To prepare for Thursday night’s game between the Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers, we sat down with FanSided’s Niner Noise to discuss six questions for this NFC West matchup.
On Thursday, the Los Angeles Rams hope to bounce back from their Week 2 loss to the Washington Redskins with a NFC West showdown against the San Francisco 49ers. And even though the Rams lost both meetings against their rivals in 2016, it’s safe to say both teams are in completely different situations this time around.
While Los Angeles made a bold move by making Sean McVay the youngest head coach in NFL history during the offseason, San Francisco was able to land former Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. Even though it’s still early in their head coaching careers, both McVay and Shanahan seem to have a ton of potential with their new positions, which could make this division rivalry even more exciting over the next couple of years.
To help prepare for Thursday’s game, we decided to ask 49ers expert Peter Panacy from FanSided’s Niner Noise (he also did the same with Ramblin’ Fan, which can be found here) six questions related to San Francisco. So without wasting anymore time, here are the six questions we asked Peter ahead of Thursday’s meeting between the 49ers and Rams.
What are your early thoughts on Shanahan with the way the 49ers have looked through the first two games. Was he the right hire?
Honestly, I think the 49ers are right about where we should have expected them to be. Shanahan’s offense is one of the most complex in the NFL. And while a number of the free agents brought in have worked within the system before, the entire offense needs time to jell. It hasn’t happened over two weeks, albeit against two very good defenses. I’m guessing San Francisco, offensively, hits something of an offensive stride midway through the season after the players and coaching staff have gotten more familiar with each other.
Shanahan certainly is the right hire. But like everything else, he’s learning the nuances of being a head coach for the first time in his career.
Plenty of people are making the claim that San Francisco would have won in Week 2 against the Seattle Seahawks with a better quarterback. Is Brian Hoyer the answer for this team or is time for the 49ers to make the switch?
Yeah, that’s probably true. Although Brian Hoyer wasn’t helped much by his receivers, especially remembering that key red-zone drop by Marquise Goodwin. I can’t help but think what the outcome would have been with a slight upgrade under center.
Not like it matters, though. San Francisco isn’t going to make the switch from Hoyer to rookie C.J. Beathard anytime soon, and maybe not at all this season. Hoyer is there as a stopgap option for 2017 to absorb the lumps the Niners offense will surely take before more playmakers can be brought aboard.
In the meantime, what you see is what you get!
Who do you see as the X-factors for each team on Thursday?
Running back Carlos Hyde had a huge game against a tough Seattle Seahawks’ defense, and I imagine this matchup will be one to exploit against the Rams, who gave up a ton of yards on the ground to the Washington Redskins in Week 2. And considering the Niners passing game isn’t working at all, Shanahan’s best offensive approach might be to go this route.
San Francisco’s secondary is a bit banged up, especially at safety, so I’m wondering if tight end Gerald Everett could be a factor if he’s healthy. The Niners did a good job shutting down Seahawks Jimmy Graham last week, but that was coming off a full week of rest.
I can’t rule out Aaron Donald either, especially as I’m still worried about the 49ers interior offensive line. He might have been a bit rusty early, but no one expects that to continue for long. San Francisco switched out offensive guard Zane Beadles for Laken Tomlinson last week. That move worked against a good Seattle front seven, but is it going to remain the case? I’m not sure.
And, of course, it’s always fun to see Jared Goff and how he’ll fare against his boyhood team.
The 49ers were one of the biggest disappointments from a year ago after only winning two games (both against the Rams). What would you say is the biggest difference in this year’s team early on when compared to 2016?
The Niners’ 2016 defense was compounded by two problems — former head coach Chip Kelly‘s uptempo offense and then-defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil‘s overly complex 3-4 defense, which required players to read and react. Expert defenders, of which the 49ers had few, might be able to work well in this scheme, but San Francisco made plenty of mistakes. The defensive stats speak for themselves.
This year, defensive coordinator Robert Saleh switched over to a 4-3 defense like what Seattle is using right now. It’s very simple, calling for maybe 10 plays or so, and relies more on natural reaction rather than thinking.
It must be working, as the Niners have a top-10 defense this year in points and yards allowed — quite a step in the right direction from last year.
If San Francisco ends up winning on Thursday, could they emerge as a surprise contender in the NFC West, or the NFC in general?
While that would be cool, no. The Rams would have a better chance of doing so, not San Francisco. The Niners are going to spend 2017 implementing a new offensive system that will take time to learn. And they need to find their true cornerstones on defense, although some of those are starting to be revealed here. I’m still looking at between four and six wins for San Francisco this year.
While that sounds bad, it’s still a massive improvement over 2016.
Final predictions for the game?
Without sounding like a homer, I think the 49ers pull this off for a couple of simple reasons.
Last week’s loss to the Seahawks didn’t feel like the Niners losses we’ve grown used to the past few years. San Francisco hung around with a top contender in the NFC for over three quarters, even leading at one point in the fourth. And in Seattle! I think Shanahan and Co. uses that for some motivation this week.
Plus, road teams on Thursday Night Football always seem to be at a disadvantage, even if the travel isn’t too bad.