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5 questions with Turf Show Times: Is Matthew Stafford back?

Stafford was impressive in Week 1. Will that carry over into Week 2’s matchup against the 49ers?

Los Angeles Rams v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

The 49ers head to SoFi Stadium on Sunday afternoon where they’re now over a touchdown favorite on DraftKings Sportsbook with the total on the game set at 49.

To get a better idea about the Rams and if they’re the same old Los Angeles team or a new-look version, we reached out to our friends at Turf Show Times to answer five questions for us.

1) There’s obviously been a lot of turnover on the Rams roster following their SB run and consequential salary cap issues. Who are some new starters that don’t have the recognition yet that opposing teams should know about?

I’ll start off this question with someone who I can envision being a starter as the season goes on. Running back Cam Akers started the opener, but it was backup Kyren Williams who led LA in rushing with 52 yards and a pair of scores on the ground.

Williams’ longest run went for only nine yards, yet he did everything that was expected of him while Akers sort of disappointed. Opposing teams already know Tutu Atwell to a degree, but Sunday was his coming out party in the NFL as he was named WR2 behind Van Jefferson.

Tutu led the team with 119 receiving yards. Through one game, Sean McVay has kept true to his word in letting Atwell see the field more. Rookie guard Steve Avila is a mauler on the O-line. He didn’t do anything all that special against the Seahawks, but he kept Matthew Stafford upright and that already is a win-win.

On the defensive side, rookie linebacker Byron Young out of Tennessee forced Geno Smith to throw away a pass on third down which enabled LA to put the game away. His speed will be an issue for opposing offenses the more he adjusts to the NFL.

2) Matthew Stafford looked great in week 1, throwing for 334 yards without Cooper Kupp in the lineup. Is there still some concern regarding Stafford’s spinal cord injury that took him out of the end of last season, and is it something that could return as time progresses and his body goes through the tribulations of the NFL season?

Any lingering concerns were quickly put to rest following his Week 1 performance. Injuries at Matthew Stafford’s age will always be an issue, especially when he won’t have a clean pocket to throw from every week like he did in the opener.

With that in mind, I expect he will miss a few games this season given his recent history. So to answer your question, I think there’s a very real possibility that the injury is in the back of the minds of the coaching staff and front office. Their backup situation is slightly improved compared to last season but if Stafford misses a few starts or extensive time, it’s going to be the dreaded sequel to 2022 that LA fans don’t want to relive.

I will say that despite the worries, I’m glad to see he’s still got it. His passing ability has never left and while he didn’t play like a superstar Sunday, he didn’t need to be. LA surprisingly ran the ball against Seattle more than they passed it.

McVay has shown a willingness to draw up a balanced attack for the offense to help take the pressure off Stafford. Now it’s going to be a test to see whether McVay can stick to it during rough patches to help his QB out. Right now, Stafford is the least of my concerns compared to the rest of the team.

3) Rookie wide receiver Puka Nacua from BYU stepped into the aforementioned hole left by Kupp and flourished in his first NFL game. What led to such a sterling performance against Seattle and do you expect Nacua to be able to continue this hot start against San Francisco?

Puka has been hyped up all offseason long and lived up to the lofty expectations placed on him by the coaching staff. He had previously flashed in LA’s first preseason game against the Chargers.

It was a brief intro but Nacua performed better in his NFL debut than I ever could have imagined. He’s developed strong chemistry with Stafford, which is great to see considering the loss of Kupp for at least the next few weeks. Nacua truly lived up to the “next man up” mantra, and he’s a big reason why this year’s receiving corps is already much improved over the ‘22 squad.

As for his encore, I don’t expect a repeat performance against San Francisco. Not that I want to put anything past the kid, but I believe he’ll be lucky if he gets even half the receptions he got in Seattle. The 49ers have too tough a defense to let the dynamic rookie playmaker go off for a second-straight week.

4) Shanahan has gotten the upper hand on McVay in the regular season the last few years, what do you think is the main reason for that, and how can the Rams adapt their gameplan this week to try to end the losing streak?

Prior to last season, the Rams and 49ers were so evenly matched in terms of skill level. They both had very talented rosters, so most matchups went down to the wire and in turn, have gone the Niners’ way the last few years.

The main reason is that San Francisco clearly had the more physically dominant team in that span and the Rams couldn’t match it. Even during LA’s Super Bowl run, they were almost timid when playing the Niners compared to anyone else, which is why they got swept in the regular season that year. The NFC Championship was the only time in the last few matchups where the Rams decided to match their opponent’s physicality and ended up winning because of it.

What the Rams need to do this week is get in Brock Purdy’s head a little bit. Pressure him and disrupt the timing of his receivers. Throw him as much off his game as possible to where he’s forced into making mistakes he normally wouldn’t.

No matter how great Purdy might look, he’s still a young player with a small sample size. No quarterback is immune from making poor decisions and I feel that Purdy is long overdue for some. I know that’s obviously easier said than done.

Purdy is such a creative and poised QB that he’s a hard one to crack mentally. Early on he seems to be the real deal, and I’m anxious to see how the defense plays him. On the offensive side, McVay needs to stick his gameplan and not panic too much if the 49ers start pulling away. He’s got to show faith in his young players like he did in Seattle. That won’t guarantee a win, but it puts them in the best positions to succeed.

5) Both the Rams and 49ers dominated time of possession in their opening games of the season. Do you believe one team will have that advantage in this game and that it will correlate to a team covering the spread?

First off, I don’t have the Rams winning this one. The 49ers aren’t the Seahawks and LA is really going to struggle in putting up points. Their young defense played great Sunday, but Seattle also doesn’t have CMC, Deebo, Aiyuk and Kittle to defend and that will be very overwhelming for them.

While I’m not expecting another upset, I expect LA to keep this game closer compared to recent matchups. The offense will be methodical in getting down the field just to keep the ball away from Shanahan’s offense. Yet if the Rams can’t hold their own on both sides of the trenches, this one will be over by halftime. I expect SF to pull away late and to cover the spread.