Long-time rivals collide as the 49ers host the unbeaten Rams on Sunday
The Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers have faced off at least twice a year, every year, dating all the way back to 1950, making it one of the oldest actively running series in NFL history. Sunday’s game will mark the 138th meeting between the Rams and 49ers. It has been a hotly contested rivalry over the years, with the 49ers holding a slight 69-65-3 lead.
The Rams (6-0) enter Week 7 as the last remaining undefeated team in the NFL. However, the lopsided margins of victory Sean McVay’s squad enjoyed early in the season have diminished considerably over the last couple of weeks. After squeaking out a narrow two-point victory over NFC West foe Seattle in Week 5, Los Angeles edged out Denver by just three points last week on the road. The Rams will now make their third road trip in as many weeks, this time to face the rival 49ers in a bid to keep their unblemished record intact.
Life has been much tougher for the reeling 49ers (1-5), who have now dropped four games in a row. The latest defeat was a 33-30 heartbreaker to Aaron Rodgers and the Packers on Monday night in Green Bay. The loss also snapped San Francisco’s nine-game winning streak on Monday Night Football. Regardless, it was an impressive effort from a team that has been hit hard by injuries and adversity all season. Kyle Shanahan’s 49ers will need to remain resilient as they turn their attention to the undefeated Rams at home on Sunday. The upset-minded 49ers would like nothing more than to be the team that spoils their rival’s perfect season.
Los Angeles at San Francisco
Kickoff: Sunday Oct. 21 at 4:25 p.m. ET
Spread: Rams -9.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Will Goff bounce back?
Jared Goff spent the first five weeks of the season filling up the stat sheet. But while he still managed to exit Week 6 with a victory over the Broncos, the third-year quarterback’s performance left plenty to be desired. Goff completed just 50 percent of his passes and failed to throw a touchdown pass for the first time all season. It also marked the first time since Week 1 that he failed to throw for at least 300 yards, as he barely eclipsed the 200-yard mark against the Broncos. He also threw an interception.
The good news is that Goff should be able to bounce back nicely in Week 7. In his lone game against the 49ers last season, Goff completed 78.6 percent of his passes for 292 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions. The 2018 49ers pass defense ranks just 25th in the NFL, allowing 279 passing yards per game. They have allowed 14 touchdowns through the air with just one interception in six games as well. Aaron Rodgers made particularly easy work of the dinged-up San Francisco secondary on Monday night, completing six passes of 20 yards or more en route to a 425-yard, two-touchdown performance.
Goff will be without top target Cooper Kupp (knee) on Sunday. But the Rams' quarterback should have no trouble making do with wide receivers Robert Woods and Brandin Cooks against this defense. Cooks will likely draw cornerback Richard Sherman, while Woods’ matchup against either Jimmie Ward or K’Waun Williams looks particularly promising.
2. The 49ers' offense: the good and the bad
Despite all the injuries and hardship the 49ers have faced this season, Kyle Shanahan’s offense continues to fight the good fight. Quarterback C.J. Beathard and running back Matt Breida are just two examples of players who have stepped up to give their all. Beathard has averaged close to 300 passing yards and two touchdowns per game since taking over for the injured Jimmy Garoppolo, while Matt Breida is averaging an NFL-best 6.8 yards per carry in Jerick McKinnon’s stead. George Kittle has been solid at tight end as well. And wide receiver Marquise Goodwin finally broke out with 126 receiving yards and two scores against Green Bay.
The problem is that this offense continues to routinely shoot itself in the foot with costly mistakes and turnovers. The 49ers have turned the ball over ten times in the last three games alone. Beathard is responsible for seven of those turnovers, and his late-game interception against the Packers ultimately cost the 49ers a game that they should have won. For all the good that Beathard has brought to this offense, he may also be its biggest adversary.
To be fair, the San Francisco defense hasn’t exactly done its part to help balance things out, forcing just three turnovers all season. As a result, the 49ers rank dead last in the NFL in turnover margin at minus-11. They will be facing a Los Angeles team that has turned the ball over just six times with a plus-two turnover margin. Even if the 49ers play mistake-free football on Sunday, it will still be a tall order to keep pace with the Rams’ high-powered offense. Beathard and company can ill afford to make that task more difficult by continuing to commit costly turnovers.
3. Todd Gurley vs. the San Francisco run defense
If there is one running back that no NFL defense wants to face right now, it’s Gurley. The NFL’s leading rusher has amassed 623 rushing yards and a league-high nine rushing touchdowns through six games. He’s no slouch in the passing game, either, with 21 catches for 247 yards and two scores. Gurley was particularly potent against the Broncos' defense last week, racking up a career-high 208 rushing yards and two touchdowns. He has five rushing touchdowns in the last two weeks alone.
He will now set his sights on the 49ers' defense. San Francisco has been solid against the run so far this season, giving up just 98.2 yards per contest (13th in the NFL). Defensive lineman DeForest Buckner and standout linebackers Reuben Foster and Fred Warner have made running room fairly difficult to come by for opposing running backs. But that is likely to change this week against the red-hot Gurley and a stout Rams offensive line. The elite running back totaled 149 yards (rushing and receiving) and three touchdowns in his lone game against the 49ers last season.
Los Angeles will be making its third road trip in as many weeks. That bodes well for the San Francisco offense against a Rams defense that has looked vulnerable of late. That said, the 49ers' defense is coming off a short week and might be a little worse for wear itself. Even if that isn’t the case, it will still be a tall task to hold the red-hot Todd Gurley in check on Sunday. It might prove even more difficult for a suspect 49ers pass defense to keep Jared Goff from a monster outing. But this is a rivalry game, and while the 49ers aren’t likely to spoil the Rams’ perfect season, they should be able to keep it interesting in front of the home crowd.
Prediction: Rams 34, 49ers 27
— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.