Todd Gurley

49ers inactives: Tight end George Kittle active in Week 6 vs. Rams

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AP

49ers inactives: Tight end George Kittle active in Week 6 vs. Rams

49ers tight end George Kittle is active for San Francisco's Week 6 game against the Los Angeles Rams. 

Coach Kyle Shanahan said he expected Kittle, who injured his groin Friday, to suit up for the undefeated 49ers against the reigning NFC champions. However, the 49ers reportedly have "some concern" whether Kittle will be able to finish the game. 

The 49ers officially will be without four starters. Fullback Kyle Juszczyk (knee), left tackle Joe Staley (fibula), right tackle Mike McGlinchey (knee) and cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon (foot) were among the team's inactives Sunday. 

Here's the 49ers' full list of inactives:

[RELATED: Why 49ers' game plan won't change with Gurley out]

Both teams will be short-handed. Rams All-Pro running back Todd Gurley, starting cornerback Aqib Talib and starting linebacker Clay Matthews all will be out Sunday at the LA Memorial Coliseum. 

Given the absences on both sides, this pivotal NFC West matchup should be up for grabs.

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.”

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.