Moving the ball hasn’t been an issue for the 49ers this season. Instead, penalties, drops, and other self-inflicted errors have prevented San Francisco from consistently sustaining drives.
The Rams have two of the five best non-quarterbacks in football in Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey. There will be roughly 7-10 plays tonight where Donald and Ramsey are a thorn in the 49ers side. That’s what superstars do.
Our roundtable today asks the one way the 49ers can win against the Rams. That could be a dozen different things. Here’s what we came up with.
Kyle: Hold Stafford under 300 passing yards/40+ yard passes
The Rams are an explosive offense, and that’s going to continue with Odell Beckham Jr. replacing Robert Woods. If you look at how they’ve won, ignoring the Giants game as they got out of hand quickly, Stafford lights up the other team in an air raid style of offense, launching passes that are 40 yards down the field and complete.
The only game Stafford didn’t throw for more than 300 yards was against the Colts in Week 2, who play Cover 2 and go out of their way to keep everything in front of them. In the Rams' two losses, the Titans and Cardinals did an excellent job of bottling up Los Angeles through the air until garbage time.
Getting pressure and forcing Stafford to move off his spot goes a long way. Tonight will come down to the 49ers winning their 1-on-1 battles, both along the defensive line and on the perimeter. If the Niners can do that, they’ll put themselves in a good position to win. It starts with making the Rams earn it on every drive and not surrendering the big play down the field.
Marc: Score 30+ points
The secondary will rightfully get a lot of attention, but the 49ers can’t expect their defense to lead them to victory. Despite all the Niners' offensive talent, they have scored at least 30 points just twice this season (Lions & Bears). Even without Robert Woods, the Rams will put up points. It’ll be up to head coach Kyle Shanahan to have Jimmy Garoppolo and the offense ready to keep up with Los Angeles.
Akash: Generate pressure against Matthew Stafford
The Titans showed the formula to slow down the Rams' offense last week, as their defensive line continually wreaked havoc against the Rams’ drop-back passing attack.
Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford is averaging only 7.0 yards per passing attempt on the season, with four touchdowns and two interceptions under pressure. Compare that to a clean pocket, where Stafford is averaging 9.1 yards per passing attempt, with 19 touchdowns and four interceptions.
The Rams’ offensive line is third this season in adjusted sack rate, only giving up 13 sacks through nine games this season. The 49ers’ defensive line hasn’t had a semblance of a pass rush outside of Nick Bosa, but they add Charles Omenihu to the group this week.
Forcing Stafford to make errant decisions under pressure is probably the best chance that the 49ers have of slowing down this explosive passing attack.
Rob: Control the game on the ground
By now, you’ve heard the stat about Kyle Shanahan winning his last four games against Sean McVay and the Rams. How did he do it? By grinding things out with a consistent ground attack. In those past four victories, the 49ers have averaged 33.5 carries and 113 yards per game. Following suit tonight will accomplish four things. First, it will keep the offense on schedule and give them manageable situations that should make it a lot easier to sustain drives. Second, it will tire out the Rams defense and help neutralize the pass rush of Aaron Donald and Von Miller. Third, it will limit the opportunities for Matthew Stafford and company to score by keeping them on the sidelines. Finally, it should help the 49ers protect the ball, which has been their Achilles heel throughout the Kyle Shanahan era.
It’s not going to be easy, and it definitely won’t always be pretty, but a consistent three yards per carry will go a long way towards tilting this game in San Francisco’s favor.
Yinon: Make Tackles
The Niners have been sublime at beating themselves — truly magnificent at self-sabotage and brain-melting mistakes — and they can start fixing that by focusing on this issue in particular.
Yeah, DPIs and turnovers are more costly than individual events, but the constant, steady drip of missed tackles fills the other team with energy while draining our own. To have a shot in this game, they need to, at the very least, swarm to the ball more. Just stop giving up those extra three yards that could have forced a fourth down.
Tyler: Lean on their playmakers
Deebo Samuel is the only player who has consistently contributed week in and week out for this team. There are reasons why that range from minor injury to major doghouse residency, but over the past two weeks, things have turned a corner.
George Kittle returned from the IR, Elijah Mitchell established himself, and Brandon Aiyuck ascended back into the good graces of the football gods. Now, you might be thinking, two of those players had costly fumbles last week. That’s true, but everyone needs to clear their heads, especially when they’re trying to beat the Rams, who will line up Jalen Ramsey and Aaron Donald against you.
The entire season has seemed to have the rhythm of the drunkest guy at a wedding. One second, he’s leading the Electric Hustle, and the next, he pulls a hammy thing to do The Worm. Kyle needs to find his zone and ride the hot hand tonight. If that means pounding the rock with Mitchell or allowing Kittle to tally would-be tacklers, or setting up Aiyuck with quick touches early and often, it must be done. Otherwise, the offense will never manage to keep pace against the high octane Rams.
Jordan: Be aggressive on 4th down
The Rams are flat out the better team, and if the 49ers are going to have any shot at winning this game, they are going to have to be a little risky in their pursuit of maximizing the possessions that they get. When the 49ers are faced with a fourth & short in a suitable spot on the field, Kyle Shanahan’s first thought needs to be “what can I go to on my play sheet to get a conversion here,” rather than spending any time at all debating whether or not actually to go for it.
Shanahan has traditionally leaned on the conservative side when it comes to going for it on fourth down, but he showed a willingness to buck that tendency on the road Arizona earlier this season in a similar situation (a game they entered likely feeling overmatched on paper while knowing they were going to have to take a high-risk approach in an attempt to keep up with team boasting a high octane offense).
Xavier: Limit explosive plays on defense and create them on offense
The 49ers' offense has limited themselves from creating explosive plays throughout the year. According to Sharp Football Stats, the Niners offense has an average explosive pass rate of 8% and an average explosive run rate of 12%. Generating explosive plays will not be easy as they prepare for a sound Los Angeles Rams defense. Not to mention that they added a future Hall of Fame player in Von Miller.
I agree with Marc and Tyler big time. 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan has to lead this offense to 30+ points, and he will do that by leaning on his playmakers. Deebo Samuel has several explosive plays on the season, but the 49ers will need more than Samuels’ efforts. Brandon Aiyuk and George Kittle are more than capable of making explosive plays, and they both look to avenge their turnovers from last week.
The defense was having a pretty good year despite their deficiency at the cornerback position. That all changed when the dismantled Arizona Cardinals' offense steamrolled the Niners’ defense last week. Defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans looks to contain this high-powered offense with limited talent in the secondary. The signing of Odell Beckham Jr. is magnified by Robert Woods’ unfortunate ACL injury. Beckham is a dynamic receiver that can create an explosive play from a slant or fly route.
It’s time to see this “huge sense of urgency” that Shanahan said this team had last week. This team has three wins heading into Week 10, and they're up against one of the top teams in the NFC. San Francisco’s playoff hopes could be reignited if they can get an upset win against the Rams tonight.