Two of the hottest offenses in the league will battle on Sunday in a key divisional match-up. The unbeaten San Francisco 49ers (4-0) will take a short trip down to Southern California to take on the Los Angeles Rams (3-2).
Any questions about the legitimacy of San Francisco’s unbeaten record have, for the time being, quietened down. After shutting down the much-hyped Cleveland Browns last week, the 49ers are a team that is on the rise and full of confidence. Sunday’s game will provide them with their biggest test of the season. With just six days of rest, they are set to face a Los Angeles Rams team that is looking to overcome a Super Bowl hangover that has led to an unfamiliar two-game losing streak.
Sunday’s showdown has a unique feel for the two divisional rivals. It is the first time since 2001 that both teams have a winning record when playing against each other. Typically, when one team has competed, the other has downright sucked. Well, not this time. Both the 49ers and the Rams are playing highly competitive football and although we are only six weeks into the season, the game could hold significant playoff implications. Plus, it’s important not to forget about the Seattle Seahawks. Their quarterback, Russell Wilson, is a legitimate MVP contender and they too are sitting on an impressive 4-1 record with two important divisional wins.
Air or ground?
Sunday’s game will be a battle between air and ground. San Francisco has the number one rushing offense in the league, averaging 200 ground yards. Their ability to run the ball and wear down the Rams defense will be a big factor in determining the result of the game. Since they have had four fewer days to prepare, taking time off the clock is crucial to provide the defense with some much-needed rest. And, the good news is that they have multiple guys that are getting it done. Despite maybe not being household names, Matt Breida, Tevin Coleman and Raheem Mostert have quickly formed one of the best running back committees in the league.
In contrast, the Rams have been getting things done through the air. They are averaging 317.4 passing yards per game, ranking second in the league. Quarterback Jared Goff has had a solid start and has been able to distribute the ball effectively to all three of his top wide receivers. Although he does need to cut down on turnovers, with seven interceptions thrown already.
The stand-out performer for the Rams offense thus far has got to be Cooper Kupp. The third-year receiver has bounced back from a torn ACL last year to post a stat line of 41 receptions, 505 yards and four touchdowns. He’ll likely be targeted plenty of times on Sunday as Goff tries to get the ball out early to avoid the dominant 49ers pass rush.
The team that best protects the quarterback is likely to be the winner of Sunday’s matchup. The 49ers have a banged-up offensive line and will face an uphill battle protecting Jimmy Garoppolo.
Their two guards have combined for just one NFL start between them: sixth-round rookie Justin Skule will play at left guard and hope to build upon his impressive debut against the Browns last week, while Daniel Brunskill will be making his first career start. Brunskill is a third-year undrafted free agent. The Rams defense line, which features Dante Fowler Jr and the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Aaron Donald, will be licking their lips.
The Rams know that they will be in for a tough battle themselves. The 49ers’ defensive line has been causing havoc all season long. What is most impressive is that they are getting things done with a four-man rush. Rams coach Sean McVay stated this week that “to be able to apply that much pressure with a four-man rush consistently is really impressive”. San Francisco’s defensive line will need to generate sustained pressure in order to negate the deep ball.
For all of the exciting match-ups that Sunday’s game offers, it has also been plagued by big injuries. The 49ers are looking thin across multiple areas of the field and their misfortunes continued this week. Both their starting right tackle Mike McGlinchey and versatile fullback Kyle Juszczyk are expected to miss four to six weeks.
George Kittle’s name was a surprising addition to the injury report this week and he is questionable to play. All three injuries could significantly impact the 49ers’ running game and pass protection.
For the Rams, there is a major concern that Todd Gurley may not suit up. Gurley, who has had a slow start to the season, has terrorised the 49ers in his career as a Ram. Through five games, he has 510 yards from scrimmage (423 rushing) and eight total touchdowns. He is listed as doubtful.
Their sack leader, Clay Matthews (six sacks), suffered a broken jaw during last week’s match-up versus the Seahawks. He will be out until approximately Week 10. At cornerback, their seasoned-pro and expert trash-talker, Aqib Talib, has also been ruled out.
Player to watch
Of course, the player to watch this week is Nick Bosa. Bosa introduced himself to the NFL during last week’s prime-time victory over the Browns and finished the game with two sacks, three quarterback hits, one forced fumble and a fumble recovery. He will look to continue his impressive start to the season once again.
Score Prediction: Rams 31, 49ers 37
Feature Picture – Credit: Sergio Estrada/USA TODAY Sports