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4 Rams players who are going to need big days against the 49ers

How Tyler Higbee and Ernest Jones could impact Sunday’s game between Rams and 49ers

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at Seattle Seahawks Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Rams are not expected to win this Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers, but they weren’t expected to be 1-0 either. The Rams surprised most people with a 30-13 win over the Seattle Seahawks and it was in large thanks to surprise performances by individuals like Puka Nacua, Tutu Atwell, Byron Young, and Steve Avila.

Which players would the Rams need to step up in Week 2 against the 49ers to be a surprising 2-0?

TE Tyler Higbee

One of these players who gets lost in the sauce for long stretches and then randomly shows up to be a star, Tyler Higbee will be a vital key to L.A.’s offense on Sunday. And not just as a receiver, but because Rob Havenstein and the Rams offensive line will need all the help and the chips that they can if they have any hopes of slowing down Nick Bosa.

As a receiver, Higbee has had some productive games against the 49ers.

In 2019, he had nine catches for 104 yards in a 34-31 loss, which is the most points that the Rams have scored against San Francisco in any of their last nine contests against the 49ers. Last season, he had 10 catches for 73 yards in a 24-9 loss, the second-most he’s had in any game of his career.

With Cooper Kupp out and Puka Nacua potentially out, Higbee’s role as a receiver becomes even more important this Sunday. Higbee had three catches for 49 yards on three targets in Week 1 against the Seahawks.

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at Seattle Seahawks Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

But maybe it’s his role as a sixth blocker that could be even more important. Sean McVay hasn’t shown much trust yet in Brycen Hopkins, but he did have 23 snaps in Week 1, the second-highest single game total of his career. Maybe the Rams will run more 12 personnel against the 49ers this week due to receivers dropping like flies and to give Matthew Stafford a quarter of a second longer to throw the ball.

There may be times when you forget about Tyler Higbee. But it’s time like these that the Rams need him to show up more than ever.

LB Ernest Jones

Christian McCaffrey.

There you go, that’s the whole reason: Christian McCaffrey.

Jones had three tackles for a loss in Week 1 against the Seahawks, which wasn’t just a career-high, it nearly doubled his career total. Ernest Jones had five tackles for a loss during his first two seasons. Now he’s got eight.

He had nine total tackles and is the second-most important player on the Rams defense now.

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Los Angeles Rams Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

McCaffrey led the NFL in rushing in Week 1, he came up big as a runner as a receiver against L.A. in 2022, and the Rams could go a long way towards pulling off the upset if the Raheem Morris defense contains him on Sunday. If there’s any chance of doing that it’s Ernest Jones.

Ernest Jones.

G Steve Avila

If the test on the edges against Nick Bosa weren’t hard enough, there might be an even bigger exam to watch in the middle of the trenches: Rookie second round pick Steve Avila against defensive tackle Javon Hargrave, the biggest free agent signing of the entire offseason for any player who switched teams.

And Hargrave was as dominant as advertised in Week 1 against the Steelers. But Avila wasn’t bad himself.

For the Rams to pull the upset this week, it would be huge for Sean McVay to get the run game going, especially by exposing opportunities in the middle of the defense. Maybe Kyren Williams and Cam Akers, who was the least efficient runner in the NFL last week, could have a chance to do that if Avila impresses against Hargrave and Arik Armstead.

It also wouldn’t hurt to keep Stafford protected inside the pocket and not letting havoc and destruction happen that would force him to bail or cause him to get sacked.

OLB Byron Young

If there is a weakness on the 49ers offensive line, it is at right tackle with Colton McKivitz. That’s the opportunity for rookie Byron Young, who really showed up in his debut with four tackles, two QB hits, and partaking in a sack, to force Brock Purdy into a bad decision or three.

Young was credited with five pressures in Week 1.

Tape was less kind to McKivitz.

A sack can change the course and outcome of an entire game. Just one sack can do that. If the Rams are keeping the game close in other areas, then potential advantages like Byron Young against McKivitz could lead to huge opportunities to push the balance of power into L.A.’s favor this Sunday.