The undefeated, NFC-leading 49ers traveled south for a matchup with the division-rival Los Angeles Rams Sunday at the LA Memorial Coliseum. Coming off a thumping of the Cleveland Browns on Monday night, San Francisco shined its brightest — at least defensively — in its toughest test yet, improving to 5-0 with a 20-7 drubbing of the Rams.
Both teams entered the game riddled with injuries. The Rams (3-3), without star running back Todd Gurley, spent all afternoon in search of an offensive difference-maker. The 49ers (5-0), who are without tackles Joe Staley, Mike McGlinchey and fullback Kyle Juszczyk, saw their running attack stymied for the first time this season. But, behind a defensive masterpiece and a very efficient day from Jimmy Garoppolo (24-of-33, 243 yards, 1 rushing TD), the 49ers put an exclamation point on their undefeated start.
The 49er o-line faced a new challenge: Aaron Donald
The back-to-back defensive player of the year got to Garoppolo beating rookie left tackle Justin Skule, forced into action with the injuries to Staley and McGlinchey.
The resulting drive ended in an eight-yard pitch to Robert Woods, putting the Rams up 7-0 early and handing the stingy San Francisco defense its first rushing touchdown allowed this year.
After the Rams hot start, the 49ers defense made some quick adjustments. Defensive Coordinator Robert Saleh discussed how important those adjustments were for the remainder of the game:
“We just had to get a grasp of what kind of runs we were getting, and then what we can do without disrupting the structure of the defense. … I thought the guys did a great job executing, the coaches did a great job coaching it, and we were able to put all that stuff together.”
With just over eight minutes left in the 4th quarter, Donald forced a fumble from Garoppolo, which was taken back by the Rams into their own red zone.
What could have been a game-changing play for the Rams resulted in another dominant defensive stand by the 49ers.
All told, the Los Angeles offense was stopped on fourth down four times. The stout 49er defense was also a perfect 9-for-9 stopping the Rams on third downs.
Still, Donald made his impact felt all game, finishing the afternoon with seven tackles and two sacks.
Tough game for 49ers runnings backs on the ground, and through the air.
The backbone of the 49ers offense is the speedy, explosive backfield that has thrived under Kyle Shanahan. The 49ers answered the Rams early touchdown with a drive that tied the game at seven apiece when Coleman punched it in from two yards out capping off a 10-play, 75-yard drive.
The 49ers running game was contained well by the Rams defense, though.
As a team, the 49ers finished with 99 yards on 41 attempts (2.4 YPA), their lowest average of the season. The skilled running back corps was also held to just 43 combined receiving yards on six catches.
Pressure on Goff was game-changing
The 49ers may not have a player of Donald’s caliber, but they do have one of, if not the best defensive lines in the NFL.
Jared Goff spent much of the afternoon on the run and forced into quick reads finishing with a career-low 78 passing yards.
Trailing 17-7 late in the third quarter, Goff dropped back on first down and was blown up by Solomon Thomas. The 49ers second sack of the game forced a Rams punt.
Goff was sacked four times, with Dee Ford’s 1-1/2 sacks leading the way for San Francisco.
Following the game, Richard Sherman spoke to the national opinion of many that his team, despite a 4-0 start, falls into the ranks of pretender rather than contender:
“It’s business as usual. The previous performances should have been enough to get these guys [49ers defense] the respect they deserve. Dee Ford played outstanding today, DeForest [Buckner], Arik [Armstead] made a huge impact in the run game and the pass game. We came in here without both of our starting tackles; we came in here without our starting corner; we lost our nickel [cornerback] in the middle of the game; without our fullback. We can make every excuse in the world, but we don’t. We go out there and execute, we go out there and play at a high level.”
George Kittle can’t, and won’t be stopped
Kicking off the second quarter, the 49ers marched down the field, only to turn the ball over in the Rams endzone. The highlight of the drive was a massive gain from Garoppolo to Kittle for 45 yards.
Kittle caught four passes for 61-yards through three 49er drives. Heading into half time, Kittle had caught seven passes for 94-yards.
Kittle’s final stat line: 8 receptions, 103 yards
Turnovers and opportune scoring
The Rams received the kickoff to begin the second half, and immediately fumbled into the arms of Arik Armstead. It looked as if Goff mishandled the snap, which gave the 49ers the ball in Rams territory. After a couple of red-zone passes from Garoppolo, and a run by Coleman, the 49ers punched the ball into the end zone on a one-yard Garoppolo keeper. The score was 14-7 49ers.
Garoppolo turned the ball over twice but it didn’t matter. The 49ers defense bailed him out and made Goff and the Rams look silly.
Another week, another statement made by the 49ers
Leaving Los Angeles 5-0 after beating a division rival, the 49ers have proven to the last bit of doubters that they are indeed for real. After the rough start on the first Rams scoring drive, the 49ers defense stood tall and shut out the Rams offense from there on out.
Kyle Shanahan said:
“I thought it was huge, just the way they battled all day. You know that first drive, I haven’t been apart of many first drives where we see the team run it eight times in a row, just right down your throat. For that to be it, the way the guys recovered after that, that was a hell of a deal. They kept battling, and we went in with some guys down which was a huge challenge.”
The 49ers are clicking on offense and especially defense. What more could you ask from a perfect 5-0 team? Shanahan wants to see more from his NFC-best squad:
“I’m very happy with how we played. We’re 5-0, which is a great thing, but we’re not playing our best ball. We can do a lot of things better. It looked like our defense played at an extremely high level except for that first drive. We can continue to get better on offense, we can continue to get better on special teams. I also think our defense is just getting started too.”
Stunning the Rams at home, the 49ers remain undefeated headed into a very winnable game in Washington. They will continue their road trip, and next up is Washington (1-5).
The 5-0 49ers are one of two unbeaten teams (Patriots 6-0). Asked about a potential playoff push, Jimmy Garoppolo said his 49ers are just focused on winning now:
“The mindset we have in that locker room is one game at a time. It’s been like that the whole season, and I don’t think it’s going to change. I think as long as we keep that focus and don’t look too far ahead and don’t dwell on what happened in the past, I think we’ll be in a good spot.”
The 49ers defense backs have been stellar so far this season, even the backups, and starting safeties Jaquiski Tartt and Jimmie Ward are very underrated, according to Richard Sherman.
One factor to the electric atmosphere on the 49ers sidelines was the abundance of 49ers fans that were in attendance. Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum was overtaken by 49er Faithful, and it was loud. As time ticked off the clock in the 4th quarter, the stadium was pretty much all 49er fans.
Seemingly for the first time all season, there were no major injuries sustained. Both Richard Sherman and Deebo Samuel had what Kyle Shanahan called “stingers,” but that was about it. The 49ers stayed healthy today, and they needed to.