49ers

Rams rule Todd Gurley out for pivotal Week 6 NFC West clash vs. 49ers

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AP

Rams rule Todd Gurley out for pivotal Week 6 NFC West clash vs. 49ers

The 49ers won't face Todd Gurley on Sunday.

The Los Angeles Rams officially ruled the star running back out for their Week 6 clash with San Francisco at the Los Angeles Coliseum. Gurley injured his thigh in Week 5 against the Seattle Seahawks, and he did not practice all week.

Gurley, a first-team All-Pro selection in 2017 and 2018, has eclipsed four yards per carry in five games this season. He has scored five total touchdowns, but his 4.3 yards per touch in 2019 are the second-fewest of his career. Still, the 49ers surely will be glad they don't have to stop the NFL's leading rusher since he entered the league in 2015.

[RELATED: Former NFL exec ranks 49ers atop list of NFC playoff contenders]

That's not to say the 49ers are doing much better in terms of injuries. San Francisco, 4-0 for the first time in three decades, will be without starting fullback Kyle Juszczyk (left knee sprain), starting tackles Joe Staley (fibula) and Mike McGlinchey (knee) and starting cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon (foot).

The Rams can keep pace with the 49ers and Seattle Seahawks atop the NFC West with a win, while the 49ers can credibly claim legitimacy as a contender with a win over the reigning NFC champions. Both teams are going to lack plenty of star power, though, and Gurley's absence is the most prominent example.

Five 49ers to watch in Week 14 vs. Saints: Joe Staley rested but rusty

Five 49ers to watch in Week 14 vs. Saints: Joe Staley rested but rusty

BRADENTON, Fla. – The stakes are raised again this week, as the 49ers face the New Orleans Saints at Mercedes-Benz Superdome in a showdown of two of the three teams in the NFC with 10-2 records.

After the 49ers’ Week 13 loss to the Ravens, the club spent the week practicing at the IMG Academy to remain acclimated to the time change and feel rested and energized for the early kickoff in New Orleans.

Coach Kyle Shanahan remains impressed with the consistent approach his team has exhibited this season.

“They’ve made my job very easy,” Shanahan said on "49ers Game Plan," which airs Saturday at 7 p.m. on NBC Bay Area (Ch. 3). “They’re all pros. It’s important to them. And now, as it even gets tighter and you get closer to the playoffs, that’s really the last of my concerns -- these guys being ready for the games.

“They know what this is about. They know how hard we’ve worked to get here. No one wants to waste this opportunity that we’ve earned, so we got to keep playing. We know we got a good team. I just want guys to come out and not worry about anything. Just go as hard as you can, play like we’re capable. If we play with a clear mind and play hard, like I know we will, I’m pretty confident some good things will happen.”

Good things figure to happen for the 49ers on Sunday against the Saints if they get strong games from these five players to watch. 

5. QB Jimmy Garoppolo

Jimmy Garoppolo is coming on strong for the 49ers. He has compiled passer ratings of 110 or better in the past three games, and he has gone two games without throwing an interception.

Garoppolo and the entire offense will be challenged as they contend with the noise inside the Superdome on Sunday. Garoppolo must be decisive with his reads and decisions in order to avoid pressure coming from Saints defensive end Cam Jordan, one of the top edge rushers in the business.

The 49ers will try to get the run game going with some combination of Tevin Coleman, Matt Breida and Raheem Mostert. The better the 49ers run the ball, the more effective Garoppolo should be in using play-action to get the ball down the field.

4. SS Marcell Harris

Second-year player Marcell Harris stepped in when starting strong safety Jaquiski Tartt sustained cracked ribs Sunday in Baltimore. Harris immediately made a big play when he tore the ball away from Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson to create a takeaway.

Harris will have responsibilities against the run Sunday, as an eighth defender in the box on certain occasions. Also, he will be challenged in pass coverage when the Saints flood the field with wide receivers.

Harris and free safety Jimmie Ward must work well together to prevent Saints quarterback Drew Brees from hitting on big plays if the 49ers’ pass rush does not get home.

3. WR Emmanuel Sanders

Emmanuel Sanders has not been anywhere close to 100 percent for a while, as he’s been dealing with a fracture in his rib cage. This was the first week that he was not required to wear a blue jersey at practice, which signifies a player who is off-limits for contact.

While Garoppolo has been coming on strong and playing well, Sanders’ production took a dip after his injury. In six games with the 49ers, he has 21 receptions for 250 yards and two touchdowns. In his second game with the club, he had seven catches for 112 yards before sustaining the ribs injury a week later against the Seahawks.

Rookie Deebo Samuel has elevated his game, giving Garoppolo another trusted target. But as Sanders gets healthier, he has the ability to once again establish himself as the top wideout option.

2. LB Fred Warner

Fred Warner was the NFC Defensive Player of the Month for November, as he made his presence felt both in the run game and as a pass defender. He is as good as there is at being an all-around linebacker.

This will be another tough challenge for Warner, as he will be matched throughout the game on Saints star Alvin Kamara, one of the league’s top dual-threat running backs. Kamara is equally dangerous as a runner and receiver.

Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh has simplified Warner’s responsibilities as the defensive play-caller in the huddle this season, which has enabled Warner to just play football.

“Ever since kind of the midway point of the season, I think he has lined it up for me to just go out and play fast,” Warner said.

[RELATED: Shanahan compares Sherman's recovery to 'The Karate Kid']

1. LT Joe Staley

Six-time Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Staley is back for the 49ers after missing nine of the team’s first 12 games with a fractured left lower leg and then a fractured and dislocated ring finger on his right hand that required surgery.

Staley returns for the stretch run of the season. He should be fresh and energized for the final four regular-season games and the playoffs. That could be a good thing. But Staley also is realistic enough to understand the considerable disadvantage of sitting out all those games.

“I missed out on two months of reps, two months of practices, two months of being on the details,” Staley said. “That’s what makes you good. It’s not just saving yourself for the playoffs. I missed out on a lot of work.”

Staley did not fare well when he returned for the team’s Nov. 11 game against Jadeveon Clowney and the Seahawks. And things are not going to be much easier Sunday, as the 49ers must deal with the noise inside the Superdome.

He will go up against impressive second-year player Marcus Davenport, mostly, while also seeing some of Jordan, who leads the Saints with 13.5 sacks.

Emmanuel Sanders is valuable resource for 49ers' young receiver group

Emmanuel Sanders is valuable resource for 49ers' young receiver group

BRADENTON, Fla. – When the 49ers acquired Emmanuel Sanders in an October trade from the Denver Broncos, they picked up more than just a reliable veteran wide receiver.

The 49ers added a voice of experience and reason to a group of receivers that includes no others who have played in the NFL postseason.

“I was telling guys, it’s time to cut out all the extra-curricular activities and just hone in on the season for the next, hopefully, two-and-a-half months and see if we can do something special around here,” Sanders, a 10-year NFL vet, said. 

“I try to be here to be the voice of letting them understand why they feel the way they feel. Because when you get into those games and it’s like, ‘Man, this doesn’t feel like Week 4.’ Every single play matters, and you got to think that.”

The 49ers are 10-2 entering their Week 14 matchup against the New Orleans Saints at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The 49ers currently are in a battle with the Saints and Seattle Seahawks, both also 10-2, for home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.

The 49ers’ game Sunday marks the third consecutive game in which the 49ers faced a team with a winning percentage of .800 or better. The 49ers defeated the Green Bay Packers, 37-8, in Week 12, before falling to the Baltimore Ravens, 20-17, last week.

“The past couple games there have been a lot of great experiences for guys who’ve never been to the playoffs, and guys who never really been in this type of situation,” Sanders said.

Sanders has appeared in eight playoff games, including two Super Bowls. While with the Pittsburgh Steelers, he was on the losing side against the Green Bay Packers as a rookie. He had six catches for 83 yards in the Broncos’ 24-10 victory over Carolina in Super Bowl 50 at Levi’s Stadium.

Coach Kyle Shanahan pointed out that the only other 49ers starter at a skill position – quarterback, running back, tight end or receiver -- who has started with another team is fullback Kyle Juszczyk. Therefore, Sanders serves an important role, similar to Richard Sherman on defense.

“To have a guy who’s been a starter at other places and also won a Super Bowl, that’s huge for us,” Shanahan said. “It’s very similar to what we say about Sherm. We have a bunch of young guys in the secondary who have played a lot of games, but when you have a guy who’s been through the postseason run, has been in championship games and played at a high level year after year, it always helps the guys.”

Sanders knows what it’s supposed to look like, and he believes the 49ers have a great opportunity in front of them with four games remaining in the regular season.

“I think we have a great chance,” he said. “We got players who definitely understand. We got players who know how to have fun. We have players who know how to lock in, as well. I think as each game goes on, we gain more and more experience of exactly how we want it to look and how Kyle wants it to look, going out and not taking any plays off, not only from a physical standpoint but from a mental standpoint.”

[RELATED: Breida returning to practice creates 49ers running back logjam]

In six games since joining the 49ers, Sanders has 21 receptions (on 30 targets) for 250 yards and two touchdowns. He has battled through a ribs fracture sustained in his third game but is feeling much better now.

Sanders, Deebo Samuel and Kendrick Bourne have separated themselves from the team’s other wide receivers. Sanders clearly has gained an appreciation for what he’s seen from those two young wideouts.

“I’ll tell you what, K.B. and Deebo, man, they’re special,” Sanders said. “Watch how those guys catch the football. Watch how they run through the football. Those guys can score at any moment. That’s who they are. They’re just wired to catch the football really well.

“My job is to let them understand the importance, because they’ve never been in this situation. But I don’t want them to lose their personality and who they are. I want them to treat every single play like it could be the last play of the game and everything is on the line. They’re cool dudes and humble dudes. I’ve been enjoying being around them.”