Breaking down how the Rams (4-1) and the San Francisco 49ers (2-3) match up heading into their game at 5:20 p.m. Sunday at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara.
When Rams have the ball: The big question about the Rams' offense: What will Sean McVay think of next? A unit that already had shown the ability to rush effectively and score touchdowns on short- and mid-range passes added another element when Jared Goff connected with wide receiver Robert Woods on a long touchdown pass in a win over Washington. Goff has passed for eight touchdowns, with three interceptions, and has produced as an occasional runner. This game will mark the first time backs Cam Akers, Darrell Henderson and Malcolm Brown are all physically sound. Akers and Henderson each have broken runs for more than 40 yards. McVay is providing more play-making opportunities for tight end Gerald Everett, and wide receiver Josh Reynolds’ profile also appears to be rising. The line has allowed only seven sacks and is clearing the way for the NFL’s seventh-best rushing attack. The 49ers lost defensive end Nick Bosa early in the season to begin an onslaught of injuries. Cornerback Richard Sherman, end Dee Ford and linebacker Kwon Alexander are also sidelined. The 49ers still feature linebacker Fred Warner leading a unit that includes linebacker Dre Greenlaw, end Arik Armstead and rookie tackle Javon Kinlaw. The secondary, however, is thin.
When 49ers have the ball: Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who has been nursing a high ankle sprain, did not play in the second half last Sunday in a blowout loss to the Miami Dolphins but was a full participant in practice during the week. Garoppolo has passed for two touchdowns, with three interceptions. Nick Mullens started two games in place of Garoppolo, but C.J. Beathard played the second half against the Dolphins. Tight end George Kittle remains the top target in a receiving corps that includes Brandon Aiyuk, Kendrick Bourne and Deebo Samuel. The running back-by-committee approach that coach Kyle Shanahan used so effectively last season is not as potent, though Raheem Mostert is averaging seven yards per carry and Jerrick McKinnon has three touchdowns. Versatile fullback Kyle Juszczyk also is a threat. The Rams are coming off an eight-sack performance against Washington. Defensive lineman Aaron Donald had four sacks for the second time in his career. Linebacker Troy Reeder had a career-best three sacks after starting in place of injured Micah Kiser, who could return against the 49ers. Safety Jordan Fuller is on injured reserve because of a shoulder injury, so Taylor Rapp will start.
When they kick: Rookie Samuel Sloman has made six of eight field-goal attempts, and none beyond 35 yards. He missed another extra-point attempt against Washington but McVay said he is not overly concerned. Johnny Hekker is averaging 48.2 yards per punt. Robbie Gould has made seven of eight field-goal attempts for the 49ers, including one from 52 yards. Mitch Wishnowsky averages 45.8 yards per punt.
Gary Klein’s prediction: After beating up on the NFC East, the Rams aim to prove they can reclaim the NFC West title. That drive starts against the injury-riddled 49ers.
RAMS 27, 49ERS 20
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.