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Rams-49ers: 17 observations on what went wrong, what went right against San Francisco

Mostly lows, but some highs on Monday night

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

Another head to head matchup with Kyle Shanahan and the San Francisco 49ers went down this week and yet another bitter loss has been befallen Sean McVay and the Los Angeles Rams. Heading into this matchup tonight had me feeling uneasy. Offensive line issues, a lack of target share, and an anemic run game have plagued this team since the season began.

On Monday night, all three of those pitfalls plagued the Rams against their toughest opponent. Here are my notes from the game.

• I haven’t historically been very critical of Matthew Stafford because mostly I think it’s easy to pile blame on the quarterback. But I watched him miss throws all evening and give the 49ers a free six. On two separate drives in the red zone Stafford missed two walk-in touchdown throws. The second red zone trip of the game, he missed a wide open Henderson in the flat. The Rams settled for three. The third red zone trip of the game, he missed a wide open Higbee by rushing a throw he didn’t need to. The Rams settled for three. Add the pick six in and that’s a 15 point swing the other way. Stafford simply has to be better than that.

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

• Cam Akers and Darrell Henderson remain very difficult to judge considering the lack of efficient run blocking from the various offensive line combos through four weeks. I did see Akers miss a key blitz pickup. And I did note an awesome block by Henderson on Nick Bosa after LT Joe Noteboom was beaten. Hendo remains the superior pass blocker. I also think he looked like a more efficient runner in this game. Regardless, the Rams run game was largely ineffective for the fourth consecutive week. I’m not thrilled about the RBs up to this point but I also don’t lay the blame on them alone.

• FB/WR Ben Skowronek had another solid game. I love this man as a lead blocker and it seems every time he’s used that way, the Rams best runs tend to occur. He remains hit or miss in the pass game with a drop today. Yet with 2 catches for 33 yards he still was more productive than the $48 million offseason darling, Allen Robinson.

• I still have no clue what is going on with Robinson. I don’t know why he isn’t being targeted. Is he not getting open? The film I’ve watched from our games shows he is open on plenty of routes. So why is Stafford not looking his way? Part of me continues to believe the connection between QB and WR will take time, as it did when Odell Beckham Jr was onboarded last year. But another part of me is beginning to doubt.

• The lack of a legitimate second option at WR is the biggest bane of this offense so far. In this modern NFL, two above average WRs are required to optimally run an offense. If Robinson doesn’t end up being that guy, this offense will continue to sputter.

• I was never sold on Tutu Atwell. I’ve been a big critic of not only him as a player but the decision to select him early in the 2021 NFL Draft. Atwell was a healthy scratch. Playing in his position for another week was UDFA Brandon Powell who looks tougher, quicker, and more sure-handed than Atwell ever has in his limited snaps. I really like Powell in this offense and he looks like a big play waiting to happen every time McVay manufactures a touch for him.

• TE Tyler Higbee is quietly having his best year as a Ram. He’s been very effective on screens and in the short to intermediate areas of the field. With 10 catches today, Higbee was a key part in what little success the offense had.

• The offensive line was terrible in this game. Coleman Shelton went down early and as expected, the makeshift line operated similarly to the turnstiles at LAX. Stafford was under duress all game long on seemingly every other play. But I cannot fault these players much considering the lack of practice time as a unit and the lack of talent across the board. The line play was largely what I expected. It was poor but on plenty of plays, they held up long enough for the quick passing game to operate. It was always unrealistic to ask for much more. If this line doesn’t get healthy soon, the Rams will continue to operate with a limited playbook.

• I thought the offensive play calling was fine. As stated above, McVay’s play sheet was limited to quick passes and screens. I’m not going to harp on any play caller who is trying to protect and work around a patchwork offensive line.

• On the defensive side of the ball I thought Aaron Donald was his usual self. He was routinely in the backfield making tackles or harassing 49ers QB Jimmy Garappolo. He was also very active in run support.

• The Rams pass rush from the edges continues to be an area of concern for me. Leonard Floyd, Justin Hollins, and Terrell Lewis simply aren’t getting home enough. I was concerned about this during the off-season and I remain that way through four weeks. Just not good enough. This team definitely misses Von Miller.

• ILB Bobby Wagner is such a mixed bag so far. There are plays where he blows up the opposing RB at the line of scrimmage. And there are plays where it appears as if he’s running in sand with steel-toed boots. He definitely isn’t the Wagner that the Rams were used to facing in Seattle. But I still believe his value to this defense comes more from his experience and ability to put this unit in the right positions pre-snap much like Eric Weddle has done for this team in the past.

• I’m ready to say it officially: the safety play is a weakness so far. I have never though much of Jordan Fuller and it seems he is now the third safety. Nick Scott has been the best but is an inconsistent player. Taylor Rapp continues to blow coverage and was responsible for the first missed tackle that sprung Deebo Samuel’s touchdown. I simply do not like what I’ve seen from this team’s safeties other than the occasional big Nick Scott hit. This unit has to be better.

• Jalen Ramsey was stellar tonight as he usually is. Seems he’s getting back into his groove after a few rough outings early on. I’m liking the way he’s used on blitzes and he’s very effective at batting balls down at the LOS.

• The Rams have found a player in Derion Kendrick. I love the attitude he plays with and I think he’s playing good football right now. As a late round rookie who is still adjusting to the NFL game, I believe as the season goes on Kendrick will develop into a real piece for this team. He’s instinctive and a playmaker. He narrowly missed on the Deebo touchdown and was very close to changing the complexion of the game. I expect he makes that play by more consistently by seasons end. Cornerback is this team’s deepest unit and should keep the defense competitive even through injury.

• The play calling from DC Raheem Morris is still a point of contention. Another week employing soft zone coverage and giving up easy yards. Having said that, the defense did more than enough to win this game and is playing better than the offense so far.

• Kicker Matt Gay continues to be automatic this season and punter Riley Dixon was sufficient tonight.

Overall it was a script I’ve read before. A game that I swore I’d seen before many times in the Sean McVay era. The 49ers won this game the same way they always seem to. J

immy Garoppolo killed the zone defense with quick slants and converted key third downs with relative ease. The 29 yard pass to Deebo on 3rd and 13 was such a blatantly obvious play call and the Rams couldn’t stop it. The third and long efficiency of the 49ers against this Rams defense continues to be unacceptable. Shanahan mixed up the run scheme enough to stay ahead of the sticks and gashed the defense for a few big runs even without starting RB Eli Mitchell and all-world LT Trent Williams. It is infuriating watching the Rams lose to this team over and over again in the same ways by the same few players.

And yet, I remain optimistic about this football team. The offense line will get healthier. Stafford, McVay, and Robinson will figure out the WR2 connection over time. Skowronek and Powell will continue to expand their respective roles in the offense. The defense will continue to improve and put the offense in positions to win. Despite all of the injuries on this team, the record stands at 2-2 with two very winnable games ahead.