There's no question, the San Francisco 49ers and New Orleans Saints have been plagued by injuries all season long. To be fair so have many other teams whether it was injury or COVID related. However, football is a game with the next man up mentality and the next man up is supposed to fill those starters shoes whether it's a quarterback or a cornerback.
The Saints misfortunes occurred earlier in the season as their starting QB Jameis Winston went out for the year with a torn ACL. Since then, head coach Sean Payton has used back up Taysom Hill, Trevor Simien and even rookie Ian Book from Notre Dame to attempt to to keep his Saints in the playoff picture. With New Orleans great defense, solid run game and superior coaching, the Saints get in the tournament with a win over the Falcons in Atlanta and a 49ers loss to the Rams in Los Angeles. Neither team will have the advantage of knowing who won between these two teams as they both kickoff in the 4:00 est slot. However, you can bet there will be plenty of scoreboard watching. The best thing they could do is turn off the scoreboard but I doubt the Rams will be that hospitable towards their hated rivals.
So the big question is: can the 49ers defeat the Rams and earn their post season position? The answer is an unquestioned yes! Hey, they've beat the Rams five straight times but will that matter come Sunday week 18 in the NFL? You bet it matters.....for both teams.
First of all the Rams don't want to be on the losing side of a 6 game winning streak held by a division rival. They want payback! Plus L.A. will be fighting for the best playoff seed they can get. Head Coach Sean McVay won't allow his team to take this game laying down. Expect the offensive genius to dial up a bunch of plays to throw off the Niners defense. Now it seems McVay has the weapons he needs on offense to carry out his plan.
The addition of OBJ seems to be paying off especially because Robert Woods is out for the season. Van Jefferson has stepped in nicely at the wide receiver position, making game changing plays and converting 3rd downs on some incredible catches. Oh right, of course! There's also Cooper Kupp who is looking to be the NFL's version of the Triple Crown winner. Kupp leads the league with 1,829 receiving yards, 138 catches and 15 touchdowns. The man leads in all 3 categories and it's no secret that Stafford is looking for Cooper Kupp once the ball is snapped. Even though the opposition knows what's coming, they still cannot stop Stafford and Kupp from hooking up all game long.
courtesy of Sportscasting
The Rams lost running back Cam Akers before the season began and while Darrell Henderson did a solid job filling in for Akers, when Henderson went down about a month ago and was later placed on IR because of a serious knee injury, Sony Michel, former Patriot stepped in and stepped up with the next man up mentality and he ran with it. The Rams have the 6th best offense in the league because they like to run the ball with success to open up their lethal passing game which is ranked 5th overall in the entire league.
That's what the 49ers defense will have to understand, realize and stop that run game before it gets started. San Fran has to establish the line of scrimmage early to try and sway the Rams away from their game-plan. Lucky for the Niners, they have the 4th ranked defense in the NFL despite their struggles in the secondary.
The Niners apply so much pressure with their ferocious front four that they rarely ever blitz. This leaves Pro Bowl linebacker Fred Warner, more room to move around and use his aggesive ball instincts on the field. Two other LB's that the Niners need healthy to watch for those intermediate routes and RB's looking to reach that second level are Dre Greenlaw and Azeez Al-Shaair who are both questionable.
The Rams will try and stick to the game-plan but once the Niners establish their dominance in the run game, that's when we'll see Sean McVay tell Stafford to just start slinging it. And as a Niners fan that's what scares me. With the way referess throw out flags from their pockets like a piece of lint, I can see San Francisco getting quite a few pass interence calls against them which could in turn have a tremendous impact on the game.
In order to keep those big play making abilities on the sideline, it be best if the 49ers do what they do best. Much like the Rams, however in different dynamics, the 49ers are similar in that each team uses the run game to set up the pass game. Furthermore, both teams like to use motion before the snap and cause deception within opposing defenses. San Francisco needs to remember what got them to this point. They win when the run the ball successfully. Sometimes just sticking with the run game and not abandoning it is sufficient enough to the keep the defense honest.
The 49ers strength begins with their run game and the Rams have done well against the run all year as they rank 6th overall in this category. Conversely, the 49ers have the 7th best rushing attack in all of football. It will be strength on strength in the run game but as we've seen on televsion and the statistics show that the Rams are a more well balanced team than the 49ers. So how did the Niners beat the Rams ealier this year and the recent success they've had against McVay?
Well it comes in three components. First, the Niners must win the turnover battle and take advanatge of each one of those takeaways. Secondly, San Fran has to keep the ball on the ground for the most part and win the time of possession, ultimately keeping the Rams high scoring offense off the field. And the 3rd thing the 49ers must do to win this game and catapult themselves into the playoffs is not letting Matthew Stafford beat you with his arm talent and the skilled receivers surrounding him.
The 49ers defensive coordinator Demeco Ryans will have to put together his best game-plan to date as the Niners D.C. Coach Ryans may have to send the blitz more often than he'd like with L.A. having such great balance in the pass and run game. The 49ers love using deception offensively. The Niners will have to use quite a bit of deception defensively to get Stafford off his game. Expect more defensive plays where the Niners corners may play more press coverage and allow the defensive line to work and pressure Stafford. When Ryans sees fit, he'll send the blitz and it should be done on downs like 2nd & 8 or even 1st & 10 just to keep the offense guessing all game. This will help the secondary and coverage linebackers get a chance at an interception or at the very least break up the play.
It seems no matter which RB the 49ers stick in the backfield every week, they have a good chance at breaking 100 yards and scoring a touchdown. The reasons why rookie Elijah Mitchell, JaMycal Hasty, Jeff Wilson Jr., and others were able to have success in the run game besides their God given ability, has been the consistent play of their teammates.
The 49ers offensive line is anchored by the best left tackle in football, Trent Williams. Not to mention center Alex Mack who has 6 Pro Bowl selections and made the Hall of Fames 2010's all decade team. Plus, Laken Tomlinson at left guard who completes the left side of the line where the 49ers run most of their rushing attcks.
courtesy of Forbes
While the Rams have a very nice trio of wide receivers in Kupp, OBJ and Jefferson, the 49ers have just about as equally impressive of a pass catching group when you consider Deebo Samuel quickly becoming a top 5 non-quarterback offensive threat in the league. He's more than a receiver. He's a running back, he's a tight end.....he's a football player that refuses to go down until he physically can't stay up anymore. The same can be said about a top 3 tight end in the NFL as George Kittle has become the ultimate threat. You can't guard Kittle with a linebacker or safety cause he'll eat them for breakfast. So will the Rams use a nickle back locking in on Kittle throuout this game? I doubt that will be enough.
Over the past couple of months, sophomore Brandon Aiyuk has been playing some good football. The stats aren't always eye popping but Aiyuk's cathces this season have come in crucial times and he's become a very good run blocker, like Deebo and Kittle which go a long way on the field and the film room. As the # 3 target on a run first team, Aiyuk has some good numbers to go along with a not so good quarterback as the sophomore has reached the nd zone 5 times with more than 700 yards receiving. All these things considered shows that the Niners made a good pick when the selected the star WR at Aarizona State.
Well, okay! There we have it but who's going to win the game at SoFi Stadium this Sunday? Desperation is a word not often used in football locker rooms but desperation nation has hit the 49ers after blowing the Thursday night game against the Titans a couple of weeks ago. And when smart teams play desperate, they play tough sound football. San Francisco is a smart, well disciplined team with some great leadership in the locker room. You have to take every bullentin board material and use it as fuel for the fight.
The 49ers are (9 - 7) and the rival Rams are (12 - 4). Clearly the Rams have been the better team this season and appear more complete. However, Stafford had made a bunch of mistakes and bad throws over the past 3 weeks that the Niners defense can take advantage of. They can hope for that but can't count on it. San Fran will be ready for opportunistic defensive plays. The Rams can get tricky, running on passing downs and vice versa. This is why the 49ers must remain disciplined and stay in their gaps when assigned to it. Offensively San Fran has to run the ball with an up tempo play style, getting to the line while calling/running the play. I believe the Niners will get the Rams to close in more by throwing 7 or 8 players up and around the line of scrimmage. Once L.A. begings to bite is when we see Deebo, Aiyuk and Kittle start to get chunk plays and move the ball into scoring position. Prediction: 49ers 27 - Rams 24