The Los Angeles Rams will go up against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 18. With both Matthew Stafford and Brock Purdy set to rest, matchup between two division rivals will have a bit of a preseason feel to it. That leaves Carson Wentz taking on Sam Darnold. However, that doesn’t mean that the Rams still won’t be trying to win. Here are five keys to victory against the 49ers.
1. Run the Offense Efficiently
The Rams will be resting Matthew Stafford, Cooper Kupp, and Kyren Williams on the offensive side of the ball. This will be a big opportunity for guys like Carson Wentz and Zach Evans and Royce Freeman. While the Rams will be resting key starters, it sounds like the offensive line will play. According to Sean McVay on Friday,
“Carson (Wentz) obviously gets to play behind our offensive line and then I think it’ll offer an opportunity for those running backs to get more chances than what they would otherwise if Kyren was going. It’ll also offer an opportunity for our tight ends with Higbee being out, okay, let’s see how Davis Allen continues to do. Then from the receiver position, Puka (Nacua) and Demarcus Robinson, we’ll get Tutu more opportunities.”
For the most part, outside of Stafford, Kupp, and Williams, the Rams offense will be at full strength. Wentz has been in Los Angeles for almost half the season. Can he run the offense? Freeman and Evans will get a chance to show what they can do in the run game. If Wentz shows that he can run the offense, he may earn a backup role behind Stafford next season.
2. Play Opportunistic on Defense
The 49ers will be resting Brock Purdy on offense, leaving Sam Darnold at quarterback. Darnold is a quarterback that tends to put the ball in harms way or make too much happen and that leads to a lot of turnovers and negative plays. Even without Donald and Jones playing, the defense will need to be opportunistic and try to create opportunities for the offense.
There should be chances in this game for the Rams to get their hands on a ball or make a game-changing play. It’ll be key to be ready for that moment and make a play happen. The Rams defense this season has created just 14 turnovers which ranks 30th in the NFL. That needs to change heading into the postseason.
3. Sound tackling in the Secondary
When it comes to playing the 49ers, it always comes down to tackling in the secondary. Whenever these two teams play, San Francisco’s big plays tend to come when there are missed tackles from the Rams on the backend of the defense. That was the case earlier in the season on touchdowns from Deebo Samuel and Christian McCaffrey.
Outside of Donald and Jones, it will be the Rams starting defense on the field. Quentin Lake has played well in the back half of the season and Ahkello Witherspoon is a physical presence at cornerback. The Rams defensive backs have to show that they are willing to tackle because the 49ers will test them.
4. Get out of the Game Healthy
By resting key starters in this game, the Rams’ goal is clear and that’s to remain healthy as they head into the postseason. While a win matters for seeding purposes and bragging rights against a division rival, that doesn’t seem to be priority for the Rams this week. McVay said this week,
“There are a couple layers to it and when you look at it, what we’ve just felt like was this approach is the best one for our team. You want to see guys go compete and do well, but that was what we felt like...I know what could occur...everything occurs, and you think you know and you just don’t, right? Taking all that into consideration didn’t really feel like the other side of it to try to do something to maintain the sixth or know you could be the seventh was best for our team.”
The Rams goal for this game is to remain healthy heading into the postseason. We know some of the inactives already, but we’ll see how the Rams handle other key players like Rob Havenstein who would be a tough loss if he can’t play in the postseason. A
5. Hope For a Bears win Against Packers
While the Rams may not be directly playing for the sixth seed, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t matter. Six seeds a 4-2 since the new playoff format was introduced and the Rams won as a six seed back in 2020. Meanwhile, a seven seed has never won a playoff game. If the Rams are the seven seed, it likely means a matchup against the Dallas Cowboys. Round two against the Cowboys would be different than round one. Rob Havenstein would be in the lineup this time as well as Kyren Williams. With that said, the Rams do not matchup well against Dallas.
The Rams can lose and still get the six seed. However, it means the Chicago Bears needing to win at Lambeau Field for the first time since 2015. The Bears have been hot as of late, but is that a team that can be trusted? The six seed would most likely send the Rams to Detroit. Outside of the Philadelphia Eagles, that’s the game that LA will want...storylines aside.