After the much-needed bye, the San Francisco 49ers (4-6) head to Los Angeles to take on the division-leading Rams (7-3) at 1:05 p.m. on Sunday.
The 49ers’ postseason hopes are very much alive, and a season-sweep of their rival would go a long way toward reaching the playoffs.
But just three weeks after the Kendrick Bourne-Covid drama severely hampered the offense, the 49ers are once again dealing with the virus. Seven players are on the Covid list.
As of now, there’s no indication the game will be delayed and it’s entirely possible they get back some, if not all the players in time for Sunday.
Here are five players to watch:
Colton McKivitz/Tom Compton, Right Guard, San Francisco 49ers
Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald entered the first matchup with 6.5 sacks, 13 QB hits and two forced fumbles in five games.
Somehow, San Francisco offensive lineman Daniel Brunskill neutralized the All-Pro.
The 49ers controlled the Rams from start to finish with their rush-attack/short-pass game.
Unfortunately, the 49ers haven’t been able to replicate that success since week seven at New England, due to Deebo Samuel, Jeff Wilson Jr. and Raheem Mostert’s injuries.
For the past two games, the 49ers have shifted their line.
Brunskill moved to center, and a combination of the underwhelming veteran Tom Compton and the rookie Colton McKivitz played right guard.
Brunskill might not be great, but he’s sure better than those two.
If anyone can mask the mismatch between Donald and a lackluster offensive line, it would be Kyle Shanahan.
The potential returns of Samuel, Wilson and Mostert would revitalize San Francisco by adding versatility, speed and athleticism to the stagnant offense.
Shanahan can once again eliminate Donald’s game-breaking ability by utilizing Samuel on quick passes and Mostert/Wilson on outside runs.
Jason Verrett, Cornerback, San Francisco 49ers
The injured captain Richard Sherman might return this week.
With the majority, if not all of Sherman’s recent success coming in zone defense, the 49ers could appeal to his strengths.
They could also rotate their corners in and out depending on the situation.
With the sudden influx of talent, one of the four corners will be sent to the bench.
The one player that should absolutely not lose any playing time is Jason Verrett.
Verrett has played well in both man and zone, been a solid run/screen defender and stuck with plays to force key pass-breakups.
The 49ers were successful in their win over the Rams due in most part to their dominance of quarterback Jared Goff.
The corners kept Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods in check, with Josh Reynolds’ 40-yard touchdown on Emmanuel Moseley being the only wide receiver catch over 15 yards.
The 49ers held the Rams to just 16 points on 311 yards.
But Goff looked great against Tampa Bay this past week. He’ll enter this Sunday with confidence looking for revenge.
Verrett has been the 49ers’ best defensive back this season. They’ll need another lockdown performance to pull off the upset.
Kentavius Street, Defensive Line, San Francisco 49ers
As of Wednesday, three of the seven on the Covid list are defensive linemen (Javon Kinlaw, D.J. Jones and Jordan Willis).
It’s unclear which defensive linemen will even be allowed to travel to Los Angeles, let alone start.
Without Jones and Kinlaw, reserve Kentavius Street would inadvertently become a key player on run downs and one of the most experienced players on the line.
Street, who’s played 12 games and has nine tackles in his career, would accompany second-year Kevin Givens as the two best interior players.
Even if the Covid-affected players are cleared to anchor the line, Street would remain vital to San Francisco.
The lack of practice for the four players would create fatigue issues. Depth becomes essential.
Street, and the other reserves, must step up and control the line of scrimmage.
The Rams love to run the ball. Head coach Sean McVay uses Malcolm Brown and Darrell Henderson to open up the offense and control the game.
The 49ers might need to cycle in bodies to keep everyone fresh.
Samson Ebukam, Outside Linebacker, Los Angeles Rams
In addition to defensive linemen, the 49ers could be without left tackle Trent Williams (Covid list).
After sitting out last season, Williams got off to a slow start in 2020.
His 49ers future looked in doubt, and things got worse when he was forced to sit out against Green Bay.
Yet he was given the biggest favor of all time.
The Packers’ pass-rush duo absolutely demolished backup Justin Skule. Preston Smith beat Skule and forced a Nick Mullens interception, and Za’Darius Smith powered past Skule for a strip-sack.
This sets up edge rusher Samson Ebukam for a big day.
Ebukam will draw either Williams, who’s been out of practice, or Skule, who couldn’t stop anyone in his last game.
With the way Mullens has handled pressure this season, this should create quite the concern.
Mullens holds onto the ball too long and forces easily interceptable passes.
His interceptions against Philadelphia and Green Bay were determining factors in both losses. He was also hit successfully with a lot of blitzes at New Orleans.
The 49ers have to avoid mistakes to win. To do that, they must keep Mullens upright by blocking Ebukam.
Josh Reynolds, Wide Receiver, Los Angeles Rams
The Rams normally focus on running the ball to open up their passing game.
But in Los Angeles’ most recent game, the Buccaneers let them skip step one. The Rams went straight to the air, and succeeded with 376 yards and three touchdowns.
Woods and Kupp combined for 23 catches and 275 yards against Tampa Bay. The formerly stout Buccaneers made Goff look like Patrick Mahomes.
As stated above, Woods and Kupp were shut down in their first game against San Francisco. The duo combined for 40 yards on seven catches.
Reynolds, however, got the best of Moseley for a 40-yard touchdown.
Woods and Kupp are definitely the Rams’ two best receivers, but Reynolds has been solid when targeted.
He’s caught a career-high 61.1% of targets and has 448 yards, two touchdowns and 24 first downs this season.
Reynolds is also a big-play threat. He has six catches of 20-plus yards, and another 13 over 10 yards.
With Sherman’s potential return, the veteran could see Reynolds often, especially on third-and-long.
Given Sherman’s struggles with man-coverage and defending the deep ball in recent seasons, Reynolds could be in for a big play against the aging/injured veteran.
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