The Los Angeles Rams have gone all-in on the 2021 season.
The 49ers will get their first look at Matthew Stafford, Odell Beckham Jr. and Von Miller on Monday night in a critical NFC West matchup at Levi’s Stadium.
The 49ers are searching for something, anything, that can pull them out of their doldrums.
After opening the season with road wins at Detroit and Philadelphia, the 49ers (3-5) enter Monday’s game as losers of five of their past six games. The Rams (7-2) are battling the Arizona Cardinals for the top spot in the division.
The 49ers are 3.5-point underdogs on their home field -- a place they have not experienced a victory since Oct. 18, 2020, against the Rams.
In order for the 49ers to turn things around, here are five players who must shine under the lights:
5. FS Jimmie Ward
Free safety Jimmie Ward is expected to return to the lineup for the 49ers after missing one game with a quadriceps strain.
Ward figures to be a huge factor in the secondary after a game in which Arizona backup Colt McCoy had his way against the 49ers’ defense in Week 9.
The Rams added Beckham to the mix last week, and he steps onto the field just as starting receiver Robert Woods was lost due to a torn ACL in practice.
Ward is good in coverage and he’s an outstanding tackler. Those are two areas where the 49ers have struggled.
If there’s a knock on Ward, it’s that he has not produced many takeaways in his career. If he can get a read on Stafford, it could go a long way toward the 49ers pulling off an upset.
4. QB Jimmy Garoppolo
Time is running out.
Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is the 18th-ranked passer in the NFL, which feels about right.
There might be flaws with the NFL’s passer-rating system, but it does account for the important elements of competition percentages, yards per attempt, touchdown percentage and interception percentage.
Garoppolo is fourth in the NFL with an average-per-attempt of 8.23 yards.
But his touchdown-to-interception margin of eight to five in seven games points to a problem. There have not been enough game-changing plays in the passing game, and there have been too many mistakes.
Beyond the numbers, coach Kyle Shanahan firmly believes Garoppolo gives the 49ers their best chance to win games. Rookie Trey Lance is the future. And if the 49ers keep losing, that future will likely come sooner than later.
The Rams’ defense will not give the 49ers too many opportunities, so Garoppolo must be on-point and capitalize when he gets his chances to deliver the ball into the hands of receivers Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk and tight end George Kittle.
3. TE George Kittle
Kittle returned to action last week and looked more like his old self.
Kittle caught six passes from Garoppolo for 101 yards and one touchdown after sitting out three games due to a calf injury.
But Kittle also committed a costly turnover when he fumbled in Cardinals territory early in the game. Giveaways are a big reason the 49ers have lost five of their past six games.
Kittle placed a renewed emphasis on the football in the week after that game. He was seen carrying a football around with him everywhere he went at the team’s Santa Clara headquarters.
“It was my choice to hurdle a guy and lack ball security, and that led to a fumble,” Kittle said. “How do I change that? I carry a football around so I’m holding onto it more.”
Kittle is a leader on the team. And it is incumbent on him to set the tone for his teammates and make winning plays.
2. LB Fred Warner
Warner is eager to make an impact. He also knows not to fight it too much.
"I just want to do more," Warner said. "I always want to be the guy. I want to be the one who helps make plays for this defense. And something I’ve learned is the harder you press for that, the less chance you’re going to get that."
In eight games, Warner has no sacks, no interceptions, no forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. The 49ers must get better play from those in front of Warner to enable him to better use his playmaking ability.
Warner should have a busy night. He will remain on the field as the Rams feature predominantly three-receiver formations. Warner will have a lot of responsibilities in pass coverage.The Rams are also effective running the football from their single-back sets.
Warner will be tested in both areas. Rams running back Darrell Henderson is averaging 4.6 yards per carry while rushing for 562 yards and five touchdowns. He also has 19 catches for 144 yards and two TDs.
1. RT Jaylon Moore
Aaron Donald lines up at every spot along the Rams’ defensive line. The team schemes up ways for him to produce the biggest impact possible.
Donald sees most of his action at left end. He will go against Moore, a rookie fifth-round draft pick making his first start at right tackle.
Moore is expected to start in place of Mike McGlinchey, who sustained a season-ending torn quadriceps a week ago.
“He’s one of the best, if not the best player that I've ever coached against in my 15 years or so in the NFL,” 49ers offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel said of Donald. “So in that regard, he's unbelievably disruptive.”
The 49ers have done a commendable job in the past of trying to limit Donald’s effectiveness with their play-calling. Regardless of the direction of the play, Moore will face a challenge unlike anything he has ever experienced on the field.