, when the fate of the game was in Garoppolo’s hands, he turned it over.
In Week 4, the Rams went 0-for-3 in the red zone, they rushed for 57-yards, and averaged just 3.5 yards per play. They offense simply needs to be better on Sunday and make an impact on the game. With injuries that the 49ers are facing on the defensive side of the ball, this isn’t the same group that the Rams played just a few weeks ago.
3. Avoid the Big Mistake
Patrick Mahomes threw an early interception last week, but the Chiefs have an offense that is able to overcome that type of mistake. The Rams can’t continue to spot other teams points and play with one arm tied around their back.
It was a one-score game in the fourth quarter before Stafford threw the pick six to Talanoa Hufanga in Week 4. Matthew Stafford isn’t Mahomes and the Rams offense isn’t the Chiefs offense. They can’t afford that type of mistake.
Stafford has thrown an interception in all but one game this season and those interceptions aren’t being followed up by great plays like they were last year. This doesn’t mean that Stafford can’t take risks, but the Rams need a clean game from their quarterback.
The same can be said on defense. The Rams defense has been extremely solid this year. However, it’s been the big plays in losses this year that have hurt them the most.
4. Get the Wide Receivers Involved in the Run Game
After a stale offensive performance against the Buffalo Bills in Week 1, the Rams came out the following week against the Atlanta Falcons with Ben Skowronek at fullback. After a stale performance against the Dallas Cowboys, the Rams mixed it up again the following week against the Carolina Panthers.
The adjustment made by McVay was getting the wide receivers involved in the run game. Against the Panthers, Rams receivers had seven carries for 56 yards and a touchdown. That’s an average of eight yards per carry.
The seven rush attempts by wide receivers were the most since Stafford took over at quarterback and most by the Rams since Week 16 of 2018. That’s 3.5 years since the Rams have run seven times in a game with with non-running backs.
On four rushes this season lined up as a running back, Brandon Powell is averaging 0.25 expected points added per rush and has 1.74 rush yards over expected.
One of the best ways to slow down a pass rush and run the ball against a good defensive line is running wide and stretching the defense. The Chiefs chipped Nick Bosa, ran plays right at him, and used screens and jet sweeps. They used his aggressiveness against him.
Mecole Hardman had two carries for 28 yards and two touchdowns against the 49ers last week. The Rams likely won’t run the ball seven times with their wide receivers again on Sunday, but they need to keep them involved in the run game.
5. Create Turnovers on Defense
In games in which Garoppolo has turned the ball over this season, the 49ers are 0-3. Garoppolo has turned the ball over in every game he’s lost since taking over as the starting quarterback.
This goes back to making Garoppolo uncomfortable. If the Rams can knock the 49ers quarterback off his spot and get him to force throws, he’s more susceptible to mistakes. Since leading the NFL in turnovers after the first three weeks with seven, the Rams got their first turnover since the Falcons game in Week 6 against the Panthers.
The Rams must take advantage of their oppportunities. It’’s likely Garoppolo will put a couple of balls in harms way. The defense needs to be able to steal possessions for the offense. In Week 4, Samuel’s touchdown was close to being an interception from Derion Kendrick. Those are the plays that the Rams have to make.