By Sam McPherson
For the Los Angeles Rams, the 2016 NFL season has been a struggle, but it’s been even more so for the team’s Week 16 opponent from up north. While the Rams have lost nine of their last 10 games, the San Francisco 49ers have lost 13 straight since beating Los Angeles, 28-0, in Week 1 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara. Now, the Rams get the rematch on their home turf of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
The last time the 49ers played in Los Angeles was 1994, when S.F. went on to win its fifth and last Super Bowl championship. The longtime NFC West rivals are two of the worst teams in the NFC this year, however, which is why the Seattle Seahawks were the first NFL team to clinch a division title this year. Both teams desperately want a win this Saturday. The Rams want to give interim coach John Fassel a nice holiday gift, while the 49ers want to avoid becoming the worst team in franchise history when it comes to win-loss record.
49ers Season Record
Since San Francisco beat L.A. in Week 1 on Monday Night Football, the 49ers haven’t won a single game, leaving them with a 1-13 mark overall. San Francisco has lost four games by a touchdown or less, including an overtime game at home against the Jets where the Niners led 14-0 early. The 49ers also lost to both the Dallas Cowboys at home and the Miami Dolphins on the road by just seven points, so San Francisco has been competitive here and there against good teams.
However, the 49ers have been blown out, too, on several occasions. The average margin of defeat in the 13 losses is 15.2 points, as S.F. has lost to seven different teams by at least 17 points this year. Three times before in 49ers history has a team finished with a 2-14 record, so this San Francisco squad is trying to avoid “besting” that franchise low.
49ers On Offense
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick is 0-9 as a starter this season, although his numbers really aren’t that bad, considering. He’s completed just 55.5 percent of his attempts this year, but Kaepernick has thrown 13 TDs and only three interceptions. Toss in his 437 rushing yards with a career-high average (7.5 yards per carry), and it’s clear Kaep is still a threat with his legs, too.
Running back Carlos Hyde has 950 rushing yards with a 4.7 average this season, but he’s been hurt here and there, making his overall production less consistent than the 49ers would have liked. Overall, the San Francisco offense has the fourth-best rushing attack in the NFL, in terms of yards gained on the ground. The biggest issue is that they have little-to-no receiving talent on the team, and injuries have robbed the receiving corps of what talent there was this season.
49ers On Defense
This is not the San Francisco defense that carried the 49ers to three straight NFC championship games from 2011-2013. Thanks to injuries and retirements, the Niners have the worst defense in the league this year, both in terms of points allowed and yards against. The unit lost Pro Bowler NaVorro Bowman in Week 4, and it’s just been a struggle to defend all opponents for San Francisco since then.
Rookie defensive lineman DeForest Buckner is the real deal, though, in terms of anchoring the 49ers defense for the present and the future. He is third on the team with 69 total tackles, and Buckner is also tied for the S.F. lead with five sacks. At age 22, he should be a cornerstone of the team’s defense for years to come.
49ers Players To Watch
Kaepernick is still capable of big plays, and so is Hyde. With the combined rushing talents of the QB and the RB in San Francisco head coach Chip Kelly’s offense, defenses need to stay focused in order to stop the 49ers’ rushing attack. Either player can take the ball to the house on any given play. In addition to Buckner on the defensive side of the ball, safety Antoine Bethea has almost 100 tackles this year, and he hits hard. The Rams want to make sure their receivers do not take any poundings over the middle from Bethea in this one.
The Rams are at home, and they had a few extra days to prepare for this Saturday game. That should make the difference, especially since the S.F. defense is terrible against the run. This means L.A. RB Todd Gurley might have his best game of the season in Week 16. However, the Rams defense will have to make sure it stops Kaepernick and Hyde from running wild in return. Look for Los Angeles to hold on late in this game and win by a field goal.