The 49ers’ vaunted defense found itself seriously outclassed in the first half on Sunday.
Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford, recovering from the elbow soreness that ruined his season a year ago, was slashing, dicing and getting rid of the ball before the 49ers pass rush could do damages.
But the 49ers scored a late touchdown on Brock Purdy’s 1-yard sneak on the final play of the first half, tying the game 17-17, and a defense that believes it should be one of the best in the NFL played closer. to that level in a 30-23 victory at SoFi Stadium.
A week ago, the 49ers defense spit fire in a 30-7 victory at Pittsburgh, forcing five straight three-and-outs and taking control of the game early.
So how is it that the 49ers were able to learn more about themselves against a mostly no-name Rams team that nonetheless looks much improved from last year’s 5-12 disaster?
Because they came out of the game against an elite passer and turned the game in their favor with two takeaways and an improved pass rush.
Stafford finished 14 of 18 for 143 yards and a 6-yard touchdown pass to Kyren Williams in the first half. The Rams only had three possessions, scoring on all of them.
“I think it started with Stafford, with him getting so hot early on, especially the way they came out on that first drive,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “He was attacking our zones and looked pretty effortless. He did a good job of keeping us off balance and I thought once we got a little clocked up in the second half things started to look better.
After making a field goal, a touchdown, a touchdown and running 32 plays in the first half, the 49ers allowed the Rams just two field goals in the second half — and the last one went through the uprights as time expired. was expiring on a workout that added clock consumption. a distance that hurt the Rams more than it helped.
The Rams’ second half possessions were as follows: punt, Isaiah Oliver interception, punt, field goal, Deommodore Lenoir interception, turnover on downs and finally the game-ending field goal.
Heat-seeking missile 🚀 @fred_warner
– San Francisco 49ers (@49ers) September 17, 2023
The 49ers only sacked Stafford once — during a Fred Warner blitz in the second half — but at least made him uncomfortable and changed a rhythm that, in the first half, shook the 49ers. The Rams totaled just 92 rushing yards on 40 carries in their Week 1 win over Seattle, but made more progress against the 49ers (13 carries for 53 yards) in the first half.
“Overall, we were trying to get tighter coverage, trying to pressure Stafford a little more and trying to eliminate the running game,” Warner said. “In the first half, that running game allowed them to stay a long way ahead of the sticks. They took what we gave them. We had to time things in the background and try to make it a little more difficult for Stafford.
Oliver, signed as a free agent by Atlanta to replace nickel back Jimmie Ward, made his first big play on the Rams’ first possession of the second half, tackling Williams on a 3-yard pass from Stafford to third and fifth. on the 49ers 49-yard line. This forced the Rams’ first punt of the game. With 2:23 left, Nick Bosa made a fourth-and-1 save.
A shaky 49ers three-and-out was followed by Oliver’s interception of a Stafford pass after it slipped out of Williams’ hands. It set up a 57-yard field goal by Jake Moody for a 20-17 lead.
Warner’s 10-yard sack of Stafford broke up the Rams’ ensuing possession, with the 49ers responding with a seven-play, 74-yard drive that ended with Deebo Samuel’s 11-yard run with a lateral from Purdy.
“I kind of wound up and the B gap opened up like the Red Sea,” Warner said.
The Rams closed to within 27-20 on a 48-yard field goal by Brett Maher, but the 49ers defense wasn’t finished. With 4:58 left, Lenoir got in front of Van Jefferson, with Bosa putting pressure on Stafford, an interception that led to Moody’s 26-yard field goal that essentially ended things.
Oliver also stopped Puka Nacua one yard away on a first down in the fourth quarter when the Rams turned him over on downs.
“I thought he was a stud today,” Shanahan said. “I know he made some huge plays. With some of our DBs down, he had to step up efforts because they were all over the place. He did a great job there.
To their credit, the 49ers have not outwardly expressed the slightest overconfidence despite winning the last nine regular-season meetings against the Rams, having won the previous eight by an average of 14 points per game.
Maybe it’s because the Rams won the biggest challenge: winning the NFC title after the 2021 season. Or maybe it’s because of the pain they feel after every game against Los Angeles.
“People want to talk about our record against them in the regular season, but it’s still a tough battle like it was today,” Warner said. “They know us, we know them. They had a great game plan for our defense. There are some things that we definitely need to consolidate.
Although Bosa had no sacks, he drew two holding penalties and made the difference late. After missing all of training camp while his agent negotiated a contract extension, he should only get better.
“I think I needed a few games to get my body in shape, that’s for sure,” Bosa said. “You can’t fake it. I experienced two. I had good results in this one. I think it only goes up from here.
A week after a dominant performance from start to finish in Week 1, the Rams had more questions for the 49ers defense than the Steelers. The 49ers ended up having the right answers.