Monday, and then again in Week 8 on October 30 at SoFi Stadium.
By then, it will have been five meetings within a 12-month span.
If familiarity breeds contempt, then this feud is finally back at full tilt.
Upon the Rams return to Los Angeles, it took a while for the San Francisco 49ers to level up and match their consistency in contention. But ever since 2019, this has become the fully-fledged rivalry that it's always been to the cities, the regions, and the fan bases.
What makes it even more intriguing this time around is that the locker rooms are dialed in, too, with neither side holding back their bulletin board material.
Going into Week 4, both franchises feel like they haven't played a complete game yet.
Something tells me this Monday Night Football collision will bring out the best in each of them.
Scheduling Trick or Treat?
When the schedule was released, I was stunned to see where these games were placed: both shoehorned into October.
Surely, after the 2021 thriller in Week 18 and the NFC Championship Game they'd just played, the NFL would have lined this rivalry up for the stretch run? Instead, the two best in the West are done with each other as of Halloween – unless there's another postseason meeting.
I understand the unruly challenge schedule-makers have each spring, and just because it's your most important game doesn't always translate to the NFL needing to showcase it in December and January.
But I wondered then and do again now if there was some uncertainty as to whether the Niners (or the Cardinals for that matter) were really going to challenge the Rams in 2022.
And if there was some thought that the Rams might run away with the NFC West, then by all means, make them right!
A game up on the division, L.A. can separate even further by sending San Francisco to 1-3.
While the Rams are flying to the Bay Area on Sunday, what if a pair of road underdogs both lose?
Before L.A. plays in Week 4: Seattle is at Detroit; Arizona is at Carolina.
So there's a scenario where at 5:15 p.m. on Monday, the Rams will be taking the field with a chance to go two games up on the entire division, with head-to-head road wins over the Cardinals and 49ers.
*Eerily Similar *
But let's pump the breaks, here.
Because now for the third consecutive campaign, when the Rams have run up to Levi's Stadium, the 49ers have been on the ropes. In each of the past two, the Niners have defeated the Rams in Santa Clara to salvage their season.
A year ago, the 49ers were 3-5 before a MNF win over the Rams in Week 10 got them on track to finish 10-7, win two road playoff games, and take a lead into the fourth quarter of the NFC Championship Game at SoFi Stadium.
In 2020, the 49ers were 2-3 before a prime time triumph against the Rams. They got to 4-3 that fall before Garoppolo injured an ankle. (His team crumbled to 6-10 and missed the postseason.)
At 1-2 this time, the 49ers would be far from finished, even if the Rams can win at their place for the first time since 2018. But when your rival is reeling a bit, you don't want to be the opponent they beat to stabilize their season; you want to deliver a haymaker.
Remember How They Ran It
You thought last week in Arizona was a nuisance, watching the Cardinals dink and dunk against soft coverage from a repaired Rams secondary?
I'll take that any week compared to the Week 10 game at San Francisco in 2021: Let's not forget the 49ers ran it 44 times for 156 yards and more than 39 minutes of possession.
That was punishing.
Just how improved is the Rams front against the run, now? Have they truly solved for Kyle Shanahan's schemes?
In the NFC Championship last January, the Rams limited the 49ers to 50 yards on 20 carries.
This year, L.A.'s longest rush allowed is 13 yards, best in NFL. And the Rams run defense is rated fourth in efficiency by Football Outsider's DVOA.
Put The Pads On
Where did they find the physicality to rise to the challenge? Here's one anecdotal answer that we stumbled upon this week.
Last January, before the rematch with San Francisco at SoFi Stadium, the Rams players pushed to have a padded practice.
Defensive back Grant Haley shared that with us on this week's Rams Revealed, which was one of the more poignant episodes we've ever done.
NFL teams rarely have padded practices in-season anymore. Certainly not that late in a season, and the above-the-neck Rams would be among the least-likely franchises to pull that lever.
But their roster felt that would help them lock in for the smashmouth nature of knocking out the Niners, and the results spoke for themselves.
The Bobby Wagner Game
Of course, barring any breaking news, Eric Weddle isn't unretiring again to suit up for Monday Night Football. And we've already been confronted with Von Miller's decision to join the Buffalo Bills.
So this Rams defense will be without a couple of instrumental individuals in that historic win.
But for the first time, they will have Bobby Wagner anchoring them against the Red and Gold.
There were plenty of compelling reasons to sign the future Hall of Famer this offseason. But to my way of thinking, none was more obvious than the solutions he provides against San Francisco.
Alignment, assignment, intuition, institutional knowledge, Jedi mind tricks. Whatever it is – and maybe it's all of the above – Wagner works against the 49ers.
In his career with the Seattle Seahawks, Wagner was 16-4 against the Niners with six sacks, five interceptions, and a touchdown. He also beat them with a 15-tackle performance in the 2013 playoffs, too.
Plug that into the middle of your defense and let's see how it plays.
Garoppolo's never lost a regular season start to the Rams, but he's 2-5 when staring across the line at Wagner.
It seems like 2-1 is a fair representation of who and how the Rams have played so far.
But their power ranking is outpacing their production.
We can be encouraged that without putting their best foot forward, they're alone atop the NFC West standings. Or we could be concerned that they're underachieving relative to their standard.
Offensively, the Rams 20.3 points and 306 yards per game are both at their lowest levels through three games since Sean McVay took over. Some of the lethargy stems from seven turnovers (third-most in the league) plus a giveaway on downs. Matthew Stafford is throwing deep less often and less effectively, so far.
There's some important context, however.
League-wide, teams have scored the fewest points through Week 3 in more than a decade, according to NFL Research. So the Rams aren't alone.
I'd argue that had the Rams not left four touchdowns on the field last week in Glendale (one red zone laser to Allen Robinson II, two downfield throws to Cooper Kupp, and a Cam Akers fumble on the goal line), we wouldn't be having this conversation.
But they did; and we are.
I love the Ben Skowronek hype as much as anyone, and have been driving that bandwagon since the summer – the summer of 2021. However, the Rams aren't anywhere close to being "there" yet, especially not on offense.
And this week, against what could be the best defense in the NFC – and is certainly the most similar challenge to what they faced in the opener against Buffalo – they need to be firing on all cylinders.
Against an improved Niner secondary, they need Robinson to be a true No. 2 target.
To hold a ferocious 49er pass rush at bay will require protection with all 11, clever use of screens, and lightning-fast processing from Stafford.
From game plan to execution, minimizing penalties that disrupt drives, and a turnover-free performance, this figures to be one of those moments where their best is required.
I'm optimistic, and looking forward to measure the progress the Rams have made since opening night.
PRACTICE PHOTOS: Gearing up for Monday Night Football | Rams practice ahead of Week 4 matchup against the Niners
The Los Angeles Rams are preparing to face the San Francisco 49ers on Monday Night Football. Take a look at some of the best photos as Rams gear up at practice.