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Thursday Night Football: Los Angeles Rams vs. San Francisco 49ers Preview and Prediction


Through two weeks, it appears the Los Angeles Rams might be getting exactly what they hoped for when they hired head coach Sean McVay. After ranking dead last in the NFL in points and yards last season, the Rams enter Thursday’s game in San Francisco ranked third in scoring and 10th in total offense.

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Granted, L.A. still has a long way to go. The Rams scored 46 points against the lowly Colts in Week 1, but 14 of those came off interception returns. The running game is still a work in progress (72.5 ypg), and Sammy Watkins has yet to emerge as the No. 1 receiver as expected. Second-year quarterback Jared Goff appears to be moving in the right direction under McVay, but he also made a typical young QB mistake by staring down his target and throwing the game-clinching interception in a 27–20 loss to Washington last week.

Still, the Rams are a juggernaut compared to the 49ers. San Francisco is last in the NFL in total offense (232.5 ypg) and somehow not-quite-last in scoring, ranking 31st with 12 points on four field goals through two weeks. The 49ers have faced two tough defenses in Carolina and Seattle, so perhaps we’ll see their first touchdown of the season. But if you were hoping for some offensive fireworks after last Thursday’s Bengals-Texans clunker... well, I have bad news for you.

Los Angeles at San Francisco

Kickoff: Thursday, Sept. 21 at 8:25 p.m. ET

TV Channel: NFL Network

Spread: Rams -2.5

Three Things to Watch

1. Aaron Donald and the Rams' run D vs. Carlos Hyde

After holding out in a contract dispute and missing the season opener, Rams All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald made his debut last week against Washington. He showed flashes of the quickness that makes him perhaps the NFL’s best defender, but he also was rusty and in on just two tackles, one for a loss. The Redskins racked up 229 rushing yards, the most the Rams have allowed since 2011, long before Donald joined the squad. That likely has Hyde licking his chops after his 124-yard day against the stingy Seahawks. But don’t get too excited if you have Hyde on your fantasy team. Nearly half of those yards came on one 61-yard carry; and in four career games against Donald and the Rams, Hyde has one 88-yard game and three others of 38 yards or fewer.

2. Get Gurley going

The Rams have to be hoping they can get Todd Gurley his first 100-yard game since his rookie season against a defense that comes in ranked 24th against the run. Gurley’s 88 yards last week were his most since his last 100-yard game on Dec. 13, 2015, and Seahawks rookie Chris Carson found enough room to gain 93 yards on 20 carries against San Francisco last week. Perhaps that is to be expected against a defense that ranked last in the NFL against the run last season. But the 49ers should improve as the season goes on as All-Pro linebacker NaVorro Bowman rounds back into shape after missing most of last season and rookies Solomon Thomas and Reuben Foster (who won't play in this game because of a high ankle sprain) get their feet under them.

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3. Who is Goff’s favorite target?

The Rams traded for Sammy Watkins, in theory, to get Jared Goff a bona fide, No. 1, go-to wide receiver. Seeing as the trade was made late in the preseason, perhaps it’s no surprise the duo hasn’t come out of the gate flying (seven receptions on seven targets for 88 yards). But for now Goff is obviously more comfortable throwing to rookie Cooper Kupp (seven receptions on 12 targets for 109 yards and a touchdown). But Goff should start looking Watkins’ way more each week. While Kupp is a prefect slot receiver, Watkins is a complete receiver when healthy. And as Goff’s comfort level with Watkins grows, he’ll likely make fewer mistakes like looking at Kupp the whole way on last week’s game-ending interception.

Final Analysis

The Rams seem like an improved team, at least on offense, as Jared Goff seems to have taken a step or two in his development. But until they play a good defense, it’s hard to tell for sure. The 49ers' offense has to break out eventually. While head coach Kyle Shanahan doesn’t have the weapons he has when he was running the Atlanta offense, there’s no excuse for not finding the end zone in two games. If Carlos Hyde can find some running room like he did against Seattle, San Francisco may have just enough to pull off a mild upset at home.

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Prediction: 49ers 16, Rams 13