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49ers-Rams preview: The Niners must continue to own the trenches

The Niners must take advantage of the Rams OL

Kansas City Chiefs v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

Well, it’s Rams Week, and you know what that means. It means the 49ers are probably coming off of a bad loss and will look to rebound yet again a team that has effectively been a punching bag for them in the regular season for the past three years or so.

DraftKings Sportsbook currently has the 49ers listed as a -1.5 point favorite, with the over/under at 42.5 as I type this. Here are a few things to keep an eye on in this matchup.

How will the Rams' offensive line hold up?

I’m starting with this because if the Rams' offensive line is anywhere near as bad as they were when these teams met in Week 4, then none of the other analysis here matters. The 49ers' defense erupted for 28 pressures in that game and applied pressure on Matthew Stafford on nearly 50 percent of his dropbacks in that game.

Nick Bosa alone accounted for 14 pressures in one of the most dominating individual pass-rushing performances you’ll see all season.

The story of the Rams' offensive line has been pretty straightforward this season. They’ve held up well against teams who don’t have an intimidating defensive front while completely crumbling when matched up against an elite unit like San Francisco.

In three games against the Cardinals, Falcons, and Panthers, the Rams' offensive line surrendered a combined 17 pressures, which averages out to about 5.6 per game.

In three games against the Bills, Cowboys, and 49ers, the Rams' offensive line surrendered a combined 77 (!!!) pressures at an average of 25.6 per game.

There will be some changes in this one for both sides, with Brian Allen, set to return at center for the Rams and Alaric Jackson taking over the left tackle spot following a season-ending injury for Joe Noteboom. On the other side, the 49ers remain without Arik Armstead, who played the majority of the first meeting between these teams in week 4.

Rams' rushing attack against a struggling 49ers rushing defense

Over the last three weeks, Rams running backs are averaging just 2.72 yards per carry on an average of 16 carries per game. Los Angeles is averaging just 3.4 rushing yards per carry as a team, and both of their lead running backs in, Darrell Henderson and Cam Akers, are being limited to just 30.2 yards per game on the ground, respectively.

There has been no rhythm and absolutely zero explosion, as no running back on the roster has recorded a carry of 20-plus yards yet this season. It has been an absolute mess for a team that has typically found a way to run the ball effectively under Sean McVay.

On the flip side, a once stout 49ers run defense has been ailing as of late, allowing over 100 yards on the ground in consecutive weeks for the first time since weeks eight and nine of the 2021 season.

The loss of Armstead and Javon Kinlaw has been felt on the inside, where the 49ers have been outmuscled by Atlanta and Kansas City in back-to-back games. Something has got to give here between the Rams' stagnant ground attack and the 49ers' porous rushing defense of the last couple of weeks.

Can Jimmy Garoppolo continue his career domination of the Rams?

Garoppolo has never lost a regular season to the Rams in seven meetings, always seeming to find a way to elevate to a higher level whenever he squares off with his division foe.

The 49ers quarterback has looked much better than a box score would indicate over the last couple of weeks, but the 49ers will need more if they come out victorious in this one.

Deebo Samuel’s absence from practice this week, while he deals with a hamstring injury likely, foreshadows the superstar wide receiver sitting this game out, particularly with a bye next week, which would give Samuel additional time to recover in time for a stretch run.

Who will Garoppolo look to should Samuel not be able to go in this one? Can Brandon Aiyuk continue to build on back-to-back games with over seven receptions and 80 receiving yards? Might we be in line for a vintage George Kittle performance?

The answers to those questions remain uncertain, but we know that the responsibility falls on Garoppolo to get the ball in the hands of his playmakers should they be forced to play this game without one of the most dynamic players in the league in Samuel.

Here are Garoppolo’s numbers over his last five games against the Rams:

93/141 (65% completion percentage)

1,237 yards

9 touchdowns

3 interceptions

8.77 yards per attempt

106.1 passer rating

What will Christian McCaffrey’s workload look like

McCaffrey played 22 snaps in his 49ers debut last Sunday, with 15 of those coming in the backfield and seven coming in the slot or out wide. McCaffrey averaged 6.2 yards per touch on ten total touches in that game, a slight increase over the 5.2 yards per touch McCaffrey averaged over the first five seasons of his NFL career.

With Samuel likely missing this game, expect a heavy dose of Run CMC in this one. McCaffrey averaged 113.8 yards from scrimmage per game in his first five NFL seasons, and I would expect his yardage total to be around or eclipse that on Sunday in Los Angeles.

After moving the number of picks the 49ers did to acquire McCaffrey, there is no reason nor need to keep the training wheels on. This is the week Shanahan gets to unveil his shiny new toy in this offense and cook with what is by far the most talented running back he has ever had at his disposal as a play caller in the NFL.

Levi’s Stadium South
It wouldn’t be an official preview if I failed to mention the annual takeover of SoFi Stadium by 49ers fans clad in red and gold. Per NBC Sports Jennifer Lee Chan, Vivid Seats reported that 59% of the crowd at Sunday’s game would be supporting the 49ers, with plenty of time for that number to increase before kickoff on Sunday afternoon.