The Los Angeles Rams surprised in Week 1 by defeating the Seattle Seahawks. However, they will have a bigger test in Week 2 when they take on the San Francisco 49ers. This is a team that the Rams haven’t beaten in eight straight regular season meetings. With the 49ers looking like one of the best teams in the NFL, it does not appear that will be changing on Sunday. With that said, it’s very possible that the Rams surprise once again. Let’s take a look at five keys to victory for the Rams against the 49ers.
1. Bring pressure from the right side
For the Rams to beat the 49ers, they must be able to get pressure on Brock Purdy. Last week against the Pittsburgh Steelers, right tackle Colton McKivitz, right guard Spencer Burford, and center Jake Brendal gave up a combined 12 pressures. McKivitz at right tackle alone was credited with three sacks allowed.
Purdy is susceptible to making mistakes. However, in order to get him into those mistakes, the defense needs to be able to pressure him and make him uncomfortable. Raheem Morris is going to need to dial up some pressures that load the right side and don’t be surprised if Donald is lined up on that side often.
2. Contain the edges
Kyle Shanahan is going to do everything he can to test the Rams’ edge rushers and their discipline. The 49ers love to run to the left side, specifically out wide behind Trent Williams. Nine of Christian McCaffrey’s 22 carries last week eight went around Williams or right behind him. When rushing outside to the left, McCaffrey had six carries for 33 yards, averaging 5.5 yards per carry.
The Rams edge rushers had some moments last week against the Seattle Seahawks, specifically in the first half. There’s no doubt that Shanahan noticed that and some of the missed responsibilities from the preseason. This is an inexperienced edge group and their discipline is going to be tested on Sunday.
3. Move the pocket and protect Matthew Stafford
One of the big takeaways from the offseason was that, “Stafford has slimmed down, and is evidently quicker” according to The Athletic’s Jourdan Rodrigue. With the lack of a Seahawks pass rush, the Rams didn’t have to do a lot in terms of moving the pocket and you didn’t see Stafford on a lot of boot leg type throws.
It’s highly unlikely that we don’t see a Stafford bootleg in this game or see McVay and Mike LaFleur move the pocket. The Rams need to keep the 49ers pass rush unbalanced and can’t allow them just to tee-off on an offensive line that is still growing together. Expect to see more RPO bootlegs from Stafford.
4. Win on the outside
Over the middle of the field last week, Stafford was 14-for-17 for 144 yards. The Rams were able to attack that area of the field at will. However, that won’t be the case against the 49ers. Last season, linebacker Fred Warner turned opposing quarterbacks into Daniel Jones when throwing over the middle in terms of EPA. The middle of the field was completely taken away from Kenny Pickett.
Biggest adjustment for Rams on offense against SF will be how they attack other areas of the field.— Blaine Grisak (@bgrisakTST) September 12, 2023
Rams attacked the middle of the field at will against SEA. Stafford 8/9 on throws between the hashes. Fred Warner will take that away. Just look and Kenny Pickett last week. pic.twitter.com/RWMq3L6lgk
Now, this isn’t to say that Stafford isn’t a better quarterback than Pickett. Warner is just a really good linebacker and does a very nice job at taking away that part of the field. The Rams wide receivers are going to need to win their matchups on the outside. That starts with Puka Nacua and Van Jefferson.
5. Create and avoid negative plays
This seems like an obvious point and one that can be applied to any game that the Rams play. However, it’s even more important in a game against the 49ers. Last week, Ernest Jones had five tackles for loss. In order to limit the Shanahan run-game, the Rams defense must keep them in 2nd-and-long and 3rd-and-long situations. The 49ers are still going to have success throwing the ball, but if the defense can make Purdy beat them through the air on important downs, they have more of a chance.
On offense, the Rams can’t get into 3rd-and-long situations. Nearly half of Cam Akers’ runs last week went for zero or negative yards. That can’t happen against this 49ers defense. The offense needs to be able to stay ahead of the sticks. Additionally, the pick sixes that Stafford has had against the 49ers in the past can’t happen if the Rams want any chance of winning this game.