It’s hard to tell if the Los Angeles Rams are any good or not this year. In the last two weeks, they beat the 10-2 Seahawks, then got crushed by the 6-7 Cowboys — even though their quarterback Dak Prescott injured his shoulder in the first quarter.
They’ve certainly got a lot of high-priced talent, from QB Jared Goff and running back Todd Gurley to defensive tackle Aaron Donald and cornerback Jalen Ramsey. But the pursuit of those big names has thinned out their talent pool dramatically, as they traded away draft picks and spent most of their salary cap on a few expensive players.
One notable difference was CB Troy Hill breaking his thumb against Dallas. The former Oregon Duck had replaced Marcus Peters as the starter opposite Ramsey after Peters was traded to Baltimore, and did very well. Against Seattle, he sealed the game with an interception on what turned out to be the Seahawk’s final drive.
Now, his season is over with surgery on that thumb, which bodes well for the Niners. Darious Williams will start instead. Who? Exactly. Before Hill’s injury, he had played a total of 46 snaps for the Rams all season, in 3 games.
The Running Game
When they beat the Seahawks, the Rams held Seattle to 106 yards rushing while picking up 162 of their own. But in losing to Dallas, they gave up 263 yards in the run game and garnered only 22 (on 14 carries).
Sure, teams with big leads run more, which can distort these statistics. But the Cowboys didn’t rely on Ezekiel Elliott to run out the clock. Rookie Tony Pollard averaged nearly 11 yards per carry, including a 33-yard gain on a 3rd and 1 play, and a 44-yard touchdown late to seal the game. Meanwhile, Gurley managed just 20 yards on 11 carries (1.8 YPC).
The good news for the 49ers is that even in the Rams’ “good” game, star RB Todd Gurley only picked up 79 yards on 23 carries (a very pedestrian 3.4 YPC). He does not present a significant threat to this defense, even on a good day, which should allow them to focus on the pass rush and on stopping the passing attack.
And in summary....
This is the ragged end of the season for NFL teams. Rookies and bench warmers who got bigger roles are playing a longer season than they’ve ever faced before, hitting the “rookie wall.” Injuries pile up, and some squads just give up. That leads to big emotional swings, and surprising results like the Rams’ good team / bad team oscillations, and the Niners’ loss to not-so-good Atlanta.
That dynamic favors the Niners, who are guaranteed to make the playoffs, while the Rams’ hopes are hanging by a thread. It won’t take much in the way of San Francisco scoring or Los Angeles offensive ineptitude for the Rams to decide that the gig is up, and there’s no reason to risk injury when their off-season is going to begin before New Years in any case.