By Sam McPherson
The Los Angeles Rams offense has struggled all season, to the tune of just 14.1 points and 278.8 yards per game in 2016. Those are the worst numbers in the NFL this year, and considering the Rams have the 2015 Offensive Rookie of the Year and the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft in their starting lineup, it’s sort of inexcusable that the Los Angeles offense has been this bad this season.
Enter the San Francisco 49ers, owners of the worst defense in the NFL right now. The Rams host the 49ers on Saturday, and if Los Angeles running back Todd Gurley, quarterback Jared Goff and the offense as a whole are unable to surpass those averages above, it’s a bad sign for the Rams organization in terms of where it’s headed in 2017 and beyond. This is as easy as it gets for an NFL offense this year, playing the sad-sack 49ers defense.
Gurley Must Run Like It’s 2015
Much has been made about the struggles of Gurley, the Offensive Rookie of the Year last year for the Rams when he ran for 1,106 yards and 10 touchdowns on just 229 carries in only 13 games. This season, through 14 games, he has just 778 yards on 241 carries. It’s been downright ugly for Gurley, and without a running attack, the L.A. offense has been stifled by even average defenses around the NFL.
The San Francisco defense has been gashed by running backs this year, giving up 176.3 yards per game on the ground to opposing offenses. If Gurley and the Rams cannot find running room against the 49ers, it will be the sign of complete failure. The Rams RB gained just 47 yards on 17 carries against S.F. in week 1 this year, and overall, Gurley has just one game this year where he’s gained more than four yards per attempt (Detroit, week 6). He can’t let the 49ers shut him down twice, especially when the San Francisco defense is so decimated and bad.
Goff Must Demonstrate Why He Was Worth Drafting
With the rookie QB success around the league this year, particularly with Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott earning MVP consideration, Goff is on the hot seat. He was the top pick in the draft, and he hasn’t played very well up to this point. He is 0-5 as the starter, posting a 65.7 QB rating. Goff has thrown just four TD passes, while tossing five interceptions, and he is completing just 54.7 percent of passes, which is an unacceptable completion rate in the NFL these days.
The 49ers have a middling pass defense in terms of yards allowed, but that’s mostly due to the fact teams have run the ball so well against San Francisco that they haven’t needed to pass much. A more telling statistic is this one: Opposing QBs have a 100.3 rating this year against the 49ers, throwing 28 TDs and only eight INTs. The list of QBs to beat San Francisco this year includes relatively inexperienced players, such as Chicago’s Matt Barkley, New York’s Bryce Petty, Dallas’ Prescott, Buffalo’s Tyrod Taylor and Tampa Bay’s Jameis Winston. Goff must match those performances, at least, this Saturday to give the Rams hope for the future.
Los Angeles’ Offensive Game Plan
The good news here is that interim coach John Fassel is not former coach Jeff Fisher, and while he has spent his entire NFL coaching career working with special teams, Fassel is the son of Jim Fassel, one of the brighter offensive minds in the game for 15 years recently (1992-2006). This means he’s already more qualified inherently than Fisher to design a quality offensive game plan for the 49ers game.
Considering, too, that the Rams have had three extra days to plan for this San Francisco matchup, there should be plenty of offensive innovation happening on the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum field on Christmas Eve. Look for early play-action calls designed to exploit the 49ers secondary early and often. That will open up the field for Gurley to have the game he needs to have, and then Goff won’t struggle as much as he has so far in his short NFL career.