Onwards For Christian's Soldiers As 49ers Take Over Ram's House

By Rob Ward

Despite it only being week 8, this rematch of last year’s NFC championship game felt like a crossroads encounter. The Rams were off a bye and the favoured narrative in the NFL is good coaches can sort out their problems during this fixtureless fortnight. So, if they were to put up yet another stink bomb on offense after a two-week break, will these issues be simply unfixable?

The 49ers have rotated between good years and injury ravaged disasters the past four seasons. Trey Lance went down early and in recent weeks there have been a slew of key defensive injuries – Emmanuel Moseley, Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead, Dre Greenlaw – whilst star tackle Trent Williams has missed time and Deebo Samuel was ruled out for this game. A defeat against their division rival would send them to 3-5, potentially another lost year when this franchise can afford it least.

Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

The Boys from the Bay have taken a page from the book of their instate, indivision rival Rams and punted on next year’s draft. The Red and Gold are already without their 2023 first rounder after the ‘Lance trade’ with the Dolphins. Ahead of Week 7, they sent their second, third, and fourth round picks for the next draft out the door to bring in Christian McCaffrey, one of the most explosive playmakers in the NFL. The Rams have gone against the grain in the NFL in recent years – angering the old boys who have “you build through the draft” tattooed across their chests – and with it came Super Bowl success. John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan have decided it’s their turn to challenge convention.

Following an exciting cameo in an otherwise miserable loss to the Chiefs last week, all eyes were on CMC in Los Angeles. He didn’t disappoint. He threw to a wide-open Brandon Aiyuk, following some Shanahanigans by way of a Jimmy G lateral, to cancel out Matthew Stafford’s headfirst charge into the pylon that had opened the scoring (and given us a fabulous slow motion closeup).

At the start of the second half, he made a great catch from a Jimmy G scramble and endzone throw to give the 9ers the lead for the first time in the contest. In the fourth quarter he ran up the gut to extend that lead to 10 points and end the game. The man often described as a do-it-all back quite literally did it all. The 49ers fans, the Faithful, who had once again turned Ram’s House into their own backyard were raucous. After an underwhelming start to the season, including defeats to average-at-best opponents in Chicago, Denver and Atlanta, this was a major shot in the arm.

Less so for Los Angeles, whose offensive woes continue, despite some promising first half drives and a 14-10 lead at the interval. The problems with the O-Line have been well documented. Matthew Stafford has struggled. Cooper Kupp is still the only show in town in the receiving department (Ben Skowronek anyone? No? Me neither).  As for the running game, with former second round pick Cam Akers cast further away than Tom Hanks and a volleyball, Los Angeles turned to undrafted rookie Ronnie Rivers. He sounds like a cancelled northern comedian from the 70s and he played like one too. It’s an indication of how little they think of Darrell Henderson Jr, whose time in SoCal has swung between being injured and being crap, with an occasional touchdown to offer fantasy managers a series of false dawns.

Postgame, McVay was keen to gently nudge the focus onto a defense that collapsed in the second half, no greater exemplified than backup tight end Ross Dwelley being left completely alone to waddle his way down towards the ten-yard line and setup Big George Kittle’s touchdown. There are problems there for sure, having conceded big against the Bills, Falcons and both matches with San Francisco, through missed tackles and blown coverages. But this unit has still given up the fifth fewest yards per game on the year. It’s the offense that’s the problem here…

Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

We can’t finish an analysis on the 9ers without the latest on Jimmy Garoppolo. This was one of his better games. His QBR of 81.2 is comfortably the highest of his season, as is a passer rating of 132.5. Does that reassure you that he won’t chuck a couple of picks and lose a fumble when it really matters? Absolutely not. With an exceptional cast of offensive characters and key defensive players returning from injury after their Week 9 bye, the 9ers could roll in a poor NFC. The one nagging doubt will be Jimmy. ‘Twas ever thus. If we get Week 8 Jimmy, this team has Super Bowl potential. If we get postseason Jimmy, then it’ll be another year that ticks by without glory for this über-talented roster.

This is now an eighth successive regular season defeat for McVay against big brother Shanahan and that, combined with the surprise success of the Seahawks, suddenly makes the unthinkable – the Rams missing the playoffs – alarmingly thinkable. The falling confetti and lifting of the Lombardi earlier this year could not feel further in the rear-view mirror.

Fantasy Fallout

AP Photo/Gregory Bull

The 9ers are on a bye next week but beyond that, CMC may well be the number one running back from here on out. George Kittle is back as the third best tight end option behind Kelce and Andrews. QB is bad this year, but with this surrounding talent I fancy Garoppolo as a low-end choice at starter.  The big question now is what does CMC do to Deebo? Samuel is a great player, but I’d expect the rushing attempts – a huge factor in his success in 2021 – to greatly reduce with McCaffrey dominating the backfield. Eli Mitchell and Jeff Wilson should absorb any remaining RB work. That leaves us relying on Deebo to be a target hog to stay a WR1. With Kittle, Aiyuk and McCaffrey, as well as Shanahan’s offensive philosophy, that feels unlikely. If you can trade away based on name value, I would strongly consider it.

Cooper Kupp feels like the only starter on the Rams you can start right now. Tyler Higbee felt like a safe bet once upon a time, but his output has been reduced to such an extent that even with the current tight end landscape (and by current, I mean “it’s like this every F’n year”) you just can’t start him. For the ballsier ones amongst you, there are endless rumours linking Kareem Hunt to the Rams before tomorrow’s trade deadline. That gives you one more day to try get him on your roster if you feel lucky, punk.

Rob Ward


NFL/Fantasy Football Enthusiast