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By Fred Altieri
Sports Reporter 

Rams upset Seahawks, face the 49ers on Sunday

 

September 14, 2023

George Laase

An unidentified Ram player on the bottom and safety Quentin Lake stop a Raider player during a Preseason game. The Rams defense hopes to put the brakes on the 49ers on Sunday.

The Los Angeles Rams caught most critics by surprise by reeling off a convincing 30-13 season-opening victory on the road over a Division rival and projected contender, the Seattle Seahawks. Suddenly, the clock seemed to wind back to the 2021 season when the leadership of quarterback Matthew Stafford and defensive tackle Aaron Donald paved the way for the franchise's first title in Los Angeles.

Preparing for only NFL Week #2, yet the win couldn't have come at a better time as arch-nemesis San Francisco 49ers arrives at SoFi Stadium this Sunday, 1:05 p.m. The Niners, who made it to the 2022 NFC Conference Championship, are also coming off an impressive 30-7 road-win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. They also carry an eight-game winning streak over the Rams during the regular season since 2019.

Under the direction of head coach Kyle Shanahan, the 49ers are 9-3 overall against Rams head coach Sean McVay in head-to-head competition. McVay did a quick read on facing Niners quarterback Brock Purdy who took over for veteran Jimmy Garappolo last season: "It's well documented how well they've played since Brock has really gotten a chance to step in and that was consistent with Jimmy."

You can just feel there's a nice rapport that Purdy and Kyle have. And when you've got that, you can be really dangerous offensively. And you can just see, he's got a way about himself that his teammates are drawn to him." Purdy didn't have an opportunity to face the Rams during his rookie year last season. In the win over Pittsburgh, he completed 19/29 passes for 220 yards, two touchdown passes and no interceptions. He was sacked three times.

San Francisco also relied on running back Christian McCaffrey's 22 carries for 152 yards and one touchdown to punish the Steelers. McCaffrey did the same against the Rams last season, rushing for 94 yards and one touchdown in the Niners 31-14 win at SoFi. The Niners, among the title favorites this season, currently rank first in Pro Football Focus team and defense grades, and seventh in offense.

That said, Stafford is ranked second among quarterbacks after Week #1 with a 90.3 passer rating. Purdy is ranked ninth at 70.6, Defensively, 49er edge rushers Nick Bosa and Clelin Ferrell rank 12th and 13th, respectively. The Rams will pressure Purdy with interior linemen Aaron Donald and Kobie Turner, each getting a half sack and a quarterback hit versus the Seahawks.

In beating Seattle, the Rams scored or attempted a field goal on every drive except for one in the second quarter. Stafford effectively connected with five receivers, converting 24/38 passes for 334 total yards, no touchdowns or interceptions. His passing accuracy propelled rookie wide receiver Puka Nacua into setting a Rams receiving record with 119 yards on 10 catches in his team debut. He's also the second NFL player drafted in the 5th Round or better to catch passes for 100 plus yards in his NFL debut.

With All-Pro wide receiver Cooper Kupp still on the injured reserve with a hamstring injury, Tutu Atwell showed his value by catching six of eight targeted throws also for 119 yards. Tight end Tyler Higbee caught all three passes thrown to him for 49 yards. Van Jefferson caught four of five for 24 yards. The Rams passing offense ranks second with 334 total yards and is third in the league with 426 total yards.

The worry about the offensive front line never materialized in Week #1 as Stafford avoided getting sacked with a very balanced offense. The Rams rushed the ball 40 times and threw 38 passes. The protection allowed Stafford to successfully convert 11 of 17 third-down plays along with a perfect one for one in four-down conversions.

"I thought they communicated really well," said McVay. "I thought Coleman Shelton's command and communication was really on display. I thought Alaric Jackson had a really good game. I thought he did an excellent job."

It was great to be able to see Steve Avila get his feet wet. (Joe) Noteboom did a nice job with his first start at right guard and then Rob (Havenstein), he's like a fine wine just getting better with age."

McVay continued to say, "When you're able to get about 80 plus snaps offensively and have almost 40 minutes of possession, those are really positive things. You look at the second half, it's almost like 25-to-5 in terms of the possession so that is key and critical," stated McVay.

The Rams scored all three of their touchdowns rushing, two by second-year running back Kyren Williams and one by four-year veteran Cam Akers. Williams rushed for 52 yards on 15 carries and gave the Rams the permanent lead on a 7-yard touchdown in the third quarter.

Rams' kicker Brett Maher, signed at the end of August after kicking for the Dallas Cowboys last season, converted three of five field goals. During the team's scoring lull in the second quarter, he had a 37-yard attempt blocked and missed from 33 yards. Punter Ethan Evans only punted once for 45 yards midway through the second quarter that was returned for 18 yards.

Ultimately, the Rams defense allowed the offense to be patient before they scored on all five drives in the second half to seal the win. "I think it's a combination of the offense was able to sustain possession, but when they play 16 snaps defensively, there's a couple things that go into that," said McVay. "That means they're playing excellent third down defense, or really first, second and third down."

Seattle never scored in their last six possession starting with 1:05 remaining in the first half. The Rams rank third in the NFL in defensive total yards, fourth in passing, and 11th in rushing. The 13 points allowed was the sixth lowest for Week #1. Most preseason polls had the Rams ranked in the bottom four teams in the league.

The team's preseason results did nothing to dispel the forecasts even though the starters did not suit up for the three exhibition contests. A season that seemed on the brink before it even started suddenly offers hope for the faithful and an unexpectedly competitive matchup with their most-hated rival. This Sunday afternoon in Inglewood certainly will have everyone's attention.

 

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