Five 49ers to watch vs. Rams in Week 8 clash that could decide NFC West

Five 49ers to watch in Rams clash that could decide NFC West originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

This game has major NFC West implications, as the 49ers and Los Angeles Rams wrap up their season series before the halfway point of the regular season.

The Rams own a 3-3 record, including an early season loss to the 49ers.

The 49ers are 3-4, and run the risk of dropping two games below the .500 mark entering the bye week.

While the Seattle Seahawks lead the NFC West at 4-3, it might be that the winner of this 49ers-Rams matchup has the inside track to the division title.

Here are five 49ers players who must step up in this crucial NorCal-SoCal matchup:

5. RT Mike McGlinchey

The 49ers’ offensive line has been solid, relatively speaking, through the first seven games of the season. The unproven players on the interior of the line — Aaron Banks, Jake Brendel and Spencer Burford — are holding their own.

Right tackle Mike McGlinchey, however, said he expects more of himself, coming off a game in which he was beaten for two sacks against Kansas City.

“I got to step up,” McGlinchey said. “I got to play better. I’ve been playing too much good football over the course of this season and last season to let things like that happen in those moments.”

Aaron Donald, a three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, does not often line up over right tackle. But with McGlinchey showing susceptibility to the bull rush, Donald could line up across from him to see if he can exploit that area of his game.

4. DE Nick Bosa

The 49ers’ offense will identify where Donald aligns before every snap of the ball.

The Rams will do the same against 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa.

Bosa leads the 49ers with seven sacks in six games this season. Los Angeles has had issues along its offensive line. Bosa will see a steady diet of double-team blocks.

But if Bosa can break through and apply pressure on Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford, that should lead to opportunities for his teammates at every level to make plays and create takeaways.

3. QB Jimmy Garoppolo

The 49ers have beaten the Rams seven of their past eight meetings.

The one Los Angeles victory against the 49ers over the past four seasons with a biggie. Garoppolo struggled in the NFC Championship game. He completed 16 of 30 pass attempts for 232 yards with two touchdowns and one interception in the Rams’ 20-17 victory en route to the Super Bowl.

Garoppolo was also playing with a torn ligament on his throwing thumb and a right shoulder that would require off-season surgery and a four-month rehabilitation.

Garoppolo must cut down on the mistakes and convert third downs in order to give the 49ers their best chance for victory.

2. RB Christian McCaffrey

Running back Christian McCaffrey’s final game with the Carolina Panthers came on Oct. 16 at SoFi Stadium against the Los Angeles Rams.

The Panthers had just 203 yards of total offense that day. McCaffrey accounted for 158 yards from scrimmage with 69 yards rushing and 89 yards receiving.

Now that McCaffrey has a full week of practice with the 49ers, the game plan is wide open for him. He played 22 snaps against the Chiefs in his 49ers debut, and he is scheduled for considerably more action Sunday against the Rams.

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Coach Kyle Shanahan will undoubtedly use him in a lot of different ways — in the backfield, in the slot and split out wide.

Now, it’s up to Garoppolo to find him when he’s open in space and let McCaffrey do the rest.

1. NB Jimmie Ward

While Jimmie Ward works back into the action, he is playing a new/old position.

Ward made the NFL’s Top 100 list this year as a safety, but Tashaun Gipson has played well in that position over the first seven games of the season. Ward may not be thrilled to be playing nickel back exclusively, but he says he will do whatever the coaches ask of him.

Ward is the 49ers’ second-best cover man behind cornerback Charvarius Ward. And he will face the toughest-possible assignment, going up against Cooper Kupp.

“They got a love connection going on over there,” Ward said of Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford’s reliance on Kupp. “There’s a whole bunch of pivots, option routes, double-moves and stuff. It’s going to be another challenge.”

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