Continuing our series of offseason breakdowns following the 2021 schedule release, theRams.com examines the Rams' Week 10 Monday Night Football road opponent (Levi's Stadium, Nov. 15, 5:15 p.m. PT, ESPN) and Week 18 home opponent (SoFi Stadium, Jan. 9, 1:25 p.m. PT, FOX – TICKETS | SUITES), the San Francisco 49ers.
For a 49ers team look to bounce back from the previous season's Super Bowl LIV loss to the Chiefs, its 2020 campaign dubbed as the "Revenge Tour" was far from what they envisioned.
By early November, 22 players were out injured, including star defensive end Nick Bosa, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and tight end George Kittle. An additional eight players had missed at least one game.
San Francisco managed a 4-4 record by that point, but the injuries eventually took their toll: A 2-6 record over its final eight games led to a 6-10 overall finish and prevented its chance at making a repeat run to the Super Bowl.
Robert Saleh, who had been the 49ers' defensive coordinator since 2017, was hired as the Jets' next head coach. To replace him, San Francisco promoted former linebackers coach DeMeco Ryans.
After Saleh brought pass game coordinator Mike LaFleur with him to New York to serve as the Jets' offensive coordinator, it appears the 49ers allocated LaFleur's responsibilities to Bobby Slowik, who was promoted to offensive passing game specialist after serving as an offensive assistant the last two seasons.
A little over a month before this year's NFL Draft, San Francisco traded up nine spots in a blockbuster deal that sent its No. 12 pick, a 2022 third-round compensatory pick and first-round picks in 2022 and 2023 to the Miami Dolphins for the third overall pick. That No. 3 pick was used to take North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance.
Of the 49ers' remaining six selections, four were spent further addressing the offensive side of the ball. They grabbed Notre Dame offensive guard Aaron Banks in the second round (48th overall), traded up with the Rams to get Ohio State running back Trey Sermon in the third round (88th overall), used the earlier of their two fifth-round selections on Western Michigan offensive guard Jaylon Moore (155th overall), then grabbed Louisiana running back Elijah Mitchell with the final selection (sixth round, 194th overall).
In free agency, San Francisco has yet to re-sign veteran cornerback Richard Sherman following the expiration of his three-year deal at the beginning of the new league year, making him an unrestricted free agent. However, Sherman would reportedly welcome a return to either the Bay Area or the team that originally drafted him in the Seattle Seahawks. The 49ers' most notable signings so far have been former Rams outside linebacker Samson Ebukam (two-year deal) and veteran wide receiver Mohamed Sanu (one-year deal).
Kyle Shanahan enters his fifth season as head coach of the 49ers, compiling a 29-35 regular season record with one playoff appearance (2019, NFC champions) through his first four years with the franchise.
What to watch for
Rams defense vs. whoever starts at quarterback for the 49ers
One of the themes of the Rams' schedule has been opponents with uncertain quarterback situations, and that's the case here with the 49ers.
The Rams' defense will either be preparing for the veteran Garopollo or highly-touted rookie Lance, respectively, though the direction it takes will likely depend on Garoppolo's health and Lance's development.
Lance was widely viewed as someone who would need time to develop due to his lack of experience and making the jump from the FCS level to the NFL.
However, Garoppolo's injury history is also a factor, too. Should he get hurt again, Lance could end up playing sooner than expected – unless the 49ers feel like Lance needs a full year of learning behind the scenes, in which case they could put one of their two experienced backups (Nate Sudfeld and Josh Rosen) under center instead of Lance.
Competitive reasons could also impact whether to start Garoppolo or Lance in Week 10 or Week 18. For example, if San Francisco is in the playoff hunt with a healthy Garoppolo under center, it might defer to that behind-the-scenes learning rather than forcing Lance into action; if it is out of the playoff picture by either juncture, it might decide getting Lance some live reps would be best for his development and the team as a whole moving forward.