By Sam McPherson
Last season, the Los Angeles Rams and the San Francisco 49ers combined to win 12 games, but it’s been rougher going in 2016 for both NFC West teams. The Niners have lost 13 straight games this year, while the Rams have lost nine of 10 in addition to firing the head coach last week. At best, the two California franchises could win a combined eight games this fall, but don’t count on that happening.
However, one of them can win a game this Saturday as the 49ers travel to Los Angeles for a rematch of the Week 1 contest that San Francisco won, 28-0. That game seems like a long time ago, with two different starting quarterbacks and one different head coach. The two organizations are reeling right now and searching for answers on the field that will probably not be found at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Christmas Eve.
Rams Season Record
After Los Angeles lost the season opener at Levi’s Stadium, the team won three straight games to position itself as a contender in the NFC West. That success was short-lived, as the Rams have gone 1-9 since then to arrive at 4-10 right now. The team hit rock bottom after a Week 14 home loss to the Atlanta Falcons, as Jeff Fisher was fired after almost five seasons as the head coach. Last week, interim coach John Fassel guided Los Angeles in its loss to the Seattle Seahawks on the road.
The Rams’ early-season wins over Seattle and Tampa Bay seem like a long time ago, though. Four losses since then have come by a touchdown or less, as Los Angeles has struggled to play well in fourth-quarter crunch time. A perfect example: In Week 11 against Miami at home, the Rams blew a 10-0 lead in the final five minutes of the game to lose, 14-10.
Rams On Offense
Los Angeles has the worst-scoring offense in the NFL, averaging just 14.1 points per game this season. The two primary issues have been the disappearance of running back Todd Gurley and inconsistent QB play from both former starter Case Keenum and new starter Jared Goff. Gurley was the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2015, but his sophomore slump has killed the Rams’ offense in 2016.
Without that balance, the under-talented Keenum and the inexperienced Goff have struggled to take advantage of the roster’s talented receiving corps, and Los Angeles has not been able to put together sustained TD drives this year with any regularity at all. The Rams are dead last in the league when it comes to making first downs and converting third downs.
Rams On Defense
The Los Angeles defense has been put under tremendous strain this year, due to the offense’s issues. The Rams actually ranked 11th in the NFL for yards allowed, demonstrating the talent on this side of the football. But when the offense can’t keep itself on the field, the L.A. defense gets tired in the second half of games, and that’s when it’s been needed the most, of course.
Linebackers Mark Barron and Alec Ogletree anchor the unit, while defensive tackle Aaron Donald always is capable of getting to the opposing QB. This Rams defense seems to lack the bite it used to, thanks to injuries in the front seven. DT Michael Brockers and defensive end Robert Quinn have half the total sacks they did last season, for example.
Rams Players To Watch
Stopping Gurley is the key to stifling the Los Angeles offense. The 49ers have the worst rushing defense in the NFL, which means they may find it hard to stop a talent like Gurley, especially this late in the season on the road. Last year at home against San Francisco, Gurley ran for 133 yards on 20 carries against the 49ers, and if he can do that again, it will be a long day for the San Francisco defense with Goff throwing the ball effectively.
The Niners have been giving up chunks of yardage to opposing RBs all year, and even though Gurley is slumping, the Rams should be able to run the ball enough to give Goff a chance to throw the ball. Both teams obviously aren’t playing well right now, and with Los Angeles and its home-field advantage here on a short week, look for the Rams to win a close one despite a 49er comeback attempt in the final quarter.