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Rams-49ers: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Vol. 3

Bobby Wagner looks to be everything the LA expected him to be and more

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at San Francisco 49ers Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

At this point is anyone really surprised that the Los Angeles Rams got their teeth knocked in by the San Francisco 49ers? It has become a yearly tradition in the NFL to see Sean McVay struggle against his counterpart in Kyle Shanahan and lose in embarrassing fashion during the regular season. This was no different last night when San Francisco defeated Los Angeles 24-9.

I have always argued that the 49ers are a team specifically built to bully the Rams, and boy, do they do an outstanding job of it. LA’s usual quick and finesse offense is easily blown-up by the physicality of San Fran’s defensive front, and if its not the offense getting manhandled it is the defense getting bulldozed. The Niners have LA’s number, it is as simple as that. This is the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly vol. 3 rivalry edition—let’s get the show on the road.

The Good

Bobby Wagner

The highlight of the game may just have been the absolute punishment Bobby Wagner put onto a fan who ran onto the field holding colored smoke but a close second was his goal line stance to keep the match in manageable territory.

The 49ers overpowered the Rams defense with a string of good runs in the third quarter from Jeff Wilson that set up the home team with second-and-goal at the one yard line. On the next play Garoppolo handed it to San Frans bruising back and with a full head of steam dashed for the end zone but seemingly ran into a wall instead for no gain—that wall was Wagner. Like the fan he had dropped earlier, Wagner showed his strength in one of the most clutch red-zone defensive plays of the season to keep the 49ers from putting the game away.

He finished the game with a team-leading ten combined tackles with seven of them being credited as solo; the next closest player was Aaron Donald who had five combined and four solo. The offseason acquisition has proven to be vital on defense and will be one of the most impactful players on the defense going forward.

Cooper Kupp and Tyler Higbee

For the most part LA’s offense was able to move up and down the field easily before pulling a disappearing act in the red zone that would have impressed even the likes of David Blaine. That was largely due because of the duo of Kupp and Higbee. While Kupp continues to put up obscene numbers, this week finishing with 14 catches for 122 yards, Higbee has begun to show off his rapport with Stafford.

He currently is tied with Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce for most targets at the position with 26 for an average of 9.4 yards per reception and finished Monday’s game with 10 receptions for 73 yards. Higbee has finally begun to live up to his potential thus far largely because he has been able to stay healthy after suffering multiple injuries last year that kept him on the sideline.

The combination of Kupp and Higbee has made LA’s offense watchable, but just barely.

The Defense

Last week I wrote about how I still believe that the Raheem Morris’ defense is destined to become one of the best in the league and to no surprise many took to the comments to give their opinion on the matter, but regardless I am doubling-down on my take. Donald and company only allowed 17 total points and if not for a ridiculous highlight-reel reception from one of the best receivers in football we would be talking 10 points. Deebo Samuel’s 57 yard short-dunk turned touchdown is why the 49ers fought so hard to keep the fourth year receiver on their team and though there were plenty of opportunities to stop him in his tracks he is paid to make those kind of plays.

Like the defense has done all season long they kept their team in the game and gave the Rams a fighting chance to get the win. If the offense could put even a sliver of their potential together there is absolutely no debate surrounding the defense. Credit needs be given where credit is due—the Rams defense is elite. It just needs some help.

The Bad

Garoppolo continues his win-streak against LA

Garoppolo is now 7-0 against the Rams in the regular season and I half expected him to walk to the camera and give his best Aaron Rodgers impression—he owns LA. When Trey Lance took over this season at the quarterback position there was a sense of relief. Maybe their was a chance McVay could manage a win against the 49ers. Maybe we would see a 49ers quarterback attempt to throw a pass over five yards in a game.

It seemed nearly definite during the offseason that the Garoppolo curse would end in 2022, but here we are once again watching LA lose in horrid fashion against the king of the dink-and dunk offense. The curse lives on but Los Angeles has at least one more chance to rid themselves of it in a few weeks.

Offense becomes one-dimensional

I may have just got down praising Kupp and Higbee for their performances on Monday Night Football, but the reliance on the two pass-catchers is also a glaring issue in McVay’s offense. The entire world at this point knows where the ball is going whenever Stafford drops back to pass, making it easy to key-in for defending teams. That was more apparent than ever yesterday when 49ers safety Talanoa Hufanga easily predicted a wide-receiver screen to Kupp and put away the game with a quick pick-six.

Kupp will always get his receptions, he will always find a way to get open, but when McVay has to reveal his cards and become fully reliant on his Super Bowl MVP receiver the Rams offensive becomes predictable.

The Akers/Henderson debate continues

The by-committee approach to the run game has not worked out for the Rams this season. Neither back has been able to get things going on the ground but last night may have been the worst performance from the unit finishing with 40 yards on 15 attempts. That is just an average of 2.6 yards per carry.

It is apparent that Cam Akers is not the back that everyone thought he was despite running behind a makeshift offensive line. It feels like anytime the ball is in his hands the offense goes backwards. He does not appear to have the same shiftiness that had many thinking the second coming of Todd Gurley was on the roster two years ago and his vision is lacking. His questionable work ethic that may have put him in the dog’s house in Week 1 is also not helping his case in the slightest.

Which is why it becomes a bit of a head scratcher to not see Darrell Henderson on the field more often and take the reigns of the offense. He is patient and hits the gaps without hesitation when they open up. Even when the offensive line is clearly losing in the trenches he finds a way to at least make it back to the line-of-scrimmage. He is also clearly the best pass-protecting back on the roster. It only seems obvious to give the veteran more chances on offense and begin to fade out Akers all together.

The Ugly

Allen Robinson

I think it is more than fair to be concerned about the connection, or the lack-there-of, between Stafford and Robinson. After another forgettable performance by the ex-Chicago Bear that saw him catch two passes for seven yards on six targets, it might be time to play the Uno-reverse card and attempt to get Robert Woods back on the roster. Things could look better when Van Jefferson gets back on the field and Stafford has another reliable receiver to throw to, but until then we will have to continue to wait to see why the Rams even considered trading Woods away in the first place. They will also have to prove themselves as a playoff-caliber team down the stretch for Odell Beckham Jr. to even consider coming back to LA.

Robinson has not been the receiver that many had hoped him to be thus far. There is plenty of time for that to change, but if OBJ does comeback and Jefferson eventually healthy, it is up to debate if Robinson will carve a role for himself in this offense.

The Offensive Line

By the middle of the second quarter I found myself reminding all of our writers in the Turf Show Times discord that the record for most sacks in a game was eight. The 49ers defensive line was credited with seven.

A rash of injuries has made this LA’s worst unit on the field. Stafford has no time to throw and is running for his life on nearly every play and the run game continues to get stuffed at the line of scrimmage with a lack of gaps to run through. The offensive line needs to get figured out fast or LA might just find themselves in trouble by mid-season. If anyone has Andrew Whitworth’s number on speed-dial now would be the time to use it.