The San Francisco 49ers (4-5) dominated the Los Angeles Rams (7-3) on Monday night football. The 49ers performance was by far their best of the season and keeps them in the NFC playoff race with eight games left to play.
Here are the answers to the five questions I asked before the game.
1. Will Jimmy Garoppolo reach 300 yards passing for the third week in a row? No
Garoppolo was unable to reach 300 yards for the third week in a row, but that didn’t matter. The offensive plan called for the quarterback to be more of a game manager, and that is exactly what he did.
During the first half, Garoppolo hit on all eight of his passes and that carried over after halftime. It wasn’t until only 4:47 remained in the third quarter that a Garoppolo pass would touch the ground, and that was the result of a throw away when Los Angeles did a good job of taking away a screen play intended for George Kittle.
Garoppolo’s performance against Los Angeles was reminiscent of the performance Alex Smith put up on Monday night football in a 2012 victory over Arizona. However, while Smith only had one incompletion in that game, Garoppolo would have four against Los Angeles as he completed 15 of 19 attempts for 182 yards, two touchdowns and a passer rating of 141.7. That passer rating is the second highest for Garoppolo as a 49er, topped only by the 145.8 he managed during a 37-8 victory over Green Bay during the 2019 regular season.
2. Can the 49ers offensive line neutralize the Los Angeles pass rush? Yes
The Rams were able to hit Jimmy Garoppolo only one time in this game, and it didn’t come from Aaron Donald, Leonard Floyd or Von Miller. Instead, it came on a blitz from safety Taylor Rapp.
Daniel Brunskill once again did a fantastic job of neutralizing Aaron Donald and Tom Compton stepped in at right tackle after Jaylon Moore injured his knee on the first drive and played well.
It’s amazing how well the offensive line can play when they are allowed to get into a rhythm by being physical in the run game. The 49ers plan played to the strengths of this team, and it was about time. More on this below.
3. Will the 49ers secondary be able to contain Matthew Stafford? Yes
The 49ers defense dominated the Rams throughout the game, led by safety Jimmie Ward. Ward would end the first two Los Angeles drives by intercepting Matthew Stafford.
The first interception came after Stafford threw deep down the middle of the field on 2nd and 8 and the only player in the area was Ward.
On the ensuing Rams possession, Stafford would attempt a screen pass to Tyler Higbee only to see the ball bounce off his tight end’s hands and into the arms of Ward who would race 27-yards into the end zone to give the 49ers a 14-0 lead
Stafford would finish the night 26-41 for 243 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions, however except for the third Los Angeles possession of the night he couldn’t generate any points until the game was out of reach.
The early turnovers and lead for San Francisco forced Los Angeles to become one dimensional, with only nine called running plays all night. The lack of a running threat allowed the 49ers defense to focus on keeping everything in front of them. This took away the quick strike ability of the Rams offense and Stafford could not make the plays deep in San Francisco territory to climb back into this game.
4. Can Kyle Shanahan get back to his offensive identity? Absolutely
The 49ers strength and identity is running the football, and they finally committed to it against Los Angeles.
According to Shanahan, the 49ers came into Monday night with a team goal to run the ball 40 times. That’s a very big number and one that would require a full team effort to accomplish. And they did, rushing the ball 44 times for 156 yards. Rookie Elijah Mitchell led all rushers with 91 yards on 27 attempts, his most of the season. Veteran Jeff Wilson Jr added 28 yards on 10 carries.
For the second time this season San Francisco’s offense was able to put together two touchdown drives of more than 90 yards in the same game, the first being in their victory over Philadelphia.
The 49ers first two possessions against Los Angeles were a 93-yard, 18 play touchdown drive and a 91-yard, 11 play touchdown drive. The 49ers ran the ball 21 times on the two drives which helped the offense stay in manageable third down situations.
Shanahan’s game plan on the ground was a masterpiece, featuring the toss sweep to both sides with counter runs coming on plays that looked like a toss to the defense at the snap. In addition, Shanahan used the threat of the toss sweep to set up the pass leading to a nice completion from Jimmy Garoppolo to Deebo Samuel.
One changeup Shanahan used against Los Angeles was having Deebo Samuel as a running back at times, as he gained 36 yards on five carries, including a touchdown. Samuel also had 97 yards receiving and a touchdown on 5 receptions.
During the early 1990’s when Kyle Shanahan’s father, Mike, was the offensive coordinator of the 49ers their star halfback was Ricky Watters. Watters had been a receiver early in his career at Notre Dame before switching to running back. In 1994, Watters was able to dominate games with his ability as a runner and as a receiver. It appears Kyle may have found his Ricky Watters in Samuel.
5. Will the 49ers play a clean game? Yes
For only the third time all season the 49ers did not commit a turnover. Not only that, but they were also able to force the two turnovers mentioned earlier and there were no dropped passes by receivers.
There were still things to clean up, as penalties began to creep in and derail possessions during the second half, however they were well ahead by that point and it had little to do with the outcome of this particular contest.
The 49ers have a very talented team, and for the first time all season we saw that talent on full display. There was a different feel that was noticeable on the field prior to the game, and San Francisco will need to find a way to bring that into every contest throughout the second half of the season if they are to dig themselves out of the hole they created and reach the postseason.
Rams 31 49ers 21
Sometimes it feels good to be wrong. The 31 points scored by the 49ers on Monday night is the second highest total allowed by Los Angeles this season behind Arizona’s 37 points in week 4.