The Los Angeles Rams are in SoFi Stadium for the home opener against hated rivals, the San Francisco 49ers, a game in which the Niners are favored by 7.5 points according to DraftKings Sportsbook. Unfortunately it’s for good reason, as the 49ers divisional games have not been kind to the Rams, who are 1-8 in their last nine matchups. However, the one win Los Angeles did get over San Francisco was for the 2021 NFC championship that lead to an eventual Super Bowl title for LA.
This is a new Rams team though, one with a different identity and attitude than San Fran has faced in the past. Let’s take a look at what some of the biggest storylines are for these two teams heading into their matchup in the second week of the NFL season.
Rams defense vs Christian McCaffery
The Los Angeles defense, as a whole, played a very solid game against the Seahawks in week 1. They only allowed 13 points, all of which were in the first two quarters of the game. After halftime, LA’s defense stood firm and was able to hold Seattle to just 12 yards and one first down to seal the victory on Lumen Field.
What makes things difficult for the Rams this time around is that, while Seattle’s Kenneth Walker is a very capable back, he is not the 49ers superstar Christian McCaffery.
McCaffery ran for over 150 yards vs the Steelers defense, including a 65 yard touchdown. Los Angeles was able to hold Seattle to 85 yards rushing, and if they could somehow repeat that performance against the 49ers, it would have to be considered a win against arguably the best running back in the league.
The Rams were really good in pass defense against the Seahawks, and they will need to continue that against San Francisco, however, they were not quite as strong against the run.
One young edge rusher could have a bigger say in how that goes this time around though. Rookie Byron Young was a standout, with five pressures, three tackles and a half sack. Young will need to improve on his stat line to help keep McCaffery in check and give his team a chance to walk out of SoFi with a win.
Brock Purdy meets Aaron Donald for the first time
Even though San Francisco QB Brock Purdy burst onto the scene last year, driving the Niners all the way to the NFC championship after the losses of both Trey Lance and Jimmy Garappolo, the second year quarterback has never actually faced the Rams or Aaron Donald in his short career.
That all changes come Sunday afternoon.
The Rams were able to force three sacks against Seattle and if they can get to Purdy in this game, it could swing momentum quickly with Donald lurking. Rookie Kobie Turner was the highest rated defensive tackle on LA in week 1 per PFF. He scored a 70.5 with two pressures, two tackle assists and a half sack that he shared with the previously mentioned, Byron Young.
The 49ers are also having some minor issues along their offensive line. Trent Williams, the left tackle for the Niners, went down briefly in their game against Pittsburgh, having to leave for a play, however, all indications are that he is going to be ready to suit up Sunday. Still, it’s something to at least keep an eye on.
In addition, San Francisco’s right tackle Colton McKivitz had a rough outing in week 1, where he gave up three sacks to T.J. Watt and exposed his newly healthy quarterback to some unwanted shots. Those hits could add up quickly for Purdy, who is fresh off recovering from elbow surgery he had just eight or so months ago.
The 49ers could have their hands full trying to double and triple team Donald in the middle, leaving their tackles exposed.
Can Puka Nacua and Tutu Atwell repeat their week 1 success?
The biggest success of the Los Angeles Rams last Sunday was the emergence of third year receiver Tutu Atwell and rookie Puka Nacua. Both players went for 119 yards each, with Nacua pulling in 10 of his team high 15 targets from Matthew Stafford.
The key to this success can actually be found along the offensive line though. The Rams were able to keep Stafford clean last week, surrendering zero sacks.
When Stafford has time, he is one of the best quarterback at throwing the ball downfield. Both Nacua and Atwell had receptions over 25 yards, including a 44 yarder to Atwell, and the Rams will need more chunk plays like this against a Niners defense that sports Nick Bosa, Javon Hargrave and Fred Warner.
If LA can keep Bosa off of Stafford, there is no reason why Atwell and Nacua couldn’t put up the same type of numbers. With Kupp out for at least three more games, the young receiving duo will need to repeat their stellar play, or even improve on it, to try and beat a 49ers defense that is ranked in the top five of most defensive categories.
Who is the starting running back for LA?
Going into the season, it seemed as though Cam Akers was the guy without much competition for carries. That was a different story in Seattle though, as second year running back Kyren Williams basically split carries with Akers and looked far more explosive and physical doing it.
Both backs scored touchdowns, with Williams getting into the end zone a second time. Each player will be a factor going forward, but Williams’ sheer tenacity when running makes me want to see him with the ball in his hands more than Akers. Williams also brings the added bonus of being much more effective in pass blocking and blitz pickup, something Akers has always struggled with.
Williams is the perfect example of the attitude that this retooled Los Angeles group is putting out right now. The confidence of both Williams and rookie Puka Nacua, who was constantly chirping at Seattle through out the game, has set a tone for the entire team going forward. Along with some added size along the interior of the offensive line, LA has changed it’s identity into a much more gritty run offense contrasted by Stafford’s explosive passing game.