The San Francisco 49ers (4-4) completed the regular season sweep of the Los Angeles Rams (3-4) for the fourth season in a row with a 31-14 victory Sunday afternoon at SoFi Stadium.
Despite the final score, this one wasn’t easy for the 49ers.
The first half played out much like the previous two weeks. In losses to Atlanta and Kansas City, San Francisco’s defense struggled to get off the field, while mistakes kept the offense from playing to its potential.
After forcing a quick three and out on their first possession, the 49ers’ defense could not get a stop, giving up back-to-back touchdown drives. It took the Rams choosing to run the clock out to close out the first half for the defense to get off the field without allowing any points.
According to Nick Bosa, the defensive turnaround resulted from playing better on early downs.
“We just had to stop those screens,” said Bosa. “In the second half, they were in a lot of third and longs instead of second and five, third and four, third and two where you’re not going to be able to rush.”
“When we play better on first and second down, that opens everything up.”
With the defense doing its job, it was on the Niners’ offense to do theirs.
The talk all week coming into this game was Kyle Shanahan’s inability to generate points in the second half.
After being forced to punt on their opening drive, the 49ers offense put together three straight touchdown drives to put the game out of reach.
Christian McCaffrey fueled the offense with touchdowns, throwing, receiving, and rushing. McCaffrey became only the fourth player since 1970 to pull off the feat.
The first San Francisco score of the second half was McCaffrey’s touchdown reception.
Terrific protection from the offensive line allowed Jimmy Garoppolo to scan the entire field before finding the running back along the right sideline for a leaping touchdown grab.
McCaffrey got things started on the ensuing 49ers possession with a nice gain on a screen pass to the right. A few plays later, he burst through the line of scrimmage for a gain of 24, getting pushed out of bounds just short of the goal line. He scored on the next play.
The final 49ers touchdown drive was all about the tight ends. Garoppolo connected with Ross Dwelley deep down the left sideline for a gain of 56.
A few plays later, the veteran quarterback bootlegged out to his left and found George Kittle in the back of the endzone for a seven-yard touchdown to wrap up the scoring.
With the win, San Francisco keeps pace with Seattle in the race for the NFC West crown. They will have next week off to rest and are expected to get several starters back for the second-half stretch run.
Here are the answers to the questions I asked on Saturday.
1.) Will the 49ers offense clean up its mistakes? YES
Things weren’t smooth for the 49ers’ offense in the first half.
On the opening play of the second offensive possession, Trent Williams was called for a false start. They were able to overcome this when Christian McCaffrey connected with Brandon Aiyuk on a double pass from 34 yards out to tie the game at seven.
The next possession started with an illegal block by Aaron Banks however a personal foul by Taylor Rapp on the next play wiped away the mistake.
San Francisco moved the ball down to the Rams’ eight before Leonard Floyd stopped the drive with his second sack of Garoppolo on the drive. Kyle Shanahan would be forced to settle for a 29-yard Robbie Gould field goal to make the score 14-10 at the break.
The second half was a different story.
San Francisco’s offense did not commit a penalty and caught a couple of breaks along the way.
Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey had the ball hit him in the hands, but he could not hang on for an interception on the first 49ers’ possession.
On the following drive, McCaffrey was blasted after picking up five and lost the football. Fortunately for San Francisco, the ball popped right into the hands of Ray-Ray McCloud who had been knocked to the turf himself.
2.) Can the 49ers overcome the loss of Deebo Samuel? YES
Kyle Shanahan had to overcome the loss of not only Deebo Samuel, but he also was without Kyle Juszczyk and Jauan Jennings.
Without three of his top weapons, Shanahan got creative. Tight ends Ross Dwelley, and Tyler Kroft took turns at fullback, as did Jeff Wilson Jr.
Things really got rolling for Shanahan on the second possession of the second half.
Using 12 personnel, one running back and two tight ends, the 49ers offense repeatedly showed the same formation and motion. This helped them predict how the Rams would react, and they drove 88-yards for the go-ahead touchdown.
Jimmy Garoppolo was nearly flawless on the day. Other than a couple of passes that Jalen Ramsey could get his hands on and a deep shot to Ray-Ray McCloud, which was a tad underthrown, the veteran quarterback was on target.
Garoppolo completed 22 of 25 attempts for 235 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Seven different players caught passes from Garoppolo. Brandon Aiyuk led the team with 81 receiving yards, while McCaffrey’s eight receptions were also a team high.
3.) Can San Francisco’s offense move the ball on the ground? YES
San Francisco ran the ball 22 times for 88 yards in the first meeting between these two teams.
This time around, the 49ers ran the ball 23 times for 111 yards.
Christian McCaffrey picked up 94 yards rushing on 18 carries and Jeff Wilson Jr. chipped in 14 yards on four attempts.
Games like today are why the 49ers chose to use four draft picks to get McCaffrey. He showed the patience, balance, and explosiveness San Francisco has been missing in its running game since losing Raheem Mostert.
McCaffrey is just getting started. He’s only been with the team for nine days.
Following the game, he talked about “leaving a little meat on the bone.” He was referring to what he felt were missed opportunities.
When McCaffrey gets can get settled in, watch out.
4.) Will San Francisco’s pass rush return to form? YES
The 49ers pass rush was nearly nonexistent during the first half. That was mostly the result of how the Rams were attacking them.
Los Angeles used a variety of screens and short passes to control the chains.
As a result, they had third and more than three only twice.
In the second half, the 49ers’ defense did a much better job of slowing the Rams down on the first down. This led to Los Angeles facing third and five several times, allowing the defense to finally get pressure on Matthew Stafford.
Fred Warner and Nick Bosa each recorded a sack and a pair of quarterback hits each, while Charles Omenihu finished with one quarterback hit.
5.) Can the 49ers’ defense force Matthew Stafford into mistakes? NO
San Francisco could not force Stafford into any turnovers for the first time since he joined the Rams.
Stafford was on the money throughout the first half. Using primarily screens and short passes, the veteran quarterback led a pair of long touchdown drives in the first half.
Once the 49ers’ defense stiffened up on early downs, Stafford struggled with the 49ers’ pass rush and couldn’t get the Rams offense moving.
Cooper Kupp is a very good receiver, but the Rams’ offense is pedestrian without Odell Beckham Jr. on the other side.
The 49ers knew this and took full advantage of it today.
49ers 23 Rams 20