8:15 PM EST, ESPN – Line: Rams -3.5, Over/Under: 49
Week Ten comes to its conclusion as bitter rivals prepare to face off for the first time this season, with the Los Angeles Rams continuing to bolster their ranks in lieu of a trip to Santa Clara to battle the struggling San Francisco 49ers from Levi’s Stadium. The National Football League has never really been known for its wheeling and dealing during the season, but the times are indeed changing as the Rams (7-2, 2nd in NFC West) continue to amass star power in their attempt to return to the Super Bowl. Simply put, there isn’t another franchise in the NFL that has been more active on the trade front over the past few years with (Head Coach) Sean McVay and (General Manager) Les Snead adding a host of notable talents to the roster. So, let’s run down the list of names, shall we? Two years ago, they sent a pair of First Round Picks to the Jacksonville Jaguars in exchange for (All-Pro Cornerback) Jalen Ramsey (46 TKL, 6 TFL, 1 QBH, 1 FF, 3 INT, 8 PD), before initiating a blockbuster this past Spring in trading (former Quarterback) Jared Goff (along with another two Firsts) to the Detroit Lions for (former Pro-Bowl Quarterback) Matthew Stafford (68.2%, 2,771 YDS, 8.02 NY/A, 23 TD, 6 INT, 69.6 QBR). Not ones to simply sit on their hands during last week’s Trade Deadline, McVay and Snead dealt for (former All-Pro Linebacker) Von Miller (19 TKL, 7 TFL, 9 QBH, 4.5 SK) in exchange for Second and Third Round Picks in the 2022 NFL Draft. With the Deadline in the rearview mirror, all was supposed to be quiet on the transaction front, but not for Los Angeles, who pounced on the opportunity to land another Pro-Bowl talent, signing Odell Beckham Jr. (17 REC, 232 YDS, 13.6 Y/R, 0 TD) after the wantaway Wideout cleared waivers following his release from the Cleveland Browns. Needless to say, this team is the closest thing to a proverbial dream team that the NFL has at the moment, for the likes of (three-time Defensive Player of the Year) Aaron Donald (37 TKL, 7 TFL, 14 QBH, 6.0 SK, 1 FF, 3 PD) along with Ramsey, Miller, Stafford, and Beckham have combined for a staggering TWENTY-THREE Pro-Bowls and ELEVEN All-Pro selections during their respective careers, with each of them hungry to add a Super Bowl ring to their trophy collection, or in the case of Miller, one more. So, with Miller and Beckham probable to suit up tonight, what can the Rams expect from them? At 32-years old, Miller should have plenty left in the tank to bring some heat off the edge for a Defense that has taken a step backward under (Defensive Coordinator) Raheem Morris after pacing the league in both points allowed (18.5) and total defense (282.0) in 2020. The 2015 Super Bowl MVP had 4.5 sacks and sixteen pressures in seven games with Denver prior to the trade, and should see plenty of one-on-ones with the aforementioned Donald drawing a wealth of attention. Furthermore, his presence should improve upon a middling pass defense that has yielded 248.7 yards through the air (17th Overall) while falling below league average on third down at 41.1% (19th Overall). As for Beckham, all eyes will be on the 29-year old, who talked his way out of both New York and Cleveland before landing in the City of Angels. After accumulating the most receiving yards of any player in NFL history through the first three years of his career, he never really caught on over the course of his tenure with the Browns, hauling in just forty receptions for 551 yards and three touchdowns over the last two seasons, with many pointing to his lack of chemistry with Baker Mayfield as the culprit for his lack of production. It really would be an indictment on the three-time Pro-Bowler if he were to disrupt the harmony of an explosive Offense led by the aforementioned Stafford, who as many predicted following the trade that paired him with McVay, has absolutely FLOURISHED in Los Angeles. The 33-year old is posting career-highs in a slew of categories including completion percentage (68.2%), yards per attempt (8.6), touchdown percentage (7.2%), net yards per attempt (8.02), passer rating (111.0), and QBR (69.6), with those last three figures leading the NFL through nine weeks. The passing game has improved exponentially since his arrival, ranking third in yards (308.4), and second in both touchdowns (23) and net yards per attempt (7.9), with Beckham bringing yet another dimension to a Receiving Corps that features Cooper Kupp (74 REC, 1,019 YDS, 13.8 Y/R, 10 TD) and Robert Woods (45 REC, 556 YDS, 12.4 Y/R, 4 TD), with the former leading the league in catches (74), receiving yards (1,019) and touchdowns (10). The Rams should be eager to strut their stuff following last Sunday night’s disappointing showing against the Derrick Henry-less Titans, who thumped them at SoFi Stadium, 28-16; Tennessee blew the affair wide-open during a 21-0 second quarter, which proved too much for the hosts to rally back from in what was arguably their most disappointing offensive performance of the campaign logging a season-worst in both total yards (347) and turnovers (2). Perhaps another shot in front of a national audience will provide them with the opportunity to get back on track, for Los Angeles was 9-4 in primetime under McVay with that loss snapping a five-game winning streak in such contests. Monday Night Football has been particularly good to them with a 3-1 record with the extra day of prep, though their mettle is set to be tested by the 49ers, who have given them plenty of problems in the past; McVay is just 3-5 against San Francisco and his former colleague, Kyle Shanahan, losing each of their last four meetings.
Meanwhile, as their opponent tonight gets richer, the 49ers (3-5, T-3rd in NFC West) are simply trying to avoid falling out of contention altogether, as they find themselves five games out of first place in the division and a game out of the final wild card in the NFC. With eight games in the books, we can’t help but wonder if (Head Coach) Kyle Shanahan is feeling a bit jealous of his counterpart, McVay. The parallels between the two is uncanny; Shanahan and McVay broke into the NFL together as assistants on Jon Gruden’s coaching staff in Tampa Bay, with the latter succeeding the former as Offensive Coordinator for the Washington Football Team before earning their respective gigs in the golden state where they guided their clubs to narrow Super Bowl defeats in successive years. Furthermore, neither mastermind has been necessarily shy about their desire to upgrade their Quarterback situations, and where McVay has been showered with gifts from his General Manager, Shanahan has been left wanting; it’s no secret that the 41-year old hasn’t been overly enamored with (veteran Quarterback) Jimmy Garoppolo (65.3%, 1,754 YDS, 7.40 NY/A, 8 TD, 5 INT, 48.7 QBR), whom he and (General Manager) John Lynch acquired at the trade deadline five years ago, with rumors swirling back in the Spring that the Niners were primed to be suitors for (Green Bay’s) Aaron Rodgers if the reigning MVP were to hit the market. While that move never materialized, Shanahan and Lynch turned their attention to the Draft where they were linked to just about every highly-touted passer, eventually trading up to select Trey Lance (52.1%, 354 YDS, 6.80 NY/A, 3 TD, 1 INT, 39.6 QBR) third overall last May. There were also rumors last season that San Fran was in the market for a potential trade for the aforementioned Beckham, only to see the playmaker take his talents to Southern California for pennies on the dollar. So, with that said, what has gone wrong for the 49ers, you ask? Well, the slightest step backwards in the most perilous division in the NFL will see even the smallest weaknesses exploited, but in this case, San Francisco appears to be a far cry from the side that bulldozed its way to Super Bowl XLIV two years ago. First and foremost, the Offense simply hasn’t been as threatening as it has in the past, lacking the typical potency in the run game that we’ve grown accustomed to; the Niners have churned out a middling 113.1 yards per game (14th Overall) on 4.4 yards per carry (13th Overall) thus far, lacking the home run threat that they’ve had in the past with (Tailback) Raheem Mostert (2 CAR, 20 YDS, 10.0 Y/A, 0 TD) out since suffering chipped cartilage in his knee in the season opener. Shanahan has long built his passing game off of the success of the run, and without that foundational piece of the attack, his charges have routinely found themselves in third and long situations, converting a dreadful 33.3% of their third downs (30th Overall), the third-worst rate in the league. It also hasn’t helped that the Offensive Line has suffered their share of injuries, with (Right Tackle) Mike McGlinchey in all likelihood out for the rest of the campaign due to a torn quadriceps. All this has done is put more stress on the passing game, particularly Garoppolo, who has been forced to fend off the advances of Lance without a full supporting cast. After missing all but six games last season with numerous lower leg injuries, the 30-year old has started all but one game in 2021 and has been largely unspectacular. Then again, that’s what we’ve come to expect from Garoppolo, who is very much in the “game manager” mold, exceling at playing complementary football when the supporting cast is flush with talent. Unfortunately, that just hasn’t been the case this year; with his stat line comparable to that of their Super Bowl run of two years ago, the Offense has mustered just 23.1 points (18th Overall) on 376.6 total yards (13th Overall), with a miserable Minus-9 turnover differential oftentimes spoiling their progress. The 49ers have committed fourteen turnovers (27th Overall) through eight games, including two or more in five contests, with three coming in last weekend’s disappointing 31-17 loss at home to the Arizona Cardinals. With their division rivals missing both (Quarterback) Kyler Murray and (All-Pro Receiver) DeAndre Hopkins among other prominent figures, many figured that San Francisco would take advantage of those absences and get back on track, but what transpired was a listless performance in which the hosts were outscored 17-0 until late in the first half, trailing 31-7 midway through the third period before adding some points in garbage time to make the final score less-embarrassing. Rushing for a season-low THIRTY-SIX yards on eleven carries, Garoppolo was left to carry the load, passing for a season-high 326 yards but completed barely half of his forty passing attempts, with a pair of touchdowns, an interception, and FIVE sacks for a loss of twenty-eight yards. The Niners also lost a pair of crucial fumbles, the first coming on the first play of the second drive of the afternoon, with (All-Pro Tight End) George Kittle (25 REC, 328 YDS, 13.1 Y/R, 1 TD) stripped of the football in his own territory, while the latter came courtesy of (Sophomore Wideout) Brandon Aiyuk (19 REC, 230 YDS, 12.1 Y/R, 2 TD) losing control of the rock despite threatening the visitors deep in their own territory. In both cases the Cardinals would turn those turnovers into points. Ultimately, this is why Shanahan has been so keen on finding ways to incorporate Lance into the Offense, for his athleticism and mobility brings another dimension to the attack that has been sorely-missing. With that said, the learning curve for the rookie in considerable, with his accuracy, mechanics, and ability to read Defenses not where it needs to be to unseat Garoppolo. While the Offense has certainly struggled this season, their own Defense hasn’t been up to standard either, allowing 25.3 points per game (26th Overall) thus far in their first campaign without (former Defensive Coordinator) Robert Saleh, who was hired as the New York Jets Head Coach in the offseason. The 49ers were DOMINANT on this side of the football during their Super Bowl run of 2019, but this year have clearly lost some of that mojo with Saleh taking his talents to the big apple; San Francisco has only FIVE takeaways thus far (30th Overall), the third-fewest in the NFL, while getting trampled on the ground to the tune of 131.6 rushing yards (26th Overall) on 4.4 yards per attempt (21st Overall). Again, injuries have had a hand in their struggles in this regard, with (Linebacker) Dre Greenlaw (Core Muscle), (Defensive Lineman) Javon Kinlaw (Torn ACL), and (Cornerback) Jason Verrett (Torn ACL) all on Injured Reserve, while fellow Defensive Backs, Josh Norman (28 TKL, 3 TFL, 1 INT, 3 PD), Dre Kirkpatrick (7 TKL, 1 TFL), Jimmie Ward (40 TKL, 1 TFL, 1 PD), and Tavon Wilson (10 TKL, 1 PD) all limited throughout the week of practice with a litany of ailments. We’ll see how this encounter with the Rams plays out, for while Shanahan has certainly had McVay’s number in recent meetings, a loss tonight will create even more space between them in the NFC West, with the Niners staring at a fourth losing record in five years under the Head Coach. Furthermore, primetime hasn’t been kind to them under Shanahan with a 6-9 record in such contests, losing five of their last six in front of a national audience, including each of their two affairs this season. With that said, two of those six victories have come against the Rams.