The 49ers beat the Rams for the second time this season, by a final score of 23-20. Kyle Shanahan has now beat Sean McVay four consecutive times, and has a two win edge over McVay in their head-to-head series (5-3).
It was a very impressive win for the 49ers, who won in a fashion they had yet to win in this season. We’ve seen them blow out and control their opponents in previous victories against the Jets, Giants, Rams, and Patriots. But we haven’t seen them put together a win where they had to overcome difficulties, or even a measly three-point deficit. That all changed with the win on Sunday. The team’s style of play was reminiscent of the 2019 season, in terms of how hard they played. As a result, their playoff hopes live to see another week.
Robert Saleh’s defense did a phenomenal job, again, as his unit held the Rams’ offense to only one touchdown for the second time this year. Both Shanahan and Saleh deserve a tremendous amount of credit for how well the banged-up team played against the Rams.
It wasn’t a pretty win, but it was a win to be proud of. With that being said, let’s get into some studs and duds:
1) Offensive Line:
The 49ers offensive line continues to be the worst unit on the team. However, in the first half they actually fared well. Nick Mullens was kept clean for the most part, and Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson were rarely touched before the line of scrimmage.
Then on the final drive of the first half, Aaron Donald split a double-team between Dan Brunskill and Colton McKivitz, who made his first NFL start. Mullens was hit hard, and from that point on the offensive line really struggled.
Communication on the right side of the line continues to be an issue, and that was evident when Mike McGlinchey flailed his arms after Donald beat his block and forced a fumble on Mostert. It looked as if McGlinchey was expecting McKivitz to block Donald.
Mullens was only sacked twice, but was hit a total of seven times. As the 49ers gear up for a playoff push, the offensive line is the unit that needs to improve the most.
1) Deebo Samuel
It’s a pleasure to watch Deebo Samuel play football. Unfortunately he has played in only five of the team’s 11 games this year, but whenever he is on the field his presence is literally felt by his opponents.
Samuel played a vital role in the victory of the Rams, where he posted a stat line of 11 receptions (career-high) for 133 yards. More impressively, Samuel picked up 136 yards after the catch, while 83 of those yards came after contact.
The biggest play on the day for Samuel came on a 3rd and 2, with 1 minute and 55 seconds left in the game. Samuel caught a slant from Mullens, and picked up 24 yards. The 3rd down conversion -- which were very hard to come by in this game -- between Mullens and Samuel would eventually set up Robbie Gould’s game-winning field goal.
2) Jimmie Ward
I have been harsh on Jimmie Ward this season. He was excellent in 2019, after years of largely being considered another 1st round bust by Trent Baalke. And after his solid 2019 showing, he inked a 3 year contract worth $28.5 million.
Up until the game against the Rams, he hasn’t really lived up to that contract. Focusing on his performance against the Rams, he looked deserving of every penny that is going to come his way.
He was making game-altering plays by forcing fumbles, and he was terrific in coverage. Going into this game, Ward forced two fumbles in his entire 73-game career. He doubled that total on Sunday alone. In coverage, he allowed on three receptions for 16 yards, off of eight targets.
It is important to note that Ward played the majority of this game in the box, serving in a strong-safety-type role. With Jaquiski Tartt scheduled to become a free agent, the development of Ward playing strong safety, Tarvarius Moore playing free safety, and Marcell Harris converting to a rover linebacker, could be a glimpse of what’s in store for 2021.
It’d be unfair to expect Ward to force turnovers the way he did against the Rams, every single game. But, if he can continue to thrive in this strong safety role, the contract he received this offseason should no longer be criticized as heavily.
This game can’t be an outlier for Ward, it needs to be something he builds off of.
3) Kerry Hyder
I have a new nickname for Kerry Hyder: The Drive Killer. Hyder’s motor is already so high, maybe the highest on the team, yet he finds a way to turn his motor up even higher on third downs.
In the first half, Hyder hit Jared Goff to force an incompletion on third down. Later on in the first half, he sacked Jared Goff on a 2nd and 11, which resulted in 3rd and 20.
In the second half, Hyder had another hit on Goff to force a 3rd down incompletion. Later on, just like the first half, he followed up his hit with another sack.
Kerry the “drive killer” Hyder now has 7.5 sacks on the year. The mark leads the 49ers, and ranks tied for ninth in the NFL.
4) Special Teams
The 49ers’ special teams unit absolutely killed them in their road loss against the Saints. From giving up long kick returns to muffing punts, you name it, the 49ers’ special team unit committed it.
It was the exact opposite story against the Rams. If it weren’t for a Robbie Gould missed 50-yard field goal right before halftime, I’d say it was a flawless afternoon for the unit.
Gould recovered exceptionally well from his missed field goal, as he went three for three in the second half. Including the game-winning field goal as time expired. Gould is now 16 for 18 on the year.
Punting wise, both as the punting team and returning team, Mitch Wishnowsky and Trent Taylor did their part extremely well.
Wishnowsky punted a career-high seven times, for 357 yards, and pinned the Rams inside their own 15 yard line on multiple occasions.
Taylor had his best outing as a punt returner this season, and bounced back admirably after a blunder against the Saints. Taylor was excellent in his decision making, and when opting to return punts, picked up solid yardage.
His deke on the Rams final punt of the game resulted in a touchback, instead of the 49ers getting pinned deep in their own territory. Taylor’s deception on that specific punt, is the unsung play of the game.
It was a great day for the 49ers special teams unit, including long snapper Taybor Pepper, who has been flawless since taking over for Kyle Nelson.
5) Richard Sherman
Richard Sherman was one of the many 49ers who were welcomed back this week against the Rams. Sherman silenced a lot of his doubters, myself included, and put together a high-quality performance.
In certain ways he does limit the 49ers defense, but there is no denying the team is better when he’s in uniform. He was excellent against the run, picking up a tackle for loss, and used his wits in coverage to intercept Goff.
Aside from Fred Warner, there has been a huge void in leadership. Sherman’s presence will certainly fill a lot of that void for the remainder of the season.
6) Kevin Givens
From the start of this game, Kevin Givens was jumping off the page. On the first play of the game, he got into the backfield to disrupt a running play. A few plays later, he combined with Arik Armstead --who also played very well -- for a tackle for loss. To end the drive, he recovered a fumble forced by Ward. That all happened on the Rams’ first drive of the game.
He was disruptive all day long, and forced the hit on Goff, which resulted in Javon Kinlaw’s first career interception and touchdown. The former un-drafted rookie is really making his presence felt, and he’s a player I’m looking forward to watching the most as the season slowly comes to an end.