To close out the regular season, the San Franciso 49ers will travel to meet the NFC West champion Los Angeles Rams. In their week three matchup, the teams battled in one of the best games of season. For a majority of the season after that though, the franchises went through very different journeys. With the 49ers in the midst of a massive rebuild the Rams found themselves on the other side of an impressive one-year turnaround.
Over the last month, however, the 49ers have been able to steal some of the spotlight from the division champions. With four straight wins, two of which came against teams vying for the playoffs, the team is beaming with optimism. As the Rams look towards the postseason, the 49ers hope to continue their late season win streak. With two young head coaches and quarterbacks this could be a window into the future of the division. Unfortunately, fans of either team will have to wait until next year to see a matchup of Jimmy Garoppolo versus Jared Goff, as the Rams will be resting their star quarterback along with several other key players.
Here is a look at the three things the 49ers can do to extend their winning streak and set the tone for 2018.
Keep Jimmy G Safe
Both the interior and right side of the offensive line have been exploited by defenses all season. It was pressure from the right side that caused Garoppolo’s interception against Jacksonville last week. Even if star defensive tackle Aaron Donald doesn’t suit up for this game, the Rams boast a very athletic front seven that is loaded with early draft picks. And defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has made a career of generating pressure against opposing quarterbacks. Garoppolo has been able to avoid multiple hits a game by breaking out of the pocket and getting to his hot read against pressure. Diagnosing the defense pre snap has also helped Jimmy maintain an impressive average yards per pass of 8.7 and a completion percentage of 69.
Protecting your quarterback is important in every game, but with the off-season just one game away and eventual contract discussions in the air, having Garoppolo healthy is beyond crucial.
Turn Up the Pressure
The Rams have proven to be one of the league’s best offenses this season. But without their signal caller and MVP candidate running back Todd Gurley, there is less fear of getting caught out of position on defense. The 49ers should make regular visits to the backfield to ensure that they limit chunk plays on the ground and prevent the Rams from initiating play action. The Rams will surely be running with a limited play book given the amount of reserves in the game. If the 49ers can get to the backfield early and often it will keep them in control of the game. Pressure from the defensive front will also increase the likelihood of rushed and tipped passes. In most scenarios those types of passes kill off drives or lead to easy turnovers.
Control Time of Possession
Another metric that most teams want to win on any given week is time of possession. For this game it will help the 49ers offense to get as many plays as possible. Over the course of the season Kyle Shanahan has opened up more of his playbook as Garoppolo’s comfort and command within the system have grown. Closing out the year with a decisive win on the back of a total team effort would be the best way to tie a bow on this year. Winning the time of possession battle flows directly into that, as the longer drives on offense will provide rest for the defense. Keeping the defense fresh will set them up to secure this week’s second key as well.
While their record may not be anything to get excited about, watching this team over the last month has offered plenty of fuel for optimism. The team still has plenty of questions to answer and roster voids to be filled, but the potential of ending the season on a five-game win streak certainly seemed impossible earlier in the year. The buzz surrounding this team and franchise is remarkable and ending the year on an impressive win streak will only add to the exuberance for 2018.
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