The Los Angeles Rams end the 2023 regular season against their bitter NFC West frenemy the San Francisco 49ers who are 4-point favorites at DraftKings Sportsbook. Both teams have sealed their playoffs fates as they officially punched their tickets into the postseason in Week 17. Thanks a million Steelers!
Despite the final matchup being deemed meaningless on paper, divisional pride remains on the line. Turf Show Ramily unfortunately knows the Whiners enough as it is. However, that didn’t prevent me from interviewing Ryan Bainbridge from SB Nation’s 49ers blog Niners Nation anyway.
Q - San Francisco clinched the NFC’s top seed in Week 17 so it’s very likely the NFC Championship runs through the Niners. The 49ers lost three straight following a 5-0 start, yet rebounded quickly and have gone 7-1 since. Their season was likely never in doubt during that stretch but how has the team regained their footing after their early losing streak?
A - Outside of the Ravens game (their only loss after the bye), they’ve taken care of the football. Turnovers were their biggest issue during the losing streak. So that three game skid wasn’t ever really a confidence-destroyer or enough to derail the entire season. I think the week of rest and reset was able to help them focus a bit more and hoping that the first round playoff bye also gives them a chance to refresh.
The other thing we saw during that streak on defense was missed tackles. That problem hasn’t been completely fixed and should be a concern for Niners fans heading into the postseason. However, with a week off we saw that issue get nipped in the bud. But as the weeks progressed and those bumps and bruises piled up, it reappeared. Hoping this upcoming rest week provides that same sort of shift in the defenses tackling.
Q - Brock Purdy has been quite efficient all season but threw a career-high four interceptions against the Ravens on Christmas. Purdy played much better in Washington while setting the team’s single season passing record. Either way, could you walk through those four holiday interceptions and explain what Baltimore may have done different defensively compared to the rest of the 49ers’ opponents?
A - The Baltimore game was very unique. You could argue only one of Purdy’s interceptions was completely his fault. That would be the first one, which was costly as the offense was in the redzone. He simply misread the defense or did not see safety Kyle Hamilton who easily stepped into the passing window, which wasn’t really open to begin with. Bad pass, bad decision, it happens.
To quickly walk through the other interceptions. A corner blitz by Marlon Humphrey led to an open Deebo Samuel that Purdy quickly diagnosed. His throw was batted into the air by Humphrey, who made a great play to disrupt the passing lane, and it came down in Baltimore’s hands. Can’t fault Purdy much for a good play by the defense. Another interception Purdy escaped pressure (which was affecting him and the offense all night), got out of the pocket and threw back across his body to a tightly covered George Kittle. Ball hit off Kittle and the defender before landing in Hamilton’s arms. You could argue Purdy should have thrown it out of bounds instead of trying to fit the ball in, but he’s done it so far this year with success. Gotta live with that play. The final interception Purdy makes a look to CMC, who is lined up at receiver, and his arm gets hit by a Ravens DL as he is completing the throwing motion, altering the path of the ball straight to another Baltimore defender. The route wasn’t wide open but once again the blame shouldn’t lie on Purdy. Baltimore was kicking the Niners ass up front, and it led to a couple of pressured plays that weren’t handled well by Purdy and they got some unlucky bounces.
Q - The 49ers have fielded some great teams under Kyle Shanahan but have fallen short every time. I expect this team to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl but the football gods may have other plans. How does this Niners team compare to Shanahan’s other three playoff teams?
A - This is definitely the best offense in the Kyle Shanahan era. I know people want to knock Purdy for playing within a “QB-Friendly” system, but he has completely elevated the team and the stats back that up. Purdy adds an element of creativity that we haven’t seen from a 49ers QB since Shanahan took over, and it completely changes the dynamic of the playcalling. It is a special group of playmakers with all of those elite guys in their prime. The receivers are better than the group that went to the super bowl in 2019. As are the RBs. If there was one achilles heel this offense possesses, it’s the offensive line. That group doesn’t feel as strong as others before it, but again Purdy helps hide some of the issues up front.
Defensively, the front four feels like the best group we have seen. Fred Warner has only gotten better and Dre Greenlaw has developed into a more complete linebacker. The secondary has a corner they feel comfortable asking to lock up an opposing receiver, as opposed to previous iterations of this squad (even Richard Sherman, who was out of his prime, wasn’t as well-rounded as Charvarius Ward currently is). But the secondary is still the big question mark.
Q - As mentioned above, the 49ers have already clinched the conference’s top seed so they don’t have anything to play for in the final week. Will Shanahan play his starters for a few series against the Rams or sit them out entirely to rest up for the playoffs?
A - It looks like San Francisco is opting to sit their starters for this game. There was some discussion about certain starters getting at least a little bit of playing time, but it would be wise for them to sit their most irreplaceable talent. That means Purdy, CMC, and Trent Williams at the minimum should be in street clothes on Sunday. McCaffrey especially needs the extra rest as he left the Washington game with a calf injury that will benefit from time off.
Q - The 49ers are 4-point favorites with an O/U of 41 at DraftKings Sportsbook. How do you envision this game going down with very little on the line for both teams?
A - I think San Francisco’s backups will still find ways to move the ball against the Rams defense. But the offensive line scares me against the LA front. It will be interesting to get a full glimpse of what Sam Darnold can do in this offense. With both teams looking ahead to the playoffs, I think it will be an easy under to bet on. I like the 49ers at home to win and cover.