It was a narrow victory, but the Los Angeles Rams managed to get the job done in Week 17 and now finish the regular season against a San Francisco 49ers team that has routinely gotten the best of them since head coach Sean McVay arrived.
The Week 18 matchup between the Rams and 49ers presents playoff implications as the former could secure the NFC West title while a victory for the latter would ensure they keep one of the Wild Card spots. A win for Los Angeles keeps them in the No. 2 seed, but a defeat could push them down to the No. 5 spot, which would mean a road trip for the Wild Card round.
Rams Offense vs. 49ers Defense
Last time the two teams met, Matthew Stafford threw three interceptions with one of them being returned for a touchdown. In the past two games, Stafford has committed six turnovers so suffice to say that taking care of the football will be of the utmost importance. The 49er defense is stout up front, so Stafford may need to look for check-downs rather than the deep ball he prefers to throw.
San Francisco is well-aware of Cooper Kupp’s historic season and it would not be surprising to see them force the Rams to beat them with their other receiving options. Odell Beckham Jr.’s first game with the team came against the 49ers and while he underwhelmed then, he should play a larger role after having more time to acclimate and learn the playbook. Look for Beckham to be one of Stafford’s favorite targets against what has been an average San Francisco secondary.
Another key difference this time around is the Rams’ backfield as Sony Michel has completely taken over the running back touches. Unlike Darrell Henderson, Michel is able to punish defenses with his physical running style which could lead to more extended L.A. drives. While Michel will serve as the bellcow, Cam Akers is expected to make his 2021 season debut and it will be interesting to see how he looks on the field.
Rams Defense vs. 49ers Offense
With Jimmy Garoppolo dealing with a thumb injury, it’s unclear if he will play or if the 49ers will start rookie Trey Lance at quarterback, which could present issues for the Rams defense. Lance is a much more mobile player than Garoppolo and has shown more willingness to throw the ball down field. However, the most dangerous part of his game is his ability to scramble and run with the football, so keeping him in the pocket will be key.
Aside from Lance, San Francisco will have its full allotment of skill players and the No. 1 priority will be limiting the damage Deebo Samuel does. Samuel simply dominated Los Angeles in their last game, so perhaps Raheem Morris opts to use Jalen Ramsey in coverage more. However, the 49ers still have explosive weapons elsewhere in George Kittle, Brandon Aiyuk, and Elijah Mitchell who all present a challenge.
The Rams would serve themselves well if they are able to generate pressure on Lance and force the 49ers into more passing down situations.
Keys To Victory
1. Control time of possession
San Francisco was able to kill the clock against Los Angeles with their run game, so this time around the Rams must find ways to extend drives. This should mean Michel sees his normal amount of touches, while Stafford plays it safe and picks up yardage when he can.
2. Limit yards after the catch
The 49ers have explosive after-the-catch receivers, so the Rams will need to be diligent when making tackles in the open field. Kyle Shanahan always seems to find ways to scheme his guys open, and while it is inevitable Los Angeles just needs to try and contain the gains to a minimum.