The Los Angeles Rams are gearing up for their 2023 home opener and will host the NFC West rival San Francisco 49ers on Sunday afternoon. LA is coming off an impressive Week 1 victory over the Seattle Seahawks and are looking to keep the momentum going against a talented 49ers team.
The Rams surprised many around the NFL by coming out on top last week in Seattle, but they won’t have the luxury of being doubted for the foreseeable future. The test certainly gets tougher against a 49ers team that is superior to the Seahawks in nearly every facet.
Here are four things I think as we look forward toward this big rivalry game in Week 2:
Matthew Stafford was always capable of great games like he had last week
The bigger question mark with him is consistency
Despite much production from his running game, Stafford kept the Rams offense on track by converting some tough third down situations. Even when Sean McVay was unable to scheme open receivers, the veteran QB hung in the pocket, changed his arm angle, and threw his target open. It was one of Stafford’s most impressive individual performances as a Ram, though you wouldn’t be able to discern that from looking at the box score.
Matthew Stafford with a straddlin’ sidearm doozy pic.twitter.com/MifzdzQjOR— Nate Tice (@Nate_Tice) September 10, 2023
It’s not a surprise that Stafford is capable of games like he had against the Seahawks—these performances and creative third down throws are why the Rams acquired him.
But over Stafford’s career, he’s never really maintained this high level of performance for prolonged stretches—which speaks to why he’s never received a single vote for the league’s MVP award. The best example we have of Stafford having a string of strong performances would be LA’s 2021 playoff run and victory in Super Bowl LVI, but even that was only four games.
We got some pure, uncut Matthew Stafford today. pic.twitter.com/nb16aQdDvl— Robert Mays (@robertmays) September 11, 2023
Perhaps Stafford is on his way to a career year in 2023. The Rams offense could have some major fire power when/if Cooper Kupp returns to injury. I’m just not sure how likely a career year is for a player entering his 15th NFL season.
With that in mind, we should expect volatility in Stafford’s 2023 campaign.
Rams must protect Stafford at all costs
One driving factor that could have led to Stafford being so effective last week was that—for maybe the first time since he arrived in LA—the veteran has a clean bill of health. There’s no lingering elbow issue to worry about. He’s had rest and time to recover from the concussions and spinal cord contusion that plagued him in 2022.
Rams rookie LG Steve Avila in his Week 1 start:— Stu Jackson (@StuJRams) September 13, 2023
- 78 snaps played
- Zero sacks allowed
- Zero pressures allowed
- Zero hurries allowed
- Zero QB hits allowed
Numbers via @TruMediaSports
It’s the duty of LA’s offensive line to maintain Stafford’s clean bill of health and keep him upright. The pass protection and results were strong against Seattle, but things get much tougher against the 49ers. This is especially important since rookie QB Stetson Bennett was added to the non-football injury (NFI) reserve list this week for an undisclosed reason.
Which brings me to...
In every way the 49ers’ front seven is more formidable than Seattle’s
LA needs more production from the rushing attack
Uchenna Nwosu is a fine player for the Seahawks, but he’d best as a solid number two pass rusher on most defensive lines across the NFL. Seattle has done little to complement Nwosu at it’s edge rusher position. They’ve drafted players like LJ Collier with little success. Long gone are the days where Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, and Frank Clark were chasing down quarterbacks.
The 49ers’ defensive line is a stark opposition to Seattle. Nick Bosa is playing as well as any edge rusher in football. Second-year player Drake Jackson (USC) had three sacks against the Pittsburgh Steelers last week after mostly redshirting a year ago. Arik Armstead and Javon Hargrave are as good as it gets on the interior.
A look at all of Drake Jackson’s sacks from yesterday — Coach Yac (@Coach_Yac) September 11, 2023
Drake will have __ sacks in 2023? pic.twitter.com/PZi0mi2pKM
While the Rams took advantage of Bobby Wagner in coverage last week, he’s still a plus run defender. Fred Warner is just as good against the run but will also make you pay if you try and throw over the middle of the field.
In every single way, the front seven will prove to be a tougher test for Stafford and the Rams offense. Keep in mind that LA wasn’t able to get much going on the ground. We can’t expect that to be much better, but McVay must stick to the run game and maintain balance on offense.
Kyle Shanahan will exploit LA’s young defense
Who will break first for Rams, and how do they rebound?
It was a tale of two halves last week for the Rams. Geno Smith and the Seahawks had some success moving the ball in the first two quarters, but found very little room to operate over the second half. We don’t have much information to go off of for the 2023 Rams, but it’s a safe bet to say the most fair expectation for LA’s defense is somewhere in the middle between those two extremes.
Kyle Shanahan will find weaknesses in the Rams defense and look to exploit those areas on Sunday. In my view, the biggest openings are in the running game where LA is a bit undersized along the interior and on the outside where OLB’s failed to keep contain.
Star running back Christian McCaffrey broke off a 65-yard run last week against a tough Steelers defense and accumulated 152 yards overall. McCaffrey is difficult to tackle in space, and it’s of the upmost important that LA bottles him up in the backfield as much as possible.
Christian McCaffrey is awesome and WR Brandon Aiyuk with an outstanding block on the 65-yard TD pic.twitter.com/ruQDIU7M65— Steve Palazzolo (@PFF_Steve) September 11, 2023
I think the pass coverage will be strong for the Rams, but they can’t sell out to stop the run. Shanahan has to be licking his chops after watching Derion Kendrick losing DK Metcalf in coverage last week while peeking into the backfield. The 49ers head coach specializes in showing defenders eye candy just before passes sail over their heads.
The 49ers will find success against the Rams defense, but it’ll be important for LA defenders to have short memories and fight down to down. Even if you give up the big play individually, it’s all about preventing the next one from taking place.