Rams/49ers Thursday Night Football Preview

The Los Angeles Rams will go to battle against the San Francisco 49ers on Thursday night in a California clash. Jared Goff and company are looking for their first win against the 49ers since moving to Los Angeles. The Rams dropped two games to San Francisco in 2016. Both upstart teams are trending positively this year following busy offseasons for the franchises. Kyle Shanahan hopes to bring a winning culture back to the 49ers, while Sean McVay looks to lead the Rams to their first winning season since 2003.

McVay and Goff have already seen early returns through the season’s first two weeks. The QB guru credited for the emergence of Kirk Cousins has helped instill an offense to work with Goff’s strengths. Adding in pass-catching targets Sammy Watkins and Cooper Kupp has surely helped, as Goff is completing 66-percent of his passes with a 103.1 QB rating. Goff’s costly interception in the closing minute of last week’s Redskins game wasn’t a shining moment, but his first two performances have equated to massive improvements from his rookie year.

Greatly aiding Goff is backfield mate Todd Gurley. Gurley has starred through the Rams two games — recording 232 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns. A rough sophomore season and a weak offensive line had many doubting Gurley’s ability to produce. However, he’s looked great as the Rams’ bellcow back thus far.

San Francisco has a great back of their own in former Buckeye Carlos Hyde. Hyde was unstoppable against the Seahawks last week — gaining 124 yards on 15 carries (including a 61-yard rip in the second quarter). As long as he can stay off the disabled list, Hyde is a big factor — and unequivocally the single best player on the 49ers offense.

Although both teams flash a few intriguing playmakers on the offensive end, this match-up will be decided by the defenses. The Rams own one of the very best defensive groups in the league, while the 49ers have one of the youngest.

Star defensive tackle Aaron Donald will make his second start of the season following a lengthy offseason holdout. San Francisco has welcomed Navorro Bowman back this year, and he’s played great after missing almost the entirety of the 2016 season. Unfortunately for the 49ers, they’ll be without rookie Reuben Foster and Pro Bowl safety Eric Reid. Both sustained injuries in Week 1 and Week 2, respectively.

Without either Foster or Reid, Goff and McVay will look to attack the middle of the field. Kupp has led the team in targets thus far this season, and could be utilized out of the slot to expose San Francisco’s defensive deficiencies. Gurley has been great catching passes out of the backfield as well (8 receptions through two games). He’s too fast for the 29-year old Bowman, and too good for the rest of San Francisco’s inexperienced backers.

On the other end, San Fran will look to get Hyde involved early and often — keeping the ball out of QB Brian Hoyer’s hands as much as possible. Pierre Garcon is very tough, and Marquise Goodwin is very fast. With that said, it’ll be difficult for them to get any separation with the Rams’ dominant pass rush.

If Hyde can keep up his gaudy 7.0 yard per carry average, the 49ers could have Levi’s Stadium rocking all night long. Otherwise, the Rams take this with their talented defense and developing offense.

Prediction: 17–9 Rams

Sources: Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY Sports, Brad Rempel/USA TODAY Sports, MercuryNews