07 Jan Can the Niners Silence the Lambs for the Sixth Time in a Row?
The San Francisco 49ers swept the Los Angeles Rams in 2019 & then again in 2020. Earlier this season (week 10), they beat the Rams 31-10 on MNF showdown at Levi’s Stadium. Can they complete the sweep with a win this Sunday at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood? If so, that would give the 49ers their sixth straight win vs the Rams! It’s a critical game for both teams, as the 12-4 Rams can only ensure that they’ll win NFC West, if they win. They can also get the crown, if the Arizona Cardinals lose to the Seattle Seahawks (Cardinals are currently favored by 6.5 points) The 9-7 49ers will make the playoffs, as the 6th seed in the NFC, with a win, but the Rams are currently favored by 4.5 points. If they lose, then they can still make the 7th seed, but only if the Atlanta Falcons beat the 8-8 Saints, who are currently favored by 4.5 points.
The 49ers hadn’t had a case of Covid during the entire regular season, until P Mitch Wishnowski came down with it last week. The new CDC & NFL rules allowed Wishnowski to play Sunday vs the Houston Texans. Perhaps, the 49ers should’ve used the backup punter they signed to their PS last week instead. On Monday, S Jimmie Ward, CB Dontae Johnson & Nickel CB K’Waun Williams all went into the Covid protocol. This is awful news, and if they can’t play on Sunday, the team will certainly miss them out on the field. Not only is Jimmie Ward the best DB on the roster, but he’s also been amazing at covering Rams’ star WR Cooper Kupp, who is having an incredible season with QB Matt Stafford now throwing to him. Kupp has 1,829 receiving yards & 15 receiving TDs, which leads the NFL in both categories.
K’Waun is one of the best nickel CBs in the NFL & would be missed greatly for his blitzing & coverage abilities. Dontae Johnson certainly isn’t a star CB, but sadly one doesn’t have to be a star to be the best option at corner on this team, especially with Emmanuel Moseley out due to a high ankle sprain & Josh Norman who being benched last week vs the Texans. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the team also announced rookie CB Ambry Thomas tested positive for Covid on Tuesday & fellow rookie Deommodore Lenoir tested positive on Wednesday. All of the aforementioned players can possibly still play, but Lenoir would need a negative test result & the others just 5 days symptom-free. This tweet was before Lenoir tested positive. Things very bad then, but much worse as of now:
More bad news in the form of Trent Williams having sprained elbow of unknown severity. Missing Wednesday was thought to be a rest day, but Trent Williams also missed Thursday. He was able to re-enter Sunday’s game vs the Texans after sustaining the injury, so hopefully it’s just a matter of managing the pain for him.
The good news is that none of these players have been officially ruled out. More good news would be if CB Emmanuel Moseley was able to play, which as of now sounds possible. He was activated off IR and began practicing earlier this week. His return would be huge! Rookie S Talanoa Hufanga, LB Dre Greenlaw & DT Maurice “Mo” Hurst might also be back on defense & WR Mohammed “Mo” Sanu could be back on offense too. We are looking at in incredible number of variables, as of right now.
Speaking of variables, another big one is who will be the 49ers’ starting QB? Since Kyle Shanahan said that he won’t make his announcement until just before gametime on Sunday, I ran a poll to see which QB #NinersTwitter prefers:
Anybody who has been following my articles and/or my tweets, knows that I want Trey Lance to start, even in the highly unlikely event that Jimmy Garoppolo’s thumb somehow miraculously heals and is close to 100%. Lance still adds two X-factors that Garoppolo simply can’t:
1) The ability to throw deep down the field & outside the numbers
2) The ability to scramble & run. Lance & Shanahan will both improve rapidly as they play together. If anything, Jimmy Garoppolo is regressing.
Maybe this near do-or-die game will be enough to get Shanahan to play both Jimmy & Trey (Tremmy?). Playing Garoppolo over Lance is simply a waste of great chance for Lance to play in what is essentially a playoff game. Not only does it hurt Lance in 2022, but I also believe that it would hurt the team in 2021 too.
The Rams made some huge moves in 2021. They traded for QB Matt Stafford, RB Sony Michel & DE Von Miller. As if that wasn’t enough, they signed WR Odell Beckham Jr. to0 after his release from the Cleveland Browns. Stafford has been very good this year statistically – 67.5% completion rate, 4,648 yards, 38 TDs, 15 INTs, 8.2 YPA, 103.5 passer rating & 61.3 QBR. Stafford has had few bad games, but for most of the season he’s been very solid. He does suffer when pressured, so the 49ers’ defensive line will need to get to him quickly. Michel has also been very good this year with 802 rushing yards (4.3 yards per carry) & 5 rushing TDs, plus 122 receiving yards & 1 receiving TD, so he could easily break 1,000 combined yards from scrimmage this Sunday. Von Miller has been better than his 3 sacks in 7 starts with the Rams might lead you to believe, as he also has 6 QB hits & 9 TFLs. not like Aaron Donald & Leonard Floyd needed much pass-rushing help, anyway. OBJ had just joined the Rams when they visited Levi’s Stadium in week 10. Since then, he has done a good job of filling in for an injured Robert Woods. Woods through 9 games totaled 556 receiving yards & 4 receiving TDs, plus 46 rushing yards & 1 rushing TD. OBJ in 6 starts has 287 receiving yards & 5 receiving TDs. While not technically an addition for the 2021 season, RB Cam Akers retuning from his torn-Achilles injury sure feels like one. I doubt that he will be in 100% game shape right away, but he will likely be a factor in the game on Sunday.
Luckily, the 49ers’ run defense has been nails lately. #1 run defense EPA since the bye week & #2 DVOA run defense for the season.
In order for the 49ers to win, they will have to run the ball well.
Whoever the QB is will have to be efficient on third down conversion attempts & not turn the ball over. Garoppolo was very efficient on third downs in week 10 vs the Rams. Lance would probably help the run game to be more efficient, leading to shorter third down distances or possibly even less third downs in total. Deebo Samuel has completely dominated the Rams every time he’s played them. That will have to continue.
RG Daniel Brunskill has had some of his best games vs AD. He will need to have another one. The 49ers’ defensive line will need to get pressure on Stafford early & often. Bosa (15 sacks, 19 TFLs & 30 QB hits) has been a beast at DE all season, easily top 3 in the NFL. What’s really helped the 49ers’ pass-rush, is the unexpected emergence of Arden Key!
It’s not as if Arden Key only played well vs the Texans, either:
The 49ers’ defense will likely need to create at least 1 takeaway. This is all assuming that most of the question marks play. As of now, my pick is that the Rams will not be silenced & will butt the Niners off of their precarious playoff precipice, into the deep valley of no playoff love.
As always, please keep an eye out for my official score prediction, which I tweet about an hour prior to kickoff, once we know exactly who will play & who won’t. If most of the following: Trey Lance, Jimmie Ward, Emmanuel Moseley, Talanoa Hufunga, Ambry Thomas, K’Waun Williams & Trent Williams can play, then I will probably change my pick.
Make your pick & start earning points to redeem for awesome prizes!