According to DraftKings Sportsbook, the San Francisco 49ers (-2) enter their second straight primetime game as slight favorites over the Los Angeles Rams, who currently hold first place in a slumping NFC West. The Niners still have an active six game regular season winning streak over their division rivals to the south, and, as it did in 2021, another victory might serve to get things back on track.
Obviously, the Faithful are fresh off a terrible loss on Sunday night and have a bad taste leftover from this team’s last matchup with the Rams in the NFC Championship Game, but those awful memories could be erased on Monday. Or maybe the season’s outlook gets even cloudier.
To prepare for all these possibilities and get an insider’s scouting report, I spoke with our good friend Evan Craig from Turf Show Times.
1.) In the first three weeks, Matthew Stafford has yet to eclipse 300 yards in a game and has thrown five interceptions. Needless to say, he hasn’t looked the part of reigning Super Bowl QB. He’s apparently been dealing with a creaky elbow all offseason and it might be partially to blame. Have Rams fans hit the panic button yet on Stafford?
If they have, they might want to take a breath first. Obviously Week 1 was a horror show but after that he’s steadily improved. His intended air yards per attempt so far, while not high, has improved each week (5.8 Week 1, 6.9 Week 2, 8.6 Week 3). It’s true that his elbow might still be partially to blame as Sean McVay had him on a “pitching count” on the passes he took in practice but I believe it’s a minor issue if anything.
The biggest problem I’ve seen is that Stafford is being forced to play the hero far too much already. He doesn’t have a reliable run game or receiving options outside of Kupp and Higbee so he has the tendency to force things that aren’t there. Yes, the Rams picked up Allen Robinson this offseason but he has been a relative non-factor outside of the Falcons game. Right now, Ben Skowronek has been a more reliable target for Matt than their prized free agent. Van Jefferson will help more when he returns off IR later this year.
So for any Rams fan panicking about Stafford, he’ll be just fine ... eventually. He will make some poor decisions (as that’s expected of him) but his overall body of work with the team should be enough reason to trust him. If he doesn’t show improvement by at least midseason, then feel free to panic away.
2.) It also certainly can’t help that the offense continues to have issues in the ground game. For instance, Cam Akers and Darrell Henderson combined for 16 touches last week against the Cardinals. Does McVay not believe in his running backs, and is the solution another mid-season acquisition a la Von Miller or OBJ?
I’m not sure if it’s necessarily trust but McVay hasn’t found a reliable running back to fit the offense just yet. It feels like an eternity ago since they had Todd Gurley and were just running it down teams’ throats. Not that LA needs a workhorse running back to that extent but they simply need more balance and they’re not going to get it with the options they have currently.
Darrell Henderson is a solid back who assists in the passing attack but he can’t stay healthy. Cam Akers actually showed a lot of promise against the Cardinals, playing his best game since probably his rookie year. I don’t see him becoming the breakout guy that everyone pegged him to be this offseason. He hasn’t shown enough flashes in his young career to this point to indicate that it’s a likelihood. I definitely wouldn’t trust him in fantasy...
It’s interesting that you brought up a possible mid-season acquisition as we all know this is a team that is unafraid to make splashy moves. Problem is, I’m unsure what free agent or trade options the Rams could try for. Over a month ago, I wrote a post suggesting the team should explore a trade for Jaguars running back James Robinson. While I’m disappointed the front office never saw my brilliant trade proposal, I already knew how far-fetched it was. If Urban Meyer was still running the show down there, it would be an easy no-brainer as LA would have enough draft capital to make it happen.
No matter, whatever happens moving forward, the Rams have to address the position in some way or else this team will face an early exit in the postseason because their RB room at this time isn’t going to cut it.
3.) Speaking of OBJ, with Robert Woods in Tennessee and Allen Robinson II underperforming, when’s Les Snead just going to pull the trigger and bring back the enigmatic wideout? Don’t they have a locker saved for him and everything?
I don’t know what Les Snead is waiting for. As the old adage goes, “if you snooze, you lose”.
This team is ready for an OBJ reunion as they have his locker and nameplate still untouched. I’m wondering if Snead is monitoring his health but at some point someone will make a move for him. Some of these receiver-needy teams in the conference would be salivating to have any of the production he had last year. I’m a little surprised that the Packers or the Bucs (who seem to pick up all the free agent pass catchers) haven’t made an offer for Beckham yet.
OBJ helped spark this team to a Super Bowl title and they might not have won the whole thing without him. He probably won’t require a huge offer as the injury works against him a bit. Still, if Snead is indeed interested in Beckham, slide into those DMs and make it happen already!
4.) The defense has spearheaded the season’s two wins behind their superstars like Aaron Donald, Jalen Ramsey, and new addition Bobby Wagner. However, they’ve yet to return to 2020’s dominance (a tall order) and they lost three coaches off the staff to Denver after the Super Bowl. So, what’s the assessment of the D so far and what do you think is their ceiling?
My assessment is they’re hanging in there.
The defense has done a lot better after their shellacking at the hands of the Bills in week one, They’ve been hit by quite a few injuries to start but this tweet shows exactly how well they’ve done with key players out.
The Rams defense without their 2nd, 3rd, and 4th CBs and their starting safety didn’t allow a touchdown today. That is great work from Raheem Morris. Kyler Murray was held to 5.4 yards per attempt. Great work!— Blaine Grisak (@bgrisakDTR) September 25, 2022
Of course the Cardinals aren’t all that great this season but still a remarkable feat nonetheless. Jalen Ramsey is back to his dominant self after four truly rough games. The run defense is one of the best in the league. Their only issue is pass defense where they either don’t have much experience or are too injury-prone. Outside of Ramsey, the corners have been down Troy Hill (IR), David Long, Jr. and Decobie Durant. This was already a position of need heading into 2022 which has been made worse by everyone who’s missing. I wouldn’t be surprised if Snead attempts to acquire a corner in some way around the trade deadline.
As for the defense’s ceiling, assuming they get their key players back, this is a borderline top-10 unit. I won’t say they’re a top-10 group yet as they might flash their true potential as they had in the postseason. But if they’re going to step it up for the biggest games, I would assume Rams fans wouldn’t have any complaints about what their defense’s ranking is.
5.) The Niners opened as 2.5 point favorites, which has since dropped to 1.5. Similarly, the over/under moved from 43 to 42. With that in mind, how do you see Monday night’s game playing out?
I’m probably going to anger all of Rams nation for how I’m going to answer this but if they want honesty then they shouldn’t come to me as I’ll tell it how it is. I see Monday night’s game being very low-scoring so I would take the under. The fact is the 49ers have owned the Rams for the last several seasons, winning six of the last seven in the series. Honestly, LA was quite fortunate that Jaquiski Tartt dropped that INT in the NFC Championship or else it would’ve been seven losses in a row to the Niners. Some teams just have the other’s number and that is exactly what has happened between these two teams. I don’t care how bad their “offense” played on Sunday or how decimated their O-line is, I see the 49ers winning a nail-biter.
49ers 19, Rams 17.