Los Angeles Rams: How can the Rams Attack the 49ers Offense?

by Tommy Mo
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The Los Angeles Rams four game win streak came to an end last Sunday night against the Tennessee Titans. The Titans defense stepped up to force turnovers. Setting up their first touchdown and scoring one of their own by Byard and Stafford’s second pick of the day.

Overall the Rams defense followed the game plan. They limited AJ Brown’s production, put pressure on Tannehill, and stopped the limited run game. However, the offense wasn’t able to get into the end zone until the end of the game and couldn’t pull ahead. The Rams need to shake off that tough loss and get ready for Week 10’s division opponent the San Francisco 49ers.

The 49ers Offense

The San Francisco 49ers are 3-5 and currently last in the NFC West due to an 0-4 divisional record.  Their offense is 13th overall in yards with 365.6 yards/game and 18th overall in scoring. The 49ers run game is 19th overall in yards with 905. Meanwhile, their passing attack has generated 2,020 yards in the air – the 18th most in the league. The majority of that offense has been generated through Jimmy Garoppolo’s connection with Deebo Samuel, who is currently 2nd in the league in yards. Although statistically the 49ers offense is middle of the road, they have enough talent to gain yards quickly.

The Offensive Line

The 49ers offensive line was expected to be a strength of this offense entering the 2021 season. Pro Football Focus ranked them the 9th best unit to start the season. This week they are ranked 7th in the league by PFF. The grade in 2021 has been projected so high thanks to Trent Williams. Williams is PFF’s overall best offensive lineman, in the entire league. His work in the run game has been absolutely stellar and he should easily be a first team All-Pro.

On the other side, Mike McGlinchey was just lost to the season due to a torn quadriceps. His replacement Tom Compton struggled last week and is a major downgrade. If backup Jaylon Moore can beat Compton out in practice he’ll get the start over the veteran. Right guard Daniel Brunskill has so far been the weak link on the line as PFF’s lowest graded starter for the 49ers.

Center Alex Mack was one of the best blockers in the league in 2016 while playing for the Falcons. He has played fairly well this season, only allowing two sacks and leading the charge in the run game. This line is supposed to be fairly good, but the stats show they have been just ok as a unit. Guys like Williams and Mack are solid, but the rest of the line has question marks. Without McGlinchey, there’s a possible weakness for the Los Angeles Rams to exploit.

Tendencies

  • 14th in adjusted line yards (4.32)
  • 15th in adjusted sack rate (6.2%)
  • More likely to run plays over Center
  • 57% of all plays are taken under Center
    • Offensive line is therefore more commonly playing out of three-point stance

The Run Game

The run game this year has taken on the typical San Francisco look of late. Unexpectedly, Elijah Mitchell, not Trey Sermon won the replacement starting job as the two rookies battled early on.

Mitchell has run away with the job as he’s leading the backfield in touches with 98. He has 89 carries this season for 469 yards and three touchdowns. He’s averaging 78.2 yards per game and his longest carry is 39 yards. Mitchell hasn’t been exceptional but he’s been a solid ball carrier for the team, finding running lanes to break off long runs. And as seen in the clip below, he leads all rookie running backs with 17 rushes over 10 yards.

Fellow rookie running back Trey Sermon was the fan favorite replacement for Mostert.  However, his path to the starting role is now murky as he’s been beaten out by Mitchell. Sermon has the profile and talent to be the future of this franchise but he will have to make plays with every opportunity he’s given. The two-headed rookie backfield is young and eager to make names for themselves.

Jeff Wilson is also returning from injury this week and can challenge for carries. In spot starts and rotational duties last year Wilson racked up 600 yards and seven touchdowns. The Los Angeles Rams will have to prepare for three potential runners who all have good size and decent speed.

Tendencies

  • Most successful running to the left towards left tackle Trent Williams (23% success rate over average)
  • Least successful running to the right guard (-15% SROA)
  • Elijah Mitchell is seeing the bulk of the carries on all downs
  • Runs to the outside left have the highest yards per carry (8.3)
  • Vast majority of runs have been over center (43 times)
  • Second most explosive runs (10+ yards) have been over center

The Passing Attack

The 49ers passing attack is led by quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo who is doing his best to hold onto his starting spot from rookie Trey Lance. Garoppolo hasn’t been an effective passer, but he’s holding on to the starting job. He gets the job done when he’s not creating turnovers, and this year he’s thrown an interception in four out of seven games he’s started.

Garoppolo’s intended and completed air yards are in the bottom half of the league. He’s also in the bottom 10 of quarterbacks in attempts, yards, and touchdowns. Garoppolo is part of the reason this team is struggling to get wins, but in this case it doesn’t fall all on this quarterback.

Deebo Samuel has been the alpha pass catcher this year as the number two wide receiver in the league in terms of receiving yards. Samuel leads the league in yards after catch with 464 yards, and is third overall in yards after the catch per reception. Samuel is also top-10 in targets (81) and has the highest percentage of the team’s air yards (34.56%).

While Samuel is known for being a YAC monster, he’s also doing it with the highest Average Depth of Target of his career with 8.1. To stop this 49ers offense this year, you have to stop Samuel. This is something that the Los Angeles Rams struggled to do last season.

The remainder of the targets have been eaten up by George Kittle, Brandon Aiyuk, and Mohamed Sanu. Kittle has missed three games due to injury and has yet to surpass 10 targets and 100 yards. He is on pace to match his injury riddled 2020 campaign. However, he’s a far cry from his dominant 2018 and 2019 Pro Bowl performances.

Brandon Aiyuk has gotten a slow start to the season and has not carried any momentum forward from his great finish to 2020. He’s still a dangerous weapon and has been getting better as of late.

Tendencies

  • Highest receiving success rate over average (SROA) are passes to the deep left (24%) and short middle (20%)
  • Lowest receiving SROA are passes to the deep center (-9%) and deep right (-39%)
  • Majority of passes are thrown short (218) vs deep (40)
  • Red Zone targets have only gone to Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk
  • Passer rating for both quarterbacks is the highest on short passes (<15 yards)
  • Jimmy G’s highest passer rating on all throws is to the deep right on 3rd downs
    • However, those passes are only completed 50% of the time
  • The only completion % above 50% on deep throws is to the deep center on 1st downs
    • However, both throws to the deep center and deep right are only thrown 3% of the time
  • Over 75% of all passes thrown are short passes within 15 yards of the LOS

Defensive Game Plan

The Los Angeles Rams defense have been playing well but need to step back up this week to show they are truly dominant. The Rams four game win streak was against struggling offenses with little fire power. Once they played a team with a more diverse offense and strong defense, they lost. This week is the same with a team that has a good run game and passing attack, with a strong defense.

The defensive line can take advantage of the right side of the 49ers offensive line. With Trent Williams at left tackle the Rams would be wise to play a wide 9 defensive end, or bring a linebacker off the edge to keep contain and prevent outside runs to the left. The front seven will be able to bring pressure through line slants and blitzes. However, the linebackers will need to be stout in the middle and also cover a lot of space underneath in pass coverage.

The majority of passes in the 49ers offense are short. Therefore, rolling a safety into the box to cover the curl to flat in cover 3 will help minimize YAC. Coverages with two high safeties will need linebackers Troy Reeder and Ernest Jones to cover a lot of space. Dropping a defensive lineman into the middle zone on zone blitzes will help to cover crossing routes.

The secondary will have their hands full with receivers that will run layered routes underneath to get separation. The defense will need to get pressure on Garoppolo early on each snap and work to disrupt passing lanes. Understanding this assignment will help the Rams get the win on Monday Night Football.

Exploiting Tendencies

  • Slant the defensive line to the offense’s left on run downs
    • TED/Pirate stunts on run downs to throw off the blocking scheme
  • Mix linebacker blitzes between double A gap and off the edge blitzes on run downs
  • Deep throws are not an every down threat so coverages can roll between cover 2 and cover 3 depending on down and distance.
    • 1st down: Cover 2 with the linebackers dropping deep to cover Kittle on
    • 2nd and 3rd downs: Cover 3 with blitzes (both zone and man/dog blitzes)
    • 3rd and long: Cover 2 man
  • The linebackers will have to play with their head on a swivel to cover underneath routes
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