The Los Angeles Rams have only one more win through five weeks this season (four) than they did a year ago, but it certainly feels like the 49ers are going to play against a much different team in Week 6.
Some of that is due to roster turnover, with running back Todd Gurley and wide receiver Brandin Cooks among the departures this offseason. Most of it is down to the Rams winning four or five to open 2020, evoking memories of their 2018 NFC Championship run in the process.
Arik Armstead said the Rams don't look too different to him, but the defensive end noticed a key difference between this year and last.
"I think they're more efficient this year in what they do, and they're sticking to what they do," Armstead said Wednesday on 95.7 The Game's "Damon, Ratto & Kolsky." "They're staying ahead of the chains, being very efficient, not getting in bad situations and playing good situational football. That's the only thing that kind of looks different to me than the past, so ... we're gonna have our hands full trying to put them in bad situations."
No team has gained more first downs running the ball than the Rams (49), and only five have rushed for more yards. LA was second and third, respectively, in those categories in 2018, but 16th and 26th in '19. In all, the Rams are averaging an additional half-yard per play on offense compared to 2019 and turning the ball over at a lower rate.
Quarterback Jared Goff has something to do with that last point. He threw 16 interceptions and fumbled 10 times last season, but Goff has four combined turnovers -- three picks and just one fumble -- in five games in 2020. Goff also is completing what would be a career-high 71.7 percent of his passes and averaging what also would be a career-high 9.0 yards per attempt.
One of the 49ers' biggest defensive strengths this season could be more important than any to hampering the Rams' offensive efficiency. The 49ers' opponents have converted just 38.1 percent of third downs, while the Rams have moved the chains on 49.3 percent of theirs. Injuries at every level of the defense will make it difficult for the 49ers to repeat last season's Week 6 performance, in which the Rams failed to convert a single third or fourth down, but their late-down defense will be no less important.
At 2-3 and with a difficult schedule coming up, the reigning NFC West champion 49ers are staring down a role reversal in the division like the Rams experienced last season. Beating LA would inspire much more confidence moving forward.
If Armstead's right and the Rams are more like last year's iteration than their record lets on, the 49ers might be able to do just that.