Every week, we’re reminded of how talented the San Francisco 49ers are. Every week, we’re reminded of how even the deepest roster in the NFL cannot overcome losing what feels like half of your team to the injured reserve or COVID-19 list. No team has been bitten by the injury bug like the Niners. On Sunday, San Francisco had a few of their injured players back in the lineup, and it paid off in a big way. Let’s get into a few takeaways from the 49ers’ win over the Rams.
Give it to Deebo and get out of the way
Deebo Samuel was targeted 13 times and had 11 catches for 133 yards. Like the last time he played against the Rams, Samuel had more yards after the catch (136) than he did actual receiving. On the season, Samuel has more YAC than receiving yards. As I watched Deebo touch the ball time and time again, I kept getting Derrick Henry vibes.
Samuel catches the ball, gets to full speed in a matter of steps. Defensive backs tackle him, though they don’t look too interested. Those collisions take a toll, and six gains turn into 13-yard gains rather quickly. Deebo forced six missed tackles on Sunday. Kendrick Bourne led the wideouts in missed tackles on the season, with six coming into Week 12. There’s no substitute for a player with Samuel’s mentality, and it shows up every time he touches the ball.
Samuel feels like one of those players that’s quarterback-proof. He only had one target over ten yards, and that was the 26-yard slant Samuel caught late in the game. Aside from another slant route that went for one of Samuel’s four first downs, he generated the rest of the production on his own.
The 49ers own Jared Goff
For the second year in a row, the 49ers swept the Rams. Goff looked outclassed for the second year in a row and like a deer in headlights for most of his dropbacks. In a crucial game at home that could have given Los Angeles the NFC West lead, Goff was outperformed by Nick Mullens in every advanced stat. Mullens EPA/per play was nearly five-tenths higher. Goff’s completion percentage over expectation was three points worse, and his quarterback rating was 25 points worse.
When the first read for Goff isn’t there, he’s a disaster. Credit Robert Saleh and the 49ers defense, but Goff blew this game. On the drive where Los Angeles picked on Emmanuel Moseley, Goff has a layup for a touchdown to the running back out of the backfield but airmails him, and the Rams have to settle for a field goal. That’s the difference in the ball game.
Goff tried to take on Jimmie freaking Ward 1-on-1 in the open field, and Ward stripped Goff to force a fumble. On Richard Sherman’s interception, Goff overshot his receiver by about five yards. Goff is holding onto the ball and drifting in the pocket on Kerry Hyder’s first sack and a couple of Hyder’s pressures. You’ll see Goff and Jimmy Garoppolo compared a lot, but if you’re a franchise QB and your team is at full health, there’s no excuse to lay an egg in this spot. As long as Goff is under center, the 49ers should always be favored over the Rams.
The coverage could propel this defense to the postseason
Getting pressure has been an issue all season for the 49ers. I should say, getting home. The 49ers only pressured Goff on nine of his 37 dropbacks on Sunday, which is two percentage points higher than the defense’s season average. During this game, what stood out was how often Goff had to double-clutch and hold the ball as a passer.
Hyder’s late-game sack was the one clean rush where the 49ers got home. They hit Goff a couple of times, but it never felt like Goff was under duress for a good portion of this game. The Niners’ team speed has gotten the best of the Rams in their past three matchups, and that was the case again on Sunday.
Sean McVay relies on quick, timing-based routes where Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods can get open and run after the catch. Against Tampa Bay a week ago, the duo combined for 23 catches, 275 yards, and a score. San Francisco’s secondary held them to nine receptions for 121 yards. Outside of one long run after catch play by Kupp, both players were limited. Why? Speed.
It’s a luxury to take your safety and drop him down into the slot and say, “go cover that guy.” That’s what the 49ers have in Jimmie Ward, who owns the Rams wideouts, apparently. Ward was targeted eight times, allowed three receptions for 16 yards, and broke up a pass. Jason Verrett was targeted five times and only gave up one first down.
Moseley’s numbers look worse because I don’t believe he was set on that 33-yard reception to Kupp. On the other plays, Moseley allowed three receptions on six targets for a combined 22 yards. He’ll be fine in the slot moving forward, especially getting more practice reps and knowing what to expect.
When you can field a defense that has Moseley, Sherman, Verrett, Marcell Harris as your defacto linebacker, Ward in the box, and Tarvarius Moore deep, there aren’t many places to throw the ball. Oh, and that Fred Warner guy still plays. The 49ers won on early downs and forced the Rams into unfavorable matchups on third and fourth down. The Rams success rate on third and fourth down was 23%, which a -0.91 EPA/per play. I credit the back-7 and the speed of the defense.
The offensive line is not a problem
To me, the offensive line isn’t as big of an issue as some make it. You have to remember how great of a player Aaron Donald is. He makes everyone look foolish. There are no exceptions. Mullens was sacked once and hit three times on the afternoon. Some of those pressures were on Nick, as he’s holding the ball and dropping his eyes when receivers are open. On the play where Mullens was sacked, he wasn’t touched until 3.2 seconds. That’s an eternity in the NFL.
The Rams also have one of the top defenses in the league. After yesterday, Los Angeles is first in EPA/per play, second in success rate, dropback EPA and success rate, and fourth in rushing EPA, while being seventh in rushing success rate. Across the board, they’re elite. San Francisco has Daniel Brunskill and Colton McKivitz manning their interior line. That was going to be a mismatch, and I guarantee you Shanahan would take the results.
The 49ers only averaged 3.5 yards per carry on 33 attempts. The way Los Angeles loaded the box against San Francisco’s offense, prime Frank Gore wasn’t having any success on Sunday. I think we’ll have a much different perspective on the offensive line when the Niners face a lowly Bills defense next week.
If the quarterback holds onto the ball and is either a statue in the pocket or moves off his spot when he doesn’t have to, linemen are going to get credited with “pressures” when it’s not their fault. Watching the game, I didn’t come away thinking the 49ers were a sieve upfront. Looking at the rest of the schedule, there isn’t a defense that’ll give the line problems. Washington has trended in the wrong way, so I’ll believe it when I see it. If the Niners keep winning, Jimmy Garoppolo should come back into a great situation.