Why 49ers' defensive plan vs. Rams won't change with Todd Gurley out

Why 49ers' defensive plan vs. Rams won't change with Todd Gurley out

LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Rams will be without star running back Todd Gurley on Sunday, but nothing changes for the 49ers’ defensive approach.

“Same formula, same mindset,” 49ers linebacker Fred Warner said. “Get to third down, and let the big guys eat.”

The key to the 49ers’ improved pass rush has been the team’s ability to shut down the opposition's running games on first and second downs. Defending third-and-long situations has been advantageous for the 49ers, with Nick Bosa, DeForest Buckner, Dee Ford and Arik Armstead each recording multiple sacks through four games.

“For us, our philosophy has always been that we’re going to be as sound as possible on first and second down,” 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said. “We eliminate explosives, that’s the No. 1 rule to our defense -- to make sure that we’re going to eliminate explosives at all costs.

“You can’t be sound unless you’re sound in the run game first.”

The Rams (3-2) have run the ball successfully on first downs with Gurley as the main back, averaging 4.6 yards per attempt. But Gurley is out for Sunday’s NFC West matchup due to a quadriceps injury.

Coach Sean McVay will mostly turn to Malcolm Brown and rookie Darrell Henderson Jr. The Rams also promoted running back John Kelly from the practice squad Saturday. Brown, a fourth-year player from Texas, has rushed for 114 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries as Gurley’s backup this season.

“I feel like they’re still going to run their offense,” Warner said. ‘I know they have great backups behind Todd. We’re still going to execute our game plan and try to get after them.”

The 49ers’ defense has surrendered an average rush of 3.85 yards on first-and-10 situations. They rank fifth in the NFL, allowing just 81.8 yards rushing per game. The 49ers’ ability to keep quarterback Jared Goff in third-and-long situations could be a huge benefit against the Rams’ explosive passing attack.

[RELATED: 49ers Mailbag: George Kittle expected to be available Week 6 vs. Rams]

San Francisco generally has maintained a four-man pass rush, but Saleh has the opportunity to be more complex with coverages and pressures on third downs when there is no threat of the run in those long-yardage situations.

The 49ers have recorded 13 sacks through four games while holding on, along with the New England Patriots, as one of just two unbeaten teams in the NFL.

“On third down, it gives you the flexibility to get a little bit more exotic because you’re not worried about the run game as much,” Saleh said. “Now you can cheat coverage, you don’t have sell out with an eight-man box, you don’t have to be perfect in the run game. You still want to have an idea of where people fit, but odds are you’re playing for pass.”

49ers' Dee Ford injures hamstring, leaves Week 11 game vs. Cardinals


49ers' Dee Ford injures hamstring, leaves Week 11 game vs. Cardinals

The hits keep on coming for the injury-riddled 49ers. 

Edge rusher Dee Ford left Sunday's game against the Arizona Cardinals at Levi's Stadium after injuring his hamstring. 

Ford has played in every game this season, but he has been limited by nagging knee and quadriceps injuries. The San Francisco Chronicle's Eric Branch wrote last week that Ford has played in just 38 percent of the 49ers' defensive snaps this season, and Ford has not played in more than 50 percent of San Francisco's defensive snaps in a single game since Week 1.

[RELATED: Scouts reportedly not blown away by Kap's 'average' workout]

Still, Ford has been effective. Including Sunday's sack on No. 1 draft pick Kyler Murray, Ford has 6.5 sacks this season and given the 49ers' formidable pass rush another option for opposing offensive lines to worry about. 

The 49ers began Week 11 down three key offensive contributors (tight end George Kittle, left tackle Joe Staley and running back Matt Breida) and their kicker (Robbie Gould). They can now add Ford to their growing list of injured players.

NFL rumors: Evaluators not blown away by Colin Kaepernick’s “average” workout

NFL rumors: Evaluators not blown away by Colin Kaepernick’s “average” workout

Colin Kaepernick showed off his arm strength in a highly publicized workout at a high school outside of Atlanta on Saturday, but the former 49ers quarterback reportedly didn't "blow away" any talent evaluators. 

Kaepernick showed he was "[good] enough to be on a roster, likely backup level" in the eyes of a "consensus scouting report" NFL Media's Ian Rapoport gathered, citing sources, but his colleague Mike Garafolo reported Sunday that there didn't seem to be much interest in Kaepernick. 

"He had to blow some teams away," Garafolo said Sunday on "NFL GameDay." "He didn't do that." 

Kaepernick's "velocity was real good" but his "[accuracy] and touch" were average, according to the scouting report Rapaport cited. 

Left unsaid in Garafalo and Rapaport's reporting is why Kaepernick needed to "blow some teams away," and it has little to do with his on-field ability.

Kaepernick kneeled during the playing of the national anthem before games in the 2016 season, doing so to protest racial inequality and police brutality against African Americans. The 32-year-old consulted with former Green Beret Nate Boyer in deciding to kneel, but some, including President Donald Trump, criticized Kaepernick for what they perceived to be disrespect of the American flag. 

The 49ers, under new leadership after coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch took over the organization, told Kaepernick he would be released if he didn't opt out of his contract. Kaepernick opted out but has been unsigned ever since, and he ultimately settled a collusion lawsuit against the NFL in February. 

[RELATED: 49ers' Breida, Kittle ruled out vs. Cardinals]

In a brief statement to reporters after Saturday's workout, Kaepernick insisted he still wants to play football. 

"I've been ready for three years, and I've been denied for three years," Kaepernick said Saturday. "We all know why I came out here and showed it today in front of everybody -- we have nothing to hide. So we're waiting for the 32 owners, the 32 teams, [NFL commissioner] Roger Goodell, all of them to stop running. Stop running from the truth, stop running from the people."

If Garafolo's reporting is any indication, Kaepernick might not get that chance soon.