INGLEWOOD, Calif. (AP)The Los Angeles Rams’ rivalry with the 49ers has been thoroughly, shockingly one-sided in San Francisco’s favor over the past several seasons.
Well, except in the one meeting that mattered the most.
But that NFC championship game victory by the Rams last January meant nothing when San Francisco routed LA yet again four weeks ago. It means even less this Sunday before the Rams’ second meeting of the season – and fourth meeting of 2022 – with the 49ers, who have won a whopping seven consecutive regular-season games against Los Angeles.
Even the Rams’ only victory over the 49ers since 2018 was hardly convincing: San Francisco had to blow a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter, and Niners safety Jaquiski Tartt had to drop a surefire late interception while the Rams surged into the Super Bowl.
With fresh optimism after their bye week, the Rams (3-3) are hoping this will be the week they finally break through in decisive fashion against the 49ers (3-4), who have lost two straight and have beaten only one team other than Los Angeles since Week 2.
”What’s happened in the past isn’t any of my concern, other than this week and being here right now,” Rams coach Sean McVay said. ”I like the look in our guys’ eyes.”
This latest meeting is even more difficult for the Rams because they took yet another loss to the 49ers only last week – and now they’ve got to face the star veteran acquisition who went to San Francisco instead of Los Angeles.
Christian McCaffrey will play his second game for the 49ers after they outbid the Rams for the prolific running back in discussions with Carolina. Los Angeles’ dismal ground game could have used McCaffrey, who also played against the Rams’ defense in their most recent game, a victory over the Panthers two weeks ago.
Two of the NFL’s most aggressive front offices went head-to-head for McCaffrey, and the Niners are grateful they won for two reasons.
”It seems like a lot of these situations end up where it’s us against them in these things,” 49ers general manager John Lynch said. ”And I’m sure glad he’s here and not there.”
The Rams are intimately familiar with the 49ers’ versatile offense, yet defensive coordinator Raheem Morris doesn’t take any comfort from that knowledge, his recent game-planning for McCaffrey, or the possible injury absence of Deebo Samuel, who romped through LA’s defense for a 57-yard TD catch four weeks ago.
”This team, they do what they do,” Morris said of the Niners. ”Will (McCaffrey) bring some different wrinkles? There’s no doubt. … That just adds another dynamic player to their offense.”
San Francisco’s dominant defense was exposed last week, allowing six touchdowns in a span of seven drives in a loss to Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs. The Niners allowed 9.12 yards per play in the game, their worst mark in a game since 1965 and 5 yards more per play than they allowed in the first six games. Kansas City exploited the aggressiveness of San Francisco’s pass rushers to generate some big plays on screen passes and jet sweeps, but the Niners see no need to alter philosophies based on how they played last week.
”We’re not going to change what we do after one game,” defensive end Nick Bosa said. ”There’s a few plays where they got us on a couple of things. But we’ve been pretty good for a while.”
The Niners sacked Matthew Stafford seven times in their 24-9 win four weeks ago, and their defensive line’s dominance has been a significant factor in just about every victory in this streak. But Arik Armstead hasn’t played on the Niners’ line since the first win over LA, and he is expected to be out with injuries again.
The Rams’ offensive line health has improved marginally, with center Brian Allen back in the lineup Sunday after missing five games. Alaric Jackson, the undrafted free agent taking over at left tackle for the Rams, will get a serious test from the Niners’ remaining pass rushers.
The Niners typically have a good contingent of fans at road games. That is especially true in Inglewood, where their red-clad supporters forced the Rams into using a silent count during a Week 18 victory last season that sent San Francisco to the playoffs.
”It was one of the coolest things I’ve seen in sports,” coach Kyle Shanahan said. ”Home-field advantage is a big deal in the NFL because of crowd noise, and when you don’t have to worry about that as much on the road, it’s huge. And when you actually can get the crowd noise, it doesn’t happen very much, but it’s a big deal.”
The Rams’ inconsistent offense will finally get Van Jefferson back in its lineup after the receiver had knee surgery early in training camp.
Jefferson started 21 games and served as a dependable No. 3 option for the Super Bowl champions’ roster, and the Rams have missed him while struggling even to establish newcomer Allen Robinson as a No. 2 threat behind Cooper Kupp.
”The juice that he brings is pretty special, so I’m glad to have him back in the huddle,” Kupp said of Jefferson.
AP Pro Football Writer Josh Dubow contributed.
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