The Los Angeles Rams will stay in-state to battle their Californian foe, the San Francisco 49ers. This marks the second-consecutive divisional road game for LA and an early test to see if they can extend their slim lead in the NFC West.
As Rams faithful remember so fondly, Los Angeles won the last matchup in the NFC Championship. However, LA has lost six of the last seven in the series so it comes as no surprise that they’re listed as a 1.5-point underdog according to DraftKings Sportsbook.
With the Rams out to prove their playoff win against SF was more than just Jaquiski Tartt’s butterfingers, I spoke with Ty Austin over at SB Nation’s 49ers blog Niners Nation to gain more insight into LA’s opposition this week.
Q - Holy smokes, the 49ers sure played an ugly game Sunday night in Denver. After scoring a touchdown halfway through the first quarter, the offense only scored a field goal the rest of the way. Besides not pulling another Dan Orlovsky and losing the turnover battle (3-0 in favor of Broncos), what does Jimmy G and the rest of the offense need to do to get going?
A - Honestly, I think the most important thing will be time. Jimmy G came in against the Seahawks, and their bare-cabinet defense, with no training camp or practice reps. Due to the shoulder surgery, he didn’t even start throwing until late summer. He managed to survive that game with no real hiccups because, by his own admission, it was more like playing pickup streetball.
Garoppolo has historically been a bit of a slow starter, needing to find a rhythm with his receivers before things begin to click. Consider how much tougher it must be given the lack of contact since January. I believe this extends to operating under Shanahan’s system. It’s incredibly complicated with tongue-twister language and very specific timing. Hopefully, regaining his footing in the offense can get the ball rolling once again.
Q - On the flip side, the 49ers defense happens to be one of the best units in the NFL, only giving up 28 points in three games. What makes them such a force to be reckoned with and how could LA best attack them on Monday?
A - This is a question with a simple answer. The defense is loaded with talent at every level and they are extremely well coached. Sometimes it really is that easy.
The D-Line rightly gets attention as the standout, which makes sense when you consider the capital spent to fortify the position group (three first round picks and a second), the incendiary coaching style of Kris Kocurek, and the variety of stunts deployed to bamboozle the offensive line.
However, the linebacking corps centered around Fred Warner might be just as talented and even more integral to the team’s continued success. His ability to do ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING (specifically disrupt the pass game) makes him quite valuable.
And the secondary... It had been the agreed upon soft underbelly of the Niners D, but this off-season they did a whole bunch of crunches and got themselves a six pack. After an abysmal couple years of subpar injury-ravaged performance, the front office finally addressed the team’s biggest need and signed Charvarius Ward as a lockdown number one CB. Through three weeks, he’s already shown why he earned that contract.
On top of that, fans were worried there might be a drop off with the exit of Jaquiski Tartt, instead Talanoa Hufanga has played like a top tier safety. In fact, he’s looked so athletic, energetic, and hard-hitting that he’s almost earned the way-too-obvious comparisons to Troy Polamalu.
Put it all together and you’ve got one of the best units in the NFL.
Q - All-Pro left tackle Trent Williams left Sunday’s game with a high ankle sprain. That is obviously brutal news for such a force on their O-line so who will be forced to step in while he recovers?
A - While it certainly feels like no one man can replace Trent Williams, it must be done, and shockingly the answer seems obvious. The Niners attempted to use second year player Jaylon Moore as the stopgap at LT on Sunday night, but his one drive proved to be disastrous, allowing two pressures on four pass attempts.
That was that for Moore, and the Niners sent out a dinged up Colton McKivitz, who would’ve been the first choice except for the fact he missed a few practices leading up to the matchup and had actually been listed as questionable. McKivitz immediately proved himself much more effective than Moore, and maintained the role for the rest of the game.
McKivitz, the West Virginia Mountaineer/mountain man, might sound just the faintest bit familiar to you. This won’t be his first time starting in place of an injured Trent Williams. No, the first time was Week 18 of last season on the road for the win-and-in showdown against the Los Angeles Rams. He played all 70 snaps, and performed admirably, besides allowing a 4th quarter sack to Von Miller.
Q - Besides the injury to Williams, the Niners have seen starters like Trey Lance, George Kittle, Jimmy Ward, Eli Mitchell and Azeez Al-Shaair all miss significant time. Injuries have unfortunately been nothing new for San Francisco in recent years so what is your confidence level in Kyle Shanahan to keep the team afloat as they await the return of their key playmakers?
A - I’m fairly confident in Kyle’s ability to keep things on an even keel until the reinforcements can come off the IR. Why? Well, I’ve seen what this team did last year with essentially 3rd and 4th string corners, a WR at RB, and a dinged up QB.
If the defense can continue to perform anywhere in the vicinity of their current output that will make life easier for the offense, as they struggle to figure things out. However, Shanahan is just too good of a play designer and too smart of a game planner to let this slump press forward. I’m not 100% sure what the answers will be, it seems that Deebo out of the backfield has been figured out, but, if they only have to score about 10 points a game to win, I like their chances.
Q - DraftKings Sportsbook has the 49ers listed as 1.5-point favorites with an O/U of 42. What is your prediction for Monday night’s game?
A - I was personally a little surprised to see the Niners as favorites in this one, but it does seem like the Rams have just barely squeaked out their two wins after a waxing by Buffalo to open the NFL season. For whatever reason, (a big brother dynamic, divisional familiarity, or flat out contempt) the Niners always seem to play their best games against the Rams. Especially, last season when they had their backs against the wall for both regular season matchups.
I’d equate this game to having a similar vibe, starting 1-3 does not build confidence, and for that reason, I will pick the Niners to win. Given both defenses, I’ll also be taking the under here. (With my luck that means smash the over.)
49ers 23 - Rams 17