The San Francisco 49ers wrap up their 2017 season in Los Angeles against the Rams on Sunday. They’re hoping to close out the season on a roll, and end it with a 5 game winning streak. The Rams have turned from worst to first, having claimed the NFC West crown (and a home playoff game) last week with a convincing win over the Tennessee Titans. The Rams will be resting many of their starters, and a majority of their stars, including both Jared Goff and Todd Gurley.
This is the second meeting between these two teams this season, the Rams having gotten the best of the 49ers in a week 3 thriller, 41-39. Though the core of these two teams are the same, this Sunday might as well be a match between two entirely different teams, which essentially makes it pointless to draw comparisons from that first meeting. However, the match-up of coaching schemes will be the same, which is very intriguing.
The 49ers, of course, have a new quarterback in Jimmy Garoppolo, and since he has been in the starting lineup, San Francisco has been one of the more impressive teams in the league. The Rams have no meaningful playoff position to jostle for, but they hope to show the 49ers they are the superior squad, regardless of who the quarterback for either team is. As we have learned in recent weeks, with a good quarterback playing great football, a young, ascending defense playing well together, and the infection of recent wins spreading rapidly in the locker room, the 49ers can win against the Rams and their high-flying, high-scoring offense.
In fact, with the Rams resting starters, the 49ers hitting on all cylinders with nothing to lose, L.A. will want to be sure they don’t get embarrassed on their home turf to end the season. This is a game that the 49ers should win, and ideally dominate, if they are to prove to themselves and the rest of the NFL that they belong among the NFL’s top dogs. Here are some areas the 49ers can look to exploit en route to a season-ending victory over an NFC West rival:
The Rams’ fearsome pass rush would normally be of top concern for the 49ers going into this game. However, both Robert Quinn and Aaron Donald are expected to sit out. After handling Jacksonville’s ferocious pass rush last week with relative ease, I expect the Niners’ O-line to continue their improved play and give Garoppolo enough time to surgically dissect the Rams’ stout secondary.
Sacks ‘N’ Turnovers
Since the Rams are sitting both starting left tackle Andrew Whitworth and starting Center John Sullivan, this is an excellent opportunity for the 49ers to get after the quarterback. I expect some combination of Deforest Buckner, Cassius Marsh and Solomon Thomas to have big game(s) this weekend. This will also provide a great opportunity for fumbles and rushed throws from Sean Mannion (I think?), so the Niners should be able to force a couple turnovers.
3rd down will be an area of big opportunity in this game. The Rams convert a decent percentage of their 3rd down attempts (41%), while the 49ers have given up nearly 44% of third down attempts to opposing teams this year. If the 49ers’ defense can get off the field early and often, and the Niner offense can continue its recent success on third down, it will play a huge role in swinging this game in San Francisco’s favor.
Expect the Rams to lean heavily on the run game in this one with both Gurley and Goff out. The Rams do well in rushing attack, averaging 120+ yards/game on the season. Fortunately for the 49ers, they boast what has lately been a rock solid run defense, bottling up some good backs in the past 6 weeks, including Leonard Fournette, Derrick Henry and Jordan Howard. If the 49ers can continue this trend, this could be a dominating win for the Red and Gold
Stop Going Backwards!
I will harp on this until the 49ers get it right: San Francisco must cut down on the penalties. This is the one area where there has not been significant improvement at any point this season. This will be especially important against a great team on the road. If the Niners can play a clean game and not beat themselves, it will make it that much easier for them to head into the offseason with the ‘W’
Two Great Coaches
This game may come down to which coach can out-scheme the other. Though the 49ers will have the best quarterback on the field on Sunday, and perhaps the better overall team, this is not a Rams team to be taken lightly. They are very well coached, will be playing at home, and will want to go into the playoffs riding any momentum they can get. They will also want to cement into the 49ers’ collective mindset that they can beat the 49ers at will – with whichever players they chose to do it.
Kyle Shanahan is a master of the proverbial chess game, and as a Jags’ players insomuch as admitted last week, his scheme and well-coached players had the Jaguars’ vaunted defense on their heels from the opening whistle; including down to the game-clinching touchdown run by Matt Breida, a play which was a wrinkle off of a sweep play the 49ers had run several times successfully during the game. I expect Shanahan will want revenge after losing a close one at home early in the season, and will have an excellent game plan up his sleeve for young Sean McVay.
Enjoy this one, Faithful! It is the last 49ers ball we will see for quite some time, though I think we can all agree that we have a lot to look forward to. Hopefully at this time next season, I am writing a 49ers playoffs preview piece. Go Niners!
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