The 49ers won their first game at Levi’s Stadium in 394 days Monday night. San Francisco’s defense shut down the Los Angeles Rams’ explosive offense. 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan dialed up two offensive touchdown drives that totaled nearly 19 minutes In the first half. From there, it was smooth sailing for the Niners.
Let’s take a look at my five takeaways below.
Jimmie Ward’s two turnovers set the tone for the 49ers
Jimmie Ward intercepted Matthew Stafford on the Rams’ first and second offensive possessions. Ward matched his career interception total in one night. It appears that Shanahan was right about the team having a huge sense of urgency. Wards’ efforts set the tone for San Francisco.
Stafford tried to extend the play and throw a bomb to Odell Beckham Jr. in Ward’s first turnover. It was a gift, but the 49ers haven’t caught those gifts this season. Look no further than the play before when Emmanuel Moseley dropped an interception or later in the game when Moseley did the same.
Ward capitalized off a Tyler Higbee drop on his second interception and took the interception for a touchdown. That score put the 49ers up 14-0.
The energy, effort, and execution we saw from the defense was reminiscent of 2019. If the 49ers are going to make a run in the second half, they’ll need to mimic their performance Monday night against the Rams.
Two drives of 90+ yards in the first half
Ward’s first interception was caught deep on the San Francisco 7 yard line. I worried Shanahan would play it safe, but this Niner team imposed their will on both sides of the ball early in the game. Shanahan called 13 runs on an 18 play, 93-yard touchdown drive. San Francisco drained 11 minutes off the clock and showed that they were the more physical team.
Kyle Posey broke down the opening drive that ended in a George Kittle touchdown. To sum the drive up, the 49ers played bully ball. They punched the Rams in the mouth while using misdirection to ensure their skill players had 1-on-1’s or a numbers advantage in the box.
Shanahan continued to establish the run on the second drive. It’s one thing to come out and dominant during your opening script. But can you match that on the second drive? Shanahan did.
An 11-play, 91-yard drive that took nearly eight minutes off the clock is nothing to scoff at. But, this time, Jimmy Garoppolo converted a 2nd & 9, 3rd & 7, and 2nd & 8 before Deebo Samuel punched it in front eight yards out.
49ers defense played their best game of the season
The 49er defense played well on all levels of the defense (defensive line, linebackers, secondary). Ward’s two turnovers on consecutive defensive drives to open the game showed that this defense can play at a high level.
The defense had a few face-palming plays from the cornerbacks, but they did not give up a pass over 20 yards. Allowing chunk and explosive plays have been a reoccurring theme in San Francisco. So it was good to see the 49er secondary put a stop to that.
Azeez Al-Shaair flew around and continued to make great open-field tackles. Including two in a row (above) that helped the 49er defense shut out Sean McVay before the half. D.J Jones’ fourth-down stop may have been the play of the game. Who knew Jones could fly like that?
The Rams never got into a situation where they could rely on the run. That forced the Rams to be one-dimensional, and that’s not who they are as an offense. Matthew Stafford finished with 243 yards. Outside of Cooper Kupp cleaning up in garbage time, the Rams didn’t do much of anything on offense.
Deebo Samuel playing at an All-Pro level
Deebo Samuel has been the chess piece for this 49er offense all season. Shanahan motioned Samuel to the backfield several times to feature him as a running back. Samuel was even used as a lead blocker throughout the game.
Deebo added another Offensive Player of the Week award to his collection after a two-touchdown performance against the Rams. I’m not sure what’s more impressive, knowing that Samuel will be used at a number of positions and still succeed, or that the defense knows he’s getting the ball, and they still can’t stop him.
That’s the sign of an All-Pro player. The way Deebo is playing, he could end up an All-Pro this season. He’s been spectacular.
Can the 49ers carry this momentum into a winning streak?
There is no doubt that Kyle Shanahan has been responsible for the Niner’s playoff hopes. According to FiveThrirghtyEight, San Francisco’s playoff odds are up 35% after dropping to 20% in the disturbing loss to the Arizona Cardinals last week.
It makes sense that the Niners are 9-1 when they don't turn the ball over, dating back to 2019. Their style of play makes it difficult to come back when they are up on opponents. Unfortuantely, turnovers and various mistakes haven’t allowed the 49ers to have a lead in enough of their games this season.
The Niners are 6.5 favorites over the Jaguars. They’re likely to be favored the following week against the Vikings. After a statement win against the Rams, you’d think San Francisco could carry that momentum into Sunday and turn it into a winning streak.
Great teams stack wins together and can get up for every game. Let’s see if the 49ers fall into that category.