Five 49ers players to watch in Week 2 NFC West clash vs. Rams originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area
The winner of the 49ers-Los Angeles Rams Week 2 matchup Sunday will take sole possession of first place in the NFC West.
The 49ers have won eight of their past nine games against the Rams, with San Francisco's only head-to-head loss during the past four years coming in the most important game of them all — the NFC Championship Game two seasons ago.
The 49ers are 7.5-point favorites and will enjoy a sizable crowd advantage at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, too.
Here are five players to watch after the Kyle Shanahan-Sean McVay duel kicks off on Sunday at 1:05 p.m.:
5. Quarterback Brock Purdy
Purdy has been entrenched as the 49ers’ starting quarterback for a while. But this will be his first career start against the Rams.
But after game-planning twice to face Los Angeles as a rookie and not stepping off the sideline in either of those games, Purdy said he feels as if he has already faced them.
Purdy needs to do what he has done in every game since replacing Jimmy Garoppolo in Week 13 of last season.
Last week he became the first quarterback in NFL history to have multi-touchdown passes in winning efforts in each of his first six career starts.
He logged a quarterback rating over 95 in each of those games, too. And that’s another NFL record.
4. Safety Talanoa Hufanga
Hufanga’s journey toward being named an All-Pro in his first season as the starter took off against the Rams early last season.
In Week 4 on Monday Night Football, Hufanga got on the radars of a lot of folks around the NFL with a dynamic 52-yard interception return for a touchdown against Matthew Stafford.
Hufanga had a strong opener at Pittsburgh with an interception of Kenny Pickett, and he should have some opportunities to make plays Sunday if the 49ers can get some hits on Stafford and rattle him into some poor throws.
3. Right tackle Colton McKivitz
He said he believes he gave Watt some gimmes with his poor technique. McKivitz termed the adjustment he must make as “an easy fix.”
Specifically, McKivitz identified his main issues as the depth of his pass-protection sets and not getting his hands on Watt sooner and with more force.
Keep an eye on Rams dominating defensive lineman Aaron Donald, a three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Donald will likely line up against each of the 49ers’ offensive linemen during the course of the game.
After what Donald saw on film from the 49ers' opener, he might look to line up more often against McKivitz.
2. Defensive tackle Javon Hargrave
The 49ers already had one of the top rosters in the NFL. Then, at the outset of the free-agent signing period, the club acquired Hargrave.
On a team already loaded with star power and high-priced players at every level of both sides of the ball, it might be easy for Hargrave to slip under the radar.
He was largely quiet in Week 1, with most of his contributions being the kind of dirty work of taking on double-team blocks that sets up big plays for one of his teammates.
Hargrave, coming off a career-best 11-sack season with the Philadelphia Eagles, registered a late sack against the Steelers in Week 1.
There will come a time when he wrecks a game. And this week could be it.
1. Wide receiver Deebo Samuel
In 2021, it seemed that wide receiver (or wide back, as he called his position) Deebo Samuel was a huge, huge part of the 49ers’ offense.
Samuel was the 49ers’ best player. He was their best runner. And he was their best receiver.
Now, Christian McCaffrey is the No. 1 target of opposing defenses. He is an outstanding runner while also being a big-time receiver out of the backfield.
And wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk, coming off affirmation as NFC Offensive Player of the Week, is a skilled route-runner and, probably, Purdy top option in the passing game.
Samuel re-dedicated himself in the offseason after what he termed as an “awful” season a year ago. He is a team captain and still more than capable of game-changing performances.