SANTA CLARA – The 49ers got an up-close look at what Rams running back Todd Gurley could do last season when he tore off a 71-yard touchdown run in just his fourth NFL start.
On Monday, Gurley was the focus of the 49ers’ defensive game plan. And after carrying the ball 17 times, all he had to show for it was 47 yards in the 49ers’ 28-0 victory over the Los Angeles Rams.
It was the 49ers’ first season-opening shutout in club history.
“Todd Gurley is one of the elite running backs in this league and on defense we took that personally,” said linebacker NaVorro Bowman, who recorded nine tackles and an interception. “The defense had to carry the weight this week and I think we did that.”
The 49ers’ defensive dominance was across the board. The Rams could not run the ball. They could not throw the ball. And they could not hold onto the ball. The 49ers forced two turnovers and Rams punter Johnny Hekker was called on to punt 10 times. The Rams’ offense had seven three-and-outs.
“You always want to create turnovers and get the ball back to the offense,” 49ers safety Antoine Bethea said. “We were able to get some pressure on the quarterback and we held a good running back to 47 yards. This is definitely a game we can build off of.”
The 49ers wanted to slow down Gurley and challenge Rams quarterback Case Keenum to beat them. Defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil dialed up a variety of blitz packages with an array of coverage schemes on the back end.
"I thought we had a good plan," O'Neil said. "I thought our guys executed it very well.
"We still have more. We didn't unload every bullet that was in the chamber tonight."
Keenum completed just 17 of 35 passes for 130 yards with inside linebackers Bowman and Ray-Ray Armstrong recording interceptions. Ahmad Brooks and Arik Armstead recorded sacks.
“We just focused on stopping the run, making them one dimensional and forcing them to throw,” 49ers cornerback Jimmie Ward said. “I think the defensive line did a great job putting pressure on the quarterback all game and the linebackers held up, too.”
The 49ers also zeroed in on Rams wide receiver Tavon Austin, who recently signed a four-year, $42 million contract. Keenum threw 12 passes toward Austin, but only four of them were completed – netting a measly 13 yards.
“It was a great game plan by coach O’Neil,” Ward said. “Our game plan was to stop number 30 (Gurley) and number 11 (Austin) because you know they want to get the ball to their playmakers. I think we did a really great job at that today.”