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  • Don’t worry about Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan facing off in a contest between the NFL’s youngest coaches. When the Los Angeles Rams take on the San Francisco 49ers on Thursday Night Football, it will be all about the running backs
By Jonathan Jones
September 21, 2017

If you like a battle of running backs, this is the game for you (8:25 p.m. ET, NFLN).

Forget about Jared Goff, the former No. 1 pick who has one win to his name but seems to be turning the corner. Don’t worry about Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan facing off in a contest between young coaches. This game is all about the backs.

Todd Gurley has broken out of Jeff Fisher Hell and has the early signs of being the running back we all thought he could be following his Offensive Rookie of the Year season. On the other side, Carlos Hyde is the only reason to sit through a 49ers’ offensive film session, and he presents the only possible way San Francisco gets its first win of the year tonight.

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Gurley and Hyde enter tonight’s game fourth and fifth, respectively, in yards from scrimmage just two weeks into the season. Gurley is hurdling over defenders for a good balance of 128 rushing yards and 104 receiving yards, while Hyde has shown to be a greater threat on the ground (168 yards) than in the pass game (51 yards).

Both teams are in the bottom third in rush defense, so one could anticipate a big night for the backs as the league continues its running back resurgence. But the Rams now have Aaron Donald back for his second game after rounding into form late on Sunday and he could be a game-changer.

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Impact Player

Rams OLB Robert Quinn. San Francisco quarterback Brian Hoyer has been very bad this year and there’s little hope that will change. To ensure he continues being bad at the most important position in sports, the Rams will need to get just mild pressure on him. The 49ers’ interior offensive line has struggled this season, and they should be so focused on Donald’s disruption that the door will open for Quinn to add to his 1.5 sack total this season.

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Bold Prediction

There will be fewer than 15,000 fans in the stands at kickoff. First of all, the 49ers have drawn abysmal crowds since Levi’s Stadium opened. The crowd in the second half of their home opener looked like a minor league baseball game. Now consider that the opponent is a newly relocated team that barely draws support in its own city. And finally, think about the fact that kickoff is about 5:30 p.m. local time. Are the good people of the Bay Area going to take a half-day at work to make it over in time to see this slobberknocker?

Pick

Rams, 18-10

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