Instant Replay: 49ers' defense dominates in shutout vs Rams


Instant Replay: 49ers' defense dominates in shutout vs Rams


SANTA CLARA – Playing an up-tempo style nothing like the 49ers have ever shown before, first-year coach Chip Kelly has brought an element of speed to the team.

The 49ers’ offense played with an urgency to get to the line of scrimmage and stress the Los Angeles Rams’ defense. And the 49ers’ defense hit the Rams with multiple substitutions and pressure from all angles.

Moreover, the 49ers backed it all up with a quick dose of success en route to a 28-0 victory over the Rams in the season opener on Monday night at Levi’s Stadium. It was the first opening-game shutout in the history of the 49ers' organization, including the four seasons (1946-49) spent in the All-America Football Conference.

Quarterback Blaine Gabbert picked up some big yards with his legs; he hit new slot receiver Jeremy Kerley on a fourth-down conversion, Carlos Hyde broke free for a touchdown run as the 49ers built a two-touchdown lead in the first half.

Then, the 49ers’ defense dominated hapless Rams quarterback Case Keenum throughout the game and bottled up Todd Gurley from start to finish.

The game was the renewal of an intra-division, intra-California rivalry. After 21 seasons as the St. Louis Rams, the Rams are back in Los Angeles.

Hyde rushed for 88 yards and two touchdowns on 23 rushing attempts to clearly get the upper hand on Gurley, who rushed for 1,106 yards as a rookie in 13 games. Gurley managed just 47 yards on 17 attempts against a swarming 49ers defense.

Hyde, who rushed for 168 yards in the 49ers’ season-opening victory against the Minnesota Vikings a year ago, got into the end zone near the end of the first quarter on a beautifully blocked play that resulted in an 11-yard touchdown run.

The 49ers’ next score of the first half was set up with NaVorro Bowman’s interception of a pass that Quinton Dial tipped at the line of scrimmage.

It took the 49ers nine plays to travel 39 yards, a drive that culminated with Shaun Draughn’s 3-yard touchdown run. Along the way, Kelly rolled the dice for a second time on fourth down. After failing the first time, Gabbert hit Kerley, who made a diving 18-yard catch to the Los Angeles 21-yard line.

The 49ers’ offense bogged down, but managed a 10-play, 77-yard drive to snap a streak of four consecutive three-and-outs. Gabbert hooked up with tight end Vance McDonald on an 8-yard touchdown pass.

But this game was all about the 49ers’ defense, which suffocated Todd Gurley and Keenum all game. Bowman recorded a team-high nine tackles.

Linebacker Ray-Ray Armstrong, who broken into the NFL in 2013 with the St. Louis Rams, recorded an interception at the 49ers’ 18-yard line late in the third quarter to end Los Angeles most serious scoring threat up to that point.

Keenum completed 17 of 35 pass attempts for 130 yards with two interceptions. The Rams converted just three of their 15 third-down opportunities (20 percent).

Meanwhile, Jared Goff, the No. 1 overall pick in the draft from Cal, did not suit up. Goff is the Rams’ No. 3 quarterback behind Keenum and Sean Mannion, who appeared in just one game last season as a rookie.

Gabbert, who won the 49ers’ starting job over Colin Kaepernick, was the best quarterback on the field – without question. Gabbert had an up-and-down outing, but was more than good enough to emerge with the victory.

Gabbert completed 22 of 35 passes for 170 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed for 43 yards on nine attempts. The 49ers converted 50 percent (eight of 16) of their third-down chances while Gabbert was in the game.

Kaepernick entered the game for the 49ers’ finale offensive series. He did not attempt a pass or a run.

O-line shuffle: After projected starting right guard Anthony Davis did not practice Saturday over apparent unwillingness to make the move from tackle official, the 49ers began the game with Andrew Tiller as the starter.

Tiller had a good block on Hyde’s first-quarter touchdown run, but had to exit near the end of the quarter due to an ankle sprain. When the 49ers needed a backup guard, they turned to Marcus Martin while Davis remained on the sideline. Tiller returned to action after sitting out a full series.

The line had a solid game against a strong Rams defensive front. Tiller, Zane Beadles and Joe Staley, along with tight end Garrett Celek, all had blocks that enabled Hyde to get to near the goal line untouched on his touchdown run.

The 49ers frustrated the undisciplined Rams. Defensive tackle Aaron Donald, one of the game’s young stars, was penalized for a late hit on Gabbert and was ejected when he ripped off Quinton Patton’s helmet during a fourth-quarter scuffle.

This ‘n’ that
--Kaepernick and Eric Reid took a knee, as they had promised for the playing of the national anthem. Kaepernick and Reid are protesting to bring awareness to racial inequality in America.

--Gerald Hodges lined up at inside linebacker, alongside NaVorro Bowman, as part of the 49ers’ base defense. Armstrong saw action in the 49ers’ substitute package on nickel downs. Rookie cornerback Rashard Robinson and second-year safety Jaquiski Tartt also saw significant action as part of the 49ers’ defense on passing downs.

--Guard Joshua Garnett, whom the 49ers traded up to select with the No. 28 overall pick, was among the 49ers’ seven inactive players. Marcus Martin served as the backup at center and both guard positions.

--Arik Armstead, the 49ers’ first-round pick last season, did not play at all during the exhibition season due to a shoulder injury. He returned to action on Monday night and recorded a sack in the first half. Armstead had two sacks as a rookie.

--The 49ers were driving for more points in the second quarter when Draughn fumbled after catching a Gabbert pass. The Rams recovered at their own 39.

--The 49ers did not commit a penalty until the 14:20 mark of the fourth quarter when Tiller was called for a false start.

--Gabbert completed a pass to himself in the third quarter, as he ill-advisedly clutched onto a pass that was deflected back at him. Gabbert was dropped for a 16-yard loss on the play.

Chris Simms wouldn't be shocked if 49ers faced Patriots in Super Bowl

Chris Simms wouldn't be shocked if 49ers faced Patriots in Super Bowl

If you're looking for someone to slow down the 49ers' hype train, sorry, NBC Sports' Chris Simms isn't here to help.

Actually, it's quite the opposite.

Simms wants you to know San Francisco's 5-0 record doesn't lack substance, and he expects the 49ers to continue progressing to the highest levels this season.

Are they legitimate Super Bowl contenders?

"Yes they are," Simms told NBC Sports Bay Area on Wednesday. "They're not going anywhere."

"They are arguably the best team in football," Simms continued. "OK, yeah, I'll give the Patriots the advantage right now because they're the Patriots and we've seen them do it, but when I look at the San Francisco 49ers, I look at -- it's a first-round bye. Is it a one-seed, or is it going to be a two-seed? That's how good the San Francisco 49ers are."

Simms has been impressed by San Francisco's depth and balance, particularly within the offensive and defensive lines.

"It starts up front," Simms explained, "and the 49ers -- yes, Mike McGlinchey's out ... and I know Joe Staley's out, and that hurts, and we might not see him the rest of the year -- but when McGlinchey is back in the fold, this is still one of the best offensive lines in football. Let alone, [Kyle] Shanahan is one of the best game-plan designers in football with the run game, the play-action. And the defense ain't going anywhere.

[RELATED: Staley, Witherspoon closest to return among injured 49ers]

"They might be battling it out with the Patriots for the best defense in the sport," Simms elaborated. "It's the best front four in the sport I think right now, as far as size, physicality, ferociousness, their speed at the linebacker positions. I like Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt at safety. The corners are good -- they're coached well."

Put it all together, and Simms believes the 49ers have the potential to play into February.

"The 49ers are for real, and I would not be shocked if we were down in Miami watching New England and San Francisco in the Super Bowl," he said.

Hype train, full speed ahead.

Jalen Ramsey-Aaron Donald best NFL duo? Marcell Harris says this isn't NBA

Jalen Ramsey-Aaron Donald best NFL duo? Marcell Harris says this isn't NBA

The 49ers' much-improved defense has plenty of star power, but so do their rivals in Los Angeles after a blockbuster trade Tuesday. 

The Rams traded three draft picks -- two first-rounders and one fourth-rounder -- to the Jacksonville Jaguars for star cornerback Jalen Ramsey, giving LA two of the NFL's best players at their respective positions when you remember that defensive tackle defensive lineman force of nature Aaron Donald also plies his trade in Tinseltown. 

It'd be difficult to find two players on the same defense better than Ramsey and Donald, so ESPN's "SportsCenter" account asked on Twitter if there is a better duo of defensive cornerstones around the NFL. The problem, according to 49ers safety Marcell Harris? There are nine other players on a defense.

Harris has a point. Star power only can get you so far in the NFL -- even at historically important positions like quarterback or edge rusher -- because of the league's commitment to parity above all else. When it comes to the NBA, a team with the two best players on the court wins in the regular season and playoffs more often than not. 

[RELATED: Shanahan busts out jokes leading into 49ers vs. Washington]

While this is not necessarily Harris' gripe, the 49ers have a strong case to have a duo under consideration. Whether pairing defensive lineman DeForest Buckner and edge rusher Nick Bosa or swapping out one for one of linebackers Kwon Alexander and Fred Warner, San Francisco has a few cornerstones in its front seven. It's that group that made the Ramsey trade a head-scratcher to NBC Sports Bay Area's Matt Maiocco, who argued that the Rams' offensive line should have been a bigger concern than their secondary, considering the 49ers' success in Week 6.

Still, Ramsey and Donald are as good as what they do as just about anyone else in the NFL. The 49ers will get their first look at them in the same defense in Week 16 at Levi's Stadium, and they'll see firsthand whether the duo's dominance lifts the rest of the Rams' defense.