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49ers-Rams: Three players/coaches who need to step up

San Francisco is hitting the toughest part of its schedule and needs to turn things around quickly if it wants to have a sniff at the playoffs.

Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The San Francisco 49ers have the toughest remaining strength of schedule of any NFL team. No one expected the Niners to be 2-3 through five games, but a mix of injuries and atrocious play has put the 49ers behind the eight-ball if they want to get into the playoffs.

San Francisco will go into a ridiculously tough seven-game stretch beginning this Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams, whom they will play twice between now and Week 13. The 49ers’ six opponents over their next seven contests have a combined record of 18-5.

The Niners’ last two performances have been abysmal, and if the team can’t turn things around this week, it looks like 2020 will be a lost season.

Here are three players — or coaches — who need to step up this week against the NFC West rival Rams.

1) QB Jimmy Garoppolo

Garoppolo was awful last week against the Dolphins, and that’s putting it lightly. The quarterback returned after missing 2.5 games with a high ankle sprain and looked extremely uncomfortable. He finished the game 7-of-17 for 77 yards, two picks and a rating of just 15.7. Pro Football Focus gave Garoppolo a 31.3 grade against Miami, by far the worst of any offensive player. The entire team played brutal against the Dolphins, so it’s not just on Garoppolo, but if the 49ers want to get back in the win column, they need their franchise QB to lead them to a victory. A good quarterback can help mask an NFL team’s deficiencies, and other than one splendid half against the lowly New York Jets, Garoppolo hasn’t been able to do that in his other two appearances.

2) Head coach Kyle Shanahan

Shanahan was lauded as one of the best head coaches in the league coming into the 2020 NFL season, but so far, that hasn’t been the case. Yes, San Francisco is shorthanded due to all of the injuries to the defense, but other than the back-to-back games against the New York teams, the offense has been mostly healthy. Backup QB Nick Mullens played horribly against the Philadelphia Eagles, but he was also routinely under pressure. Shanahan has said the issues with the offensive line have been communication-related. Still, the team hasn’t made adjustments to the areas where there are significant breakdowns, especially in pass protection. The play-calling against Miami was uninspiring, and the Niners’ offense has looked like a shell of itself compared to 2019. The 49ers haven’t adjusted to opposing defenses and have routinely been hammered at the line of scrimmage. Shanahan needs to simplify the playbook and get the ball into the playmakers’ hands on the offense to help the team develop a rhythm and sustain drives. San Francisco is 20th in total yards per game and 24th in offensive DVOA, lower than what you expect from a unit run by an “offensive genius.”

3) LB Azeez Al-Shaair

Al-Shaair will start in place of the injured Kwon Alexander. His ceiling in the NFL is as a backup on a good team, but he will need to be much better than he has all season on Sunday. PFF has the linebacker graded at 57.5 overall, but that results from his play against the run and rushing the passer. In coverage, Al-Shaair has a 49.8 grade, and with the Rams’ offense having a weakness when their over routes are negated, he will have to step up to the challenge alongside Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw. We saw Miami pick on Brian Allen non-stop during the first quarter last week, so perhaps Sean McVay will do the same with Al-Shaair on Sunday.

Which members of the 49ers do you think need to step up against the Rams?