Hope you had a safe and memorable Thanksgiving, everyone.
For those of you experiencing hardship this holiday season at the end of a trying 2020, we hope that Rams football is bringing you some solace and joy.
And it's not just the performance of the players and staff between the lines. The way Rams like Cooper Kupp and Jalen Ramsey continue to invest in the community is worth calling out this week and every week.
Now, I know the team would like to gift everyone a win over the rival 49ers, who are 4-3 against the Rams since 2017. No other opponent has beaten the Rams more than twice since Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay were hired at the start of that year.
Kupp Half Full
Because one of the lasting memories of the Week 6 loss was the odd disconnect between Jared Goff and Kupp, I wanted to circle back on what they've done since that Sunday night in Santa Clara.
The Rams' slot receiver has been targeted 46 times for 33 receptions and 348 yards. That's a catch rate of 72 percent and an average of 87 yards per game – both comfortably above Kupp's career levels.
While they haven't linked up on a scoring play in the last six outings, that Niners defeat really was a blip on an otherwise sterling radar.
It was a confidence-building win in Week 11 for Goff, who was markedly improved from empty sets and against the Buccaneers blitz.
The interceptions were a nuisance, I understand. And no question he, Kevin O'Connell and Sean McVay are working hard to minimize those miscues even further. After only four picks through seven games, Goff has thrown four in the Rams last three outings.
I just want to point out that interception percentage – and really, turnover-worthy plays – are of much greater importance than raw interception numbers.
Against a tremendous run defense in Tampa Bay, the Rams asked Goff to put it up 51 times (61 in Miami). His season-long rate is still well below last year's concerning 2.6 percent and in line with his 2018 Pro Bowl campaign.
How about the fact he was not sacked despite the pass-happy approach? Nice design by McVay and execution by the Rams, including new left tackle Joe Noteboom.
Los Angeles gets another solid run defense this week – perhaps not as stout as the Bucs, who held the Rams to a grand total of 37 yards on the ground Monday night, but still top 10 in the league.
Nonetheless, the Rams managed a robust 5.95 yards per attempt in their first collisions with the Niners, and I'd envision a return to a more balanced offensive approach this Sunday.
The Rams last 30-point game was October 11 at Washington.
My prediction of the week is that they'll go for 30-plus on Sunday and average 30-plus in their remaining six games. This group feels poised to break out, and despite missing from 44 yards in his L.A. debut, I'm bullish on Matt Gay as the long-term answer in the kicking game.
Defensive Deep Dive
Here's a bit of context for what the Rams defense has accomplished so far.
The 2020 NFL season in on track to set record levels for cumulative points (49.2), yards (718.3), and fewest giveaways (2.6) on a per game basis. It's an increasingly offensive league, littered with prolific offensive talent, especially at the quarterback position. And that only amplifies the accomplishment of Brandon Staley's unit.
At 17.1 offensive points per game allowed, they're the best in the league.
Their 3.9 offensive points allowed in second halves is the lowest since at least the 2000 Ravens (4.5), and by a wide margin. (We're actively working to extend that comparison even farther back in time and will update accordingly.)
And in the last two games, against future Hall of Famers Russell Wilson and Tom Brady, the Rams have vaulted up to a tie for seventh in the NFL in takeaways. They're now averaging 1.5 per outing.
Always Be Closing
Which leads us to the offenses they'll face in the closing stretch:
SF - 18
ARI - 11 (twice)
NE - 19
NYJ - 31
SEA - 4
That's an average of 16th in offensive efficiency, with only one top 10 offense left on the schedule. And here's my weekly reminder that the Rams are long overdue to score a defensive touchdown.
Ahead of Sunday's Week 2 matchup, check out photos of the Rams taking on the San Francisco 49ers through the years, from the earliest matchups to the Rams' NFC Championship victory!
Man in the Middle
Without starting inside linebacker Micah Kiser, who was placed on injured reserve following a knee injury suffered at the end of Monday's win, it will be interesting to monitor snap counts.
Troy Reeder had three sacks in Washington the last time he got his opportunity. So perhaps he's the only substitute the Rams will need.
But if some creativity is required, edge Justin Hollins played some off-ball linebacker for Staley in Denver. And Leonard Floyd has that flexibility as well. A practice squad call-up is always an option, as Derrick Moncrief popped up for the Dolphins game.
The Rams have yet to beat 49ers starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who unfortunately has missed a good bit of time due to injury since being traded to San Francisco and is once again on the injured list.
While Jimmy G is a perfect 4-0 against the Rams, the other Niners signal-callers are 0-3 since 2017. That includes this week's starter Nick Mullens, who was at the helm for the 2018 finale at the Coliseum and passed for three touchdowns and three interceptions in a 48-32 Rams triumph.
If You Don't Know Deebo, Now You Know
Like many of you, I enjoyed the back-and-forth between Aaron Donald and Deebo Samuel back in October.
I don't envy the 49ers, facing the all-everything defensive tackle as he looks to break out of a two-game stretch without a tackle, much less a sack.
Against the Niners, maybe his presence will be as colossal as it was on the SoFi Stadium canopy during MNF.
Home for the Holidays
According to NFL Research, teams are finally finding some traction in their home venues.
Home teams are 20-8 (.714 win percentage) over the last two weeks, compared to .492 over the first nine weeks of 2020 – a figure that was bolstered by the Rams 3-0 mark to that point in the season.
The remaining undefeateds at home are Pittsburgh (5-0, also unbeaten overall), the Seahawks (5-0) and the Rams (4-0).
Inglewood will host four of the Rams' final six.