This Sunday, the 49ers will be playing their second divisional game of the year against the Los Angeles Rams. What was supposed to be a heated race for the division crown has turned into a one-sided affair. So much so, that the NFL decided to save the nation from witnessing this game and flexed it out of Sunday night.
The 49ers and the Rams have enjoyed the exact opposite levels of success. The Rams are currently the last undefeated team in the league, and the 49ers are one of the worst teams.
Everyone can point to Jimmy Garoppolo’s injury as a reason why the 49ers are currently a bottom feeder, and why they aren’t competing with the Rams for the division. But looking at the way both teams are playing, the 49ers probably wouldn’t be as bad, but they still aren’t on the same the level as the Rams.
The Rams are playing well in every facet of the game. The 49ers can’t even get through a game without committing a turnover. That’s the difference between a good team and a bad team. And Garoppolo under center wouldn’t change that.
However, as they say: any given Sunday.
Despite being 1-5 and one of the most frustrating teams in the league, the 49ers aren’t quite as bad as their record shows.
In all five of their losses, the 49ers were within one score late into the fourth quarter. In fact, in four of those losses, they actually had the ball with the ability to tie or win the game. However, they turned the ball over all four times. If you’re getting déjà vu, it’s because I said the same exact thing in last week’s preview article for the Packers’ game. And it happened again against the Packers.
It’s starting to become a trend.
The optimistic view would be that San Francisco is good enough to stay in all of its games, just not to finish them. Of course moral victories don’t count in the standings, but that means teams can’t just come out and expect an easy victory.
Rams head coach Sean McVay on Thursday said as much during a conference call.
“When you watch the film, the film doesn’t lie," said the Rams coach. "These guys are in every single game. They’ve had an opportunity to win every single game. I don’t care what their record says, this is a really good football team … there’s no way that anyone in this building is taking this team lightly.”
Divisional games are notoriously unpredictable. Last year, the 49ers nearly upset the Rams in one of the most entertaining Thursday night games of all time.
Niners head coach Kyle Shanahan continues to game plan his team into these weekly battles. The execution just isn’t there all the time. If the 49ers are going to win this game, it won’t be because of the offense.
The 49ers are averaging 24.7 points per game, which is good for 16th in the league. And besides the first two games of the season which were against the Raiders and Cardinals, who are good for 28th and 31st respectively, the Rams are giving up 26 points per game. And besides the Chargers, those games were all against teams with worse offenses than the 49ers.
This game needs to be won by the defense. Of course that is a lot to ask for. Not just because the Rams have the third-best offense in the league, but because the 49ers’ defense has been abysmal in just about every regard.
This shuffling of the No. 2 cornerback that Robert Saleh has been doing is not a recipe for success. The 49ers will never have a good defense if they can’t even find a second corner good enough to stay on the field an entire game. However, they did play decently last week against the Packers up until their patented late game collapse. They need to build on that performance and play their best game of the season.
But when looking at the Rams’ offense, you have to take the lesser of the two evils. Despite the putrid pass rush and the lackluster secondary, the 49ers have to put the ball in Jared Goff’s hands. Because the other option is Todd Gurley.
If Gurley gets going, the Rams' entire offense opens up and it becomes almost impossible to stop.
The 49ers are 13th in the league in rush defense, so going against Gurley plays into their strength. They are 25th against the pass and 29th in points given up per game.
If the defense can keep the Rams under 30 points, and maybe even force a turnover or two, the 49ers have a chance to win this game. The 49ers aren’t making the playoffs this season. But they can still play spoiler to the rest of the league, and more importantly, to the Rams.
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