The Rams are coming out of their bye with an opportunity to get back above .500 on Sunday afternoon when they host the 49ers at SoFi Stadium – a pivotal game for both NFC West teams. The Rams are seeking to snap their seven-game regular-season losing streak to the 49ers, a team they’ve had more trouble with than anyone else in the NFL.
To preview Sunday’s matchup, we caught up with Kyle Madson of Niners Wire to discuss the Christian McCaffrey deal, the weakness of the 49ers and more.
Did you see Christian McCaffrey as a player who filled a need or more of a luxury pickup?
He filled a need. When Jimmy Garoppolo is the quarterback there are no luxury pickups on offense (I’M JOKING). The 49ers offense, and specifically the run game, was pretty stagnant. McCaffrey gives them an explosive element to the run game who can turn the corner on outside zone runs. He’s also another Deebo Samuel-style chess piece that head coach Kyle Shanahan can use to further the “positionless” offense he’s been installing since he arrived in 2017. I think this year’s version of the 49ers isn’t going to be able to find the power running, bully-ball identity that served them so well last year, so the McCaffrey addition is a pivot to a more finesse, horizontal style of football.
What’s a weakness of this 49ers defense the Rams can attack?
Two spots come to mind. The interior of their defensive line has really struggled with starting defensive tackles Arik Armstead and Javon Kinlaw both out. They can be moved around a little inside which allows offensive linemen to get to the second level and hinder the speedy LBs for San Francisco. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Rams try and find some room on inside runs early before attacking the edges. The other area is the CB spot opposite Charvarius Ward. It’ll likely be Deommodore Lenoir, although Jason Verrett could return as well. They’ve not had a ton of success replacing Emmanuel Moseley who was playing at a Pro Bowl level before tearing his ACL. Matthew Stafford may be able to find some yards when targeting the non-Ward CB.
Who’s an underrated player on offense to watch?
It feels like Brandon Aiyuk is pretty underrated. It’s partly the 49ers’ doing. Until the last two games he hasn’t gotten a ton of work, but Aiyuk is open CONSTANTLY. He’s third in the NFL in yards per route run from the slot among players with 10+ targets and he can impact defenses at all three levels. With Deebo Samuel out, Aiyuk could see a sizable workload both in the screen game and on throws down the field. I keep waiting for the 10-catch, 150-yard game from him, and this may be the week for it.
Would you say the 49ers are a better or worse team now than they were a season ago?
That’s tough. I’ll say worse just because they found an identity that worked for them at the end of last year. This season they seem a little bit lost and injuries have compromised them at a couple positions. That said, at this point last year they weren’t playing well and didn’t have an identity either. They’re on a somewhat similar trajectory, and I think their ceiling is higher this season, but the team that played in the NFC championship game would beat this team soundly.
Who wins on Sunday and why?
I’m going to pick the 49ers and not feel great about it. Their offense is bad, but McCaffrey should help. I’m taking San Francisco in part because they’ve won their last seven against the Rams in the regular season, but also because their defense is going to be healthier than it was a week ago. I think the Rams run game won’t be able to take advantage of the 49ers’ struggles in that area, and I think their edge rushers can affect the game enough to pull out a close contest, even if their offense continues to stumble. I’m staying way away from this game on the betting market, but since I’m required to make a pick here, 49ers 23, Rams 21