Rams find themselves looking up at 49ers as rivalry resumes

USA Today Sports 1 month ago

It feels like the potential rebirth of a West Coast rivalry.

The Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers will play Sunday afternoon at the Coliseum and, for the first time in 18 years, they will face each other as winning teams.

And like Dec. 9, 2001, when “The Greatest Show On Turf Rams“ turned away Jeff Garcia’s 49ers 27-14, both teams could be headed to the postseason.

That is, if the two-time NFC West champion Rams (3-2), who have lost back-to-back games for just the second time under head coach Sean McVay, can find a way to steady the ship.

“Every game is so important,“McVay said. “We’ve been fortunate to have some success over the last couple of years, specifically in our division. But every single game represents a new chance to rewrite the narrative.”

San Francisco, 4-0 for the first time since 1990, will attempt to do just that Sunday.

“I think any time you play someone in the division, it’s got a little bit more juice than outside the division,” San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan said. “This is our first divisional game, so we’re excited about that.”

Leading the NFL in rushing and second in total defense at the quarter mark, San Francisco opens its divisional schedule coming off an impressive 31-3 beating of the Cleveland Browns Monday night.

“We haven’t done a good job in our division these last two years and we definitely want to change that,” Shanahan said. “To do that against a team like the Rams, who really have dominated these last two years, would be a very good start for us.”

It may only be mid-October, but a defeat would pin Los Angeles three games in the loss column behind San Francisco in the division standings.

“We go into every game trying to win,” Rams quarterback Jared Goff said. “I think especially a division game. That’s where the pressure lies. It is a division game and we want to go out and win.”

The Rams don’t just find themselves looking up in the division the first time in the McVay Era, the head coach has some injury issues to navigate as he attempts to end the two-game losing streak.

Running back Todd Gurley has been ruled out with a quadriceps injury suffered in the 30-29 loss in Seattle on Oct. 3.

“I think he knows his body as well as anybody,” McVay said.

That opens the door for backup Malcolm Brown to start and could hand third-round draft pick Darrell Henderson his first significant NFL opportunity.

“We feel more than confident (Brown) can handle that and Darrell will look to get in there as well,” McVay said.

Samson Ebukam, who started at outside linebacker last season, steps into the role vacated by Clay Matthews III. Matthews suffered a broken jaw in Seattle and is expected to miss at least a month.

“I think (Matthews) had six sacks already in five games, so it tells you what he can do,” McVay said. “Plus, in the run game, I thought he played tremendously well against everybody’s tight ends.

“But Samson’s played and he’s started for us and he’s done some good things. We feel comfortable with him playing there.”

Former starter Troy Hill is set to fill in for starting cornerback Aqib Talib, who has been declared out with a rib injury.

“He played a lot of football last year,” McVay said of Hill. “We think he’s a starting-caliber player. He’s got great short-space quickness, good agilities, good lateral movement. He’s got a good understanding of what we’re trying to get done.”

Hill grabbed his first NFL interception last season in San Francisco.

“When Troy’s played, he’s played well,” McVay said. “He’s played at a high level and we’re very confident in Troy.”

The two teams have split the home-and-home series last two seasons, but that’s largely because the Rams were resting up for the postseason in consecutive Week 17 home losses, 48-32 in 2017 and 34-13 last year.

So, as this NorCal-SoCal rivalry turns a new page, the Rams find themselves in a position they have yet to experience in McVay’s three seasons.

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