Another week, another win for the undefeated San Francisco 49ers. Sunday’s might’ve been their most impressive game of the season, though, stifling the reigning NFC Champion Rams en route to a 20-7 win in the Los Angeles Coliseum. 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan and defensive coordinator Robert Saleh’s combined efforts both kept the Rams off the field and mostly ineffective when on it, holding coach Sean McVay’s offense to all-time lows.
Here are our five takeaways from the 49ers’ 5-0 start:
Elite defensive performance
Robert Saleh’s defense was dominant against one of the league’s best offenses. The Rams came into Week 6 averaging 421 yards per game. The 49ers defense held them to just 157. The Rams averaged 31 points per game before Sunday. The 49ers held them to only seven. It was arguably the most impressive defensive performance so far this season from any team. If Saleh and the San Francisco defense can maintain anywhere near that level of performance for the rest of the season, this team has a real chance to climb deep into the postseason.
Perfect on money downs
Just one takeaway from that defensive performance isn’t enough. Perhaps the most impressive statistic from the defense’s efforts was on the most important down(s) in football. The 49ers held the Rams to a goose egg on third down on Sunday, stopping McVay’s offense cold on nine different drives. The Rams went for it on fourth down four different times throughout the game, including on the goal line. None were successful.
The offense does just enough
Prior to Sunday, Shanahan’s offense averaged 6.3 yards per play - good for fourth in the NFL. That side of the ball wasn’t nearly as spectacular against the Rams, gaining an average of just 4.4 yards. That number over the season would put them at 30th among the 32 other teams. The NFL’s best rushing attack was held to just 2.4 yards per play. Thankfully, the 49ers defense held the Rams to an even worse 3.1 yards per play, giving the 49ers offense the edge it needed to build and maintain a lead.
Ward makes his mark
Jimmie Ward made his second start of the season against the Rams. The 49ers defensive back missed the first three games of the season while still recovering from a broken finger and sitting behind 2018 third-round pick Tarvarius Moore. The oft-injured Ward replaced Moore at free safety the last two weeks, and it’s easy to see why the 49ers coaching staff has remained faithful. Ward might’ve played the best game of his career on Sunday. His two highlights came on consecutive plays, breaking up passes intended for Rams tight end Gerald Everett and receiver Cooper Kupp on third- and fourth-down, respectively. Both Ward and strong safety Jaquiski Tartt have been playing lights out so far in 2019.
Garoppolo is weird
The 49ers quarterback remains an enigma of sorts. Jimmy Garoppolo has now started 15 games in his NFL career, dating back to his two starts for New England in 2016 while Tom Brady was suspended. Garoppolo’s won 13 of those starts, making him the ninth quarterback in NFL history to do so, per ESPN. Garoppolo knows how to win, but he also makes a lot of mistakes. He committed two turnovers on Sunday, throwing a cringe-worthy interception in the endzone while fumbling in the red zone later in the game. Garoppolo also missed a throw (sort of) to a wide-open Tevin Coleman on third own, who would’ve walked in for the score.
Jimmy G completed an impressive 72% of his passes on Sunday, including quite a few throws that kept drives moving for the 49ers. It’s just hard to know what you’re going to get every week from the 49ers quarterback, but as long as Garoppolo keeps finding ways to win, there won’t be many complaints.