Rams linebacker Bobby Wagner made the hit everyone is talking about Tuesday, but it was the San Francisco 49ers who laid the wood on the Los Angeles Rams.
Sparked by the quick passes of Jimmy Garoppolo and the quick feet of Deebo Samuel, the Niners demolished the defending Super Bowl champs, 24-9, in front of a packed crowd at Levi Stadium on Monday Night Football.
Big picture: every team in the NFC West is now 2-2. All four of them.
Small picture: the 49ers were the more physical and opportunistic team. I am not one to say I told you so, but you can look back on MyLAsports and see this was a game I didn’t think the Rams would win. It was a rematch of the NFC Championship Game which the Niners lost, and San Francisco just has the Rams number.
If the NFL is about match-ups, the Niners just have the right match-ups for the Rams. I think it’s because Garoppolo’s one truly elite skill is the ability to get rid of the ball quickly. That timing just wrecks the Rams’ ability to control the line of scrimmage defensively and exposes them.
After four games, the Rams are 2-2. They appear to have flaws. The offensive line is thin. The running game is a myth (57 yards Monday). Allen Robinson II has not made an impact as the second wide receiver (two catches, seven yards Monday). But the entire NFC is flawed. The Eagles are 4-0, but do we trust them? Can the Rams win the NFC? Sure.
Wagner Rocks Activist
You couldn’t miss the burn spot on the field, around the 38-yard line in front of the Rams bench, about three steps in from the sidelines.
Late in the first half, an animal rights activist, I’d print the name but you can google it, ran out onto the field carrying a pink smoke bomb trailing behind him. Someone on Twitter said the gender reveal parties were getting out of hand, a line I loved.
The guy got close to the sidelines and in America in 2022, heck, you don’t know what to think. Is it some nut with an agenda, or some nut with an AK-47? So everyone freezes for a minute, then Tak McKinley and Wagner step out and Wagner puts a shoulder into the guy. Boom. He goes down. The flare/smokebomb drops (hence the burn mark) and security intervenes.
The lesson here is, one, don’t kill helpless animals, and two, Wagner is going to hit you if you run out onto the field.
Too bad later in the game Wagner got run over by Samuel near the goal line.
The Physical Team Won
It used to be an epithet in the NFL to call a team a ‘finesse’ team, a team that threw the ball a lot and never just lined up and smashed the guy in front of them to move the ball.
The 49ers in their heyday with Joe Montana and Jerry Rice were often hit with that label.
But in today’s NFL, everyone is basically a finesse team. Everyone spreads the field to a degree, tries to get the ball outside to the playmakers and let them run in space. The Rams do it better than most. They don’t get hit with the finesse label too much though because of Aaron Donald.
What the 49ers did to the Rams Monday and what they have done to them in the last few meetings is beat the Rams up. They’ve hit Matthew Stafford. They hit him a lot. He was sacked seven times Monday and pressured 17. (That’s a lot).
That eventually messes up Stafford’s timing, and there’s no better example than the game-clinching pick-six by Talanoa Hufanga in the fourth quarter. There’s no way Stafford should have thrown that pass. It’s a play the Rams run, it’s a play the 49ers run. Hufanga saw it coming, but Stafford was worn down at that point and made a poor mental decision.
I will be interested to see today if there is a follow-up to the incident on the Rams sidelines in the fourth quarter between Tak McKinley and Justin Hollins. It came after a big punt return by the 49ers and they had to be separated. I am a pretty good lip reader, and let’s just say McKinley was mad. Maybe about what happened on special teams.
The ESPN cameras also caught a late-game conversation between Cooper Kupp and Sean McVay, where, to me, it looked like McVay was trying to keep Kupp’s spirits up.
One more moment caught my attention to show the Rams frustration, late in the first half when Tyler Higbee threw a block at Deommodore Lenior, and then flared out in the flat, wide open, Stafford kept looking down the field and was creamed by Lenoir. Higbee raised his arms in frustration as if to say, ‘didn’t you see me? I was right here.’
It was a night where the Rams communication didn’t seem to go that well.
Did You Notice?
They kept showing 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans holding up his play sheet and on it somewhere was the acronym S.W.A.R.M. It stands for Special Work Ethic and Relentless Mindset. Hey guys, that’s not the perfect acronym. What about the E?
Jeremiah Kolone came in the game to play center for the Rams in the second quarter replacing Coleman Shelton. Shelton seemed to get hurt on the last play of the final drive, just falling down and missing Nick Bosa who roared in for a sack. It was a big play at the time, because the Rams were moving the ball.
We’ve also talked about how the Rams can’t make any big plays. The Rams longest play of the night was an 18-yard grab by Kupp. That won’t get it done.
Can you imagine this offense without Kupp? It would be brutal.
This is the first time the Rams have been 2-2 under McVay.
Crowd noise was definitely a factor in the 49ers’ pressure. Ben Skowronek clearly didn’t hear the signals on the Rams’ first drive allowing former Ram Samson Ebukam to come in for a sack of Stafford. I’d love to see a breakdown someday of how many more sacks a team gets at home than they do on the road.
You’ll hear a lot of talk about Samuel’s quick screen and run through the Rams’ defense today. With good reason, he broke three tackles as the Rams kept trying to go low on him. It’s funny, no one went low on the protester and he went down quick.