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Game Preview: Rams, 49ers Face Off on Thursday Night

Posted Sep 20, 2017

The Rams will face off against the 49ers on Thursday night, kicking off their first road matchup of the year.

The Rams will travel to the Bay Area to face the 49ers in their first road game of the season on Thursday Night Football. Los Angeles will look to build on Sunday’s loss to Washington, where the team tied the contest in the fourth quarter, but ultimately fell 27-20. With a short turnaround this week, the Rams had to move on quickly from that loss, and has been focused on achieving their first divisional win of the season.

“I think if there’s ever a week to have a short memory, it’s this one,” quarterback Jared Goff said.  “Being on a short week — being in a Thursday night game, you have to move on pretty quickly and I think we have.”

“Clearly we didn’t get the outcome that we wanted, but now it’s time to put that one away, learn from the mistakes, and continue to try to do some of the good things as we move forward in San Francisco,” head coach Sean McVay said. “But, what you love about the NFL is you can’t dwell on a win or loss too long — it’s got to be that next-up mindset and mentality.”

Once again, this week’s matchup brings with it a high level of familiarity between the coaching staffs — bringing together former coworkers, roommates, and even family members. For offensive coordinator, Matt LaFleur, this week marks the first time he will coach against his brother, Mike, the 49ers’ wide receivers coach.

Both worked together most recently in Atlanta under current San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan. Plus, he and defensive coordinator Robert Saleh were once roommates at Central Michigan, when they served as graduate assistants for the program.

“Really, I know so many guys on that staff, I’ve coached with a lot of those guys before, whether it was in Houston or in Washington,” LaFleur said. “So I’m sure there will be some mixed feelings because you always want your closest friends and obviously in my brother’s case, I always want them to do well — but not at the cost of our team and what we’re trying to accomplish here.”

The 49ers will be looking for their first win of the season, after coming up short against Seattle last week. On Sunday, San Francisco was dominant defensively, limiting the Seahawks to just one touchdown that came on the last drive of the contest. And although they will be without linebacker Reuben Foster and safety Eric Reid — nwho suffered an ankle and knee injury, respectively — Goff and running back Todd Gurley still acknowledged the challenge that this defense will present them with.

“They’ve drafted really well up front defensively and have consistently for the last few years with Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner and the guy they just got with Solomon Thomas this past year,” Goff said. “They do get their hands up and have the ability to knock passes down. It really does make it difficult at times, so it’s something that we’ve got to be aware of.”

“Last year when we came up there, they stopped everything. We didn’t get it going, but it doesn’t matter,” Gurley said. “At the end of the day, they know what we’re going to do and we know what they’re going to do. It’s about winning one-on-one matchups and going out there and out-whipping your dude more than he does you.” 

Expect the Rams to try and get into an offensive groove early on, presenting the 49ers with a balanced mix of running and passing plays. Although last week, wide receivers like Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods, and Cooper Kupp received limited targets, the focus this week will be on effective ball distribution against a solid San Francisco secondary.

“They’re good. We played them last year so I have some experience with some of the guys they’re returning,” Goff said. “They’re long and have good ability to get across the field. They’ve got some big guys in the back half as well as in the safeties and have the ability to come down hill pretty strong, so it’ll be a good game.”

Through two games this season, Goff and company have shown tremendous improvement from last year, and while they struggled last week, there were some big plays to be remembered — including a 69-yard completion to tight end Gerald Everett, and an incredible Gurley touchdown where he hurdled over his defender to make it into the end zone. 

Overall, the Rams offense has not had as much trouble putting up points on the board this season, but will need to avoid penalties, turnovers, and incomplete passes in order to consistently drive down field and finish.

Defensively, the Rams will aim towards tightening up their run defense, which allowed the Redskins 229 rushing yards with an average of 5.9 yards per carry — the most since the Cardinals put up 268 yards in 2011.

“Well, it’s all on coaching number one. If we didn’t play well, it’s on me,” defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said. “But, yeah, we didn’t play the run very well and we’re upset about that, but we’re going to do something about it. Obviously, the first quarter kind of shocked us and they have a good running game.”

On Thursday, the Rams will match up with yet another team who is expected to focus on the ground game. San Francisco ran for 159 yards against a Seattle defense that is known for being solid against the run. The 49ers’ success came in large part thanks to running back Carlos Hyde, who is currently averaging 7.0 yards-per-carry with 169 yards overall. 

“You have to stop the run first in any game that you play in in this league,” middle linebacker Alec Ogletree said. “If you can’t do that, you leave yourself open for a lot of stuff. We definitely expect them to try to run the ball again, but we’ll be prepared this week. It’s going to take all 11 guys coming down hill and making tackles.” 

And while the Rams defense still has an edge over a 49ers offense that has yet to score a touchdown in two games, the team will still need to focus on correcting the mistakes made against Washington and executing effective coverage against both the run and passing game.

“I think it’s just making sure that we’re sound with gap integrity. But, I think the thing that was encouraging, is that as the game progressed, guys settled in,” McVay said. “Now, what we have to do a good job of is not letting what happened at the early stages of the game happen period. Let’s settle in a little bit sooner, [and] try to alleviate that.” 

As the team continues to adjust to a new 3-4 defensive scheme, many of the players in the front seven have transitioned into new roles this season, including Ogletree and outside linebacker Robert Quinn. And while Ogletree acknowledged the difficulty of learning a new defense, he does not blame the scheme for the team’s defensive struggles in Week 2.  

“Some stuff was us being out of position a little bit and not getting off a block here or there, not staying in our gap,” Ogletree said, “But it wasn’t necessarily not knowing where to line up, that wasn’t really our problem. Some of it was not doing everything correctly throughout the whole play… There’s still a lot of learning to do, but [Wade] makes it simple for us and we feel good about what we’re doing.”

Overall, it should be an exciting contest between two NFC West rivals as the Rams look to beat the 49ers for the first time in three games. The Thursday Night matchup kicks off at 5:25 p.m. For more information on how to watch, click here.