Rams seek­ing to re­tain slim play­off hopes

San Fran looks to get de­fense back on track

Antelope Valley Press - - Front Page - By JOSH DUBOW

SANTA CLARA — San Fran­cisco’s dom­nant de­fense that com­pletely flum­moxed Jared Goff the first time the 49ers played the Los An­ge­les Rams has gone miss­ing of late.

Whether it’s be­cause of at­tri­tion from in­juries to key cogs like Dee Ford and Kwon Alexan­der or fac­ing a slate of more tal­ented quar­ter­backs, the Nin­ers (11-3) head into the re­match with the Rams (8-6) to­day with sev­eral ques­tions about the de­fense.

A unit that ranked se­cond in the NFL with only 11 points al­lowed the first seven games has given up 25.9 per game over the last seven as quar­ter­backs like Kyler Mur­ray, Rus­sell Wil­son and Drew Brees found plenty of suc­cess mov­ing the ball.

“From a sta­tis­ti­cal stand­point, it was al­most his­toric over those first (seven) games,” de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Robert Saleh said. “I al­most feel like we kind of spoiled peo­ple.”

The 49ers were at their best in a stretch sur­round­ing the first game against the Rams, a 20-7 vic­tory for San Fran­cisco. The Nin­ers al­lowed only 23 points dur­ing a four-game stretch, hold­ing all of those teams to 100 yards or fewer pass­ing.

But that kind of play has been lack­ing of late with Alexan­der

on in­jured re­serve with a torn pec­toral; Ford out with a ham­string in­jury; safety Jaquiski Tartt miss­ing the past two games with in­jured ribs; and cor­ner­back Richard Sher­man sit­ting out last week.

That has con­trib­uted to San Fran­cisco get­ting only three sacks the past three games and only one in­ter­cep­tion over the past seven con­tests.

“The more we have had peo­ple out, I think the chances of turnovers does go down, but if we want to win we’ve got to find ways to cre­ate them and hope­fully our guys can get go­ing and cre­ate some more,” coach Kyle Shana­han said. “If not, we’ve got to do some­thing schemat­i­cally, but it’s tough to win when you don’t get turnovers and we’ve got to make sure we find a way to do it.”

While the 49ers have got­ten worse de­fen­sively since the first meet­ing, Goff has played much bet­ter than he did that day when he went 13 for 24 for 78 yards, set­ting ca­reer lows in yards and yards per at­tempt (3.3).

“They did a good job on de­fense and we didn’t ex­e­cute,” Goff said. “We didn’t do any­thing that we’re nearly ca­pa­ble of and they did a great job on de­fense.”

That was part of a mid­sea­son slump for Goff, who then failed to throw a sin­gle TD pass in three games in Novem­ber.

But he has bounced back since and has av­er­aged 333.7 yards pass­ing the past three weeks, with two TD passes in each game.

“Hope­fully, we’ll have a bet­ter show­ing, but we cer­tainly know what a great chal­lenge it will be, be­cause of what a great job Robert Saleh does lead­ing the way, and then all the great play­ers that they have ex­e­cut­ing the scheme,” coach Sean McVay said. PLAY­OFF TALK

The Nin­ers will earn the top seed in the NFC if they win their fi­nal two games. The sit­u­a­tion is much more com­pli­cated for the Rams, who need to win their fi­nal two games and hope Min­nesota loses twice to get a wild-card spot.

WHICH DE­FENSE SHOWS UP?

The Rams de­fense has been among the NFL’s stead­i­est, most de­pend­able units in 11 of its 14 games. The other three — losses to Tampa Bay, Bal­ti­more and last week against Dal­las — were aw­ful. The coach­ing staff has strug­gled to ex­plain those blips from a de­fense that has held ev­ery other op­po­nent un­der 28 points, in­clud­ing the Nin­ers in Oc­to­ber.

“If I knew, I’d change it,” co­or­di­na­tor Wade Phillips said. “Or I’d change some­thing go­ing into it.”

TOP TAR­GET

The 49ers have done a good job spread­ing things out in the pass­ing game this sea­son un­til last week, when Ge­orge Kit­tle, got al­most all the work. Kit­tle was tar­geted 17 times in the loss to the Fal­cons, one more than the rest of the team com­bined. At­lanta played more man de­fense than usual and Kit­tle was able to win his one-on-one matchups and fin­ished with 13 catches for 134 yards.

“Usu­ally it’s not like that,” Shana­han said. “We don’t al­ways want it to be like that, but we also don’t mind if we get the win. We thought we had a chance to, but that wasn’t why we lost.” GUR­LEY’S SHOT Todd Gur­ley missed the Rams’ first meet­ing with San Fran­cisco to rest a bruised thigh. He has played in only five of a pos­si­ble nine games against the Nin­ers dur­ing his ca­reer be­cause of var­i­ous in­juries and rest, and he has only two 100-yard games against Los An­ge­les’ up­state ri­vals.

“I feel like when I do play against them, I usu­ally do fairly well,” Gur­ley said be­fore in­cor­rectly sug­gest­ing he didn’t play against the Nin­ers dur­ing his rookie year back in St. Louis (he played once and rushed for 133 yards).

The for­merly pro­lific run­ning back has only two chances left to get his first 100-yard rush­ing game of the sea­son, snap­ping a streak of 15 con­sec­u­tive reg­u­lar-sea­son games with­out hit­ting triple dig­its. He is a mod­est 18th in the league with 741 yards rush­ing.

PACE YOUR­SELF With in­juries to the de­fen­sive line, rookie Nick Bosa has had to carry a much big­ger load of late. He has gone from play­ing an av­er­age of 38.4 snaps over the first eight games to 58.3 the past six games. Seven of Bosa’s nine sacks came dur­ing the stretch when he got more time off, but he doesn’t plan to con­serve en­ergy now that he is play­ing more.

“I def­i­nitely don’t pace my­self,” he said. “Maybe I need to learn how to. I just go hard ev­ery play. It may end up bit­ing me at the end.’’

SEC­ONDARY TAR­GETS

Garop­polo shouldn’t have much trou­ble de­cid­ing which side of the de­fense to tar­get on most plays. Daunt­ing Pro Bowl cor­ner­back Jalen Ram­sey will be mind­ing one re­ceiver, while un­sung vet­eran Troy Hill or se­cond-year backup Dar­i­ous Williams will be on an­other wide­out. The Rams haven’t de­cided whether Hill will even at­tempt to play with pro­tec­tion on his hand af­ter break­ing his thumb last week and un­der­go­ing surgery. If he can’t go, the un­drafted Williams, who played 61 of his 111 ca­reer de­fen­sive snaps last week in Dal­las af­ter Hill got hurt, is likely to make his se­cond ca­reer start.

As­so­ci­ated Press

NOT QUITE THERE — Rams quar­ter­back Jared Goff (16) is about to be stopped short of the goal line by Dal­las Cow­boys out­side line­backer Sean Lee, left, as Cow­boys’ Xavier Woods (25) moves in dur­ing the first half in Ar­ling­ton, Texas, on Sun­day. The Rams take on the 49ers to­day.

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