49ers can put Rams in huge division hole in L.A.Reuters | Los Angeles | Updated: 12-10-2019 02:53 IST | Created: 12-10-2019 02:52 IST
The only unbeaten team in the NFC faces its toughest test Sunday afternoon when the surprising San Francisco 49ers visit the defending conference champion Los Angeles Rams at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum. Less than a year after earning the No. 2 pick in the draft by virtue of a four-win season, the 49ers (4-0) find themselves sitting atop the NFC West after sweeping a pair at home from Pittsburgh and Cleveland following wins at Tampa Bay and Cincinnati.
The 4-0 start is the franchise's first since 1990, when they went 14-2 and reached the NFC Championship Game. The Rams (3-2), meanwhile, have lost two in a row after running stride for stride with the 49ers through three weeks. The first loss was at home to the Bucs, three weeks after the 49ers' season-opening road win in Tampa.
The pairing features the NFL's second-ranked defense (the 49ers at 257.5 yards allowed per game) against a Rams offense that has yet to recapture its 2018 magic, yet nonetheless ranks fifth in the league in yards per game at 413.6. But that Los Angeles offense could be without one of its biggest weapons, as running back Todd Gurley (left thigh contusion) is listed as doubtful to play in the game.
"I think we just want to take it a day at a time," head coach Sean McVay said of the Rams' approach with Gurley earlier in the week. "A lot of these conversations entail (how Gurley is) feeling, what kind of progress does he make throughout the course of the week." Though he has been healthy for all five games this season, Gurley has seen his workload cut dramatically thus far in 2019 relative to 2018. He has 42 fewer touches, 307 fewer yards and four fewer touchdowns this season compared to his statistics through five games last season.
The Rams ruled out cornerback Aqib Talib (ribs) for the contest. Like Gurley, Talib did not practice this week. As for the 49ers, while labeling the club "an excellent team with no weaknesses," McVay took time on his national conference call Wednesday to single out rookie defensive end Nick Bosa. The No. 2 overall pick put on quite a show in the club's 31-3 shellacking of Cleveland in the Monday night spotlight with two sacks, a forced fumble and fumble recovery.
"(He's) relentless," McVay said. "A mature player for a rookie. He's got a great feel, a great motor, a lot of the same things that you see, really, from their entire group up front. They do an excellent job rotating guys, and they play with an energy, you know, snap to whistle. "You hear them say, 'All gas, no brakes,' and that's what it looks like when you watch them play."
After harassing Baker Mayfield into two interceptions, a lost fumble and four sacks on Monday, the 49ers will set their sights on Jared Goff, who has dominated them the last three times he's seen them. Goff has as many interceptions as touchdown passes (seven) this season, but since the start of the 2017 season, he's thrown nine TD passes without an interception against the 49ers, going 55 of 78 for 693 yards.
The Rams have run up 41, 48 and 39 points in those wins. Interestingly, Goff has never gone head-to-head with the 49ers' Jimmy Garoppolo, who missed both meetings last season -- 39-10 and 48-32 Rams wins -- after blowing out his knee in Week 3.
Garoppolo's only start against the Rams since joining the 49ers in an in-season trade in 2017 was the regular-season finale that season, when Los Angeles rested starters in preparation for the upcoming playoffs. Garoppolo led the 49ers to a 34-13 road win in that game. Garoppolo will be without one key member of his supporting cast in the showdown, with fullback Kyle Juszczyk having sprained the MCL in his left knee in Monday's win. The blocking and pass-catching specialist is expected to miss 4-6 weeks.
"'Juice' does so much for this offense ... the versatility," Garoppolo told reporters Wednesday of Juszczyk. "He does things that most fullbacks can't do. He's catching passes out of the backfield, diving for catches while also cutting a (defensive end) on the backside. It's little things like that. It'll be important for us to get that just with other people." The 49ers lead the all-time series 68-67-3, plus a 30-3 home win in the NFC Championship Game in January 1990.