FOOTBALL IS FINALLY BACK!!!
The Los Angeles Rams’ season kicks off tonight as they head to San Francisco to take on the division-rival 49ers in the night-cap of a Monday night double-header that begins at 7:20 PM PT.
In the extremely difficult NFC West division, getting an early win would be a great start for both of these teams who many look at as below the level of the other two squads, the Seattle Seahawks and the Arizona Cardinals.
The crowd will certainly be rocking in the Bay Area for this opener so lets take a look at what the Rams need to do in order to come out with the win.
Rams Offense vs. 49ers Defense
There is no question as to who the Rams’ offense is built around. Todd Gurley is the centerpiece of this offense as he should be. The second-year running back is one of the top offensive players in the NFL and he has a good matchup against a 49ers defense that was awful against the run last season.
In his only matchup with the Niners last season Gurley rushed for 133 yards and a touchdown and he’ll be looking for a repeat performance. The Niners didn’t do much to upgrade that front seven in the off-season and the status of DL Arik Armstead (Questionable) will also play a huge role in their run-stopping capabilities.
The Niners secondary is a little better with Tramaine Brock and Jimmie Ward at the corners. Eric Reid is an excellent free safety and while Antoine Bethea isn’t as good as he was five years ago, he is still a solid veteran at the strong safety position.
The Rams have some potential playmakers on the outside in Kenny Britt and, of course, Tavon Austin, but Case Keenum will have to orchestrate the offense well. Jeff Fisher has yet to prove, however, that he can consistently harness the talent of Austin and get him the ball in space on a regular basis. The ability to stretch the field will be key for the Rams on Monday (and the rest of the season) as San Francisco is likely to stack the box to stop Gurley. Establishing the passing game early could be the way to go.
Another major factor will be Chip Kelly taking over as head coach of the 49ers. His fast-paced offense sometimes leaves his defense out to dry as they don’t have much time to rest if the offense doesn’t have long drives. That could lead to a huge night for Gurley.
Rams Defense vs. 49ers Offense
The Rams defensive line is the best in the league. The 49ers gave up a lot of sacks last season. This is where the Rams defense could win this game as Aaron Donald and Robert Quinn could wreak havoc all night long and disrupt Chip Kelly’s offense.
Niners quarterback Blaine Gabbert has always struggled with pressure so the Rams getting in his face will be key.
Much like the Rams, the 49ers best offensive player is running back Carlos Hyde and the Rams holding him in check will be of the utmost importance. Again, the D-Line controlling the line of scrimmage will be key in this, but linebacker Alec Ogletree, back from a broken fibula last season, and safety/LB Mark Barron will also play a huge role in this.
The Rams will mainly operate in a nickel base with only two linebackers. Barron basically operates as a linebacker anyway so having him up close to the line of scrimmage is basically a given and he and Ogletree must be ready to pick up those tackles as the D-Line will surely be eating up blockers.
The 49ers wide receivers are not anything to be afraid of, but Torrey Smith is a dangerous deep threat. Even if isn’t catching the passes, Smith regularly leads the league in pass interference penalties drawn and yards collected and that can be just as damaging. The pressure will be on Trumaine Johnson and free safety T.J. McDonald to make sure Smith doesn’t get free deep.
On paper, the Rams have the better team. They have more playmakers on offense, and the defensive capabilities to hold Chip Kelly’s offense in check.
However, this is the opening week, where unexpected results happen all the time. The Niners dominated the eventual NFC North Champion Minnesota Vikings in this exact spot last year and it’s always difficult to predict divisional games.
If Gurley gets going and Keenum can get the ball to his playmakers, I expect the Rams defense to be able to create some turnovers and do enough to get the Rams an opening weekend victory, 23-10.