Rebuilding 49ers, Rams can assess progress in Thursday game
The Los Angeles Rams travel north to take on their long-time NFC West rival San Francisco 49ers in this week's Thursday night game.
This game should be a good test of two franchises that are in rebuilding modes.
However, each team has some injury issues. San Francisco safety Eric Reid injured his knee and won't play against the Rams, and linebacker Reuben Foster is not expected to play because of an ankle injury.
Rams tight end Gerald Everett suffered a thigh injury and cornerback Kayvon Webster (shoulder) did not play against Washington.
Both teams have first-year head coaches: Sean McVay for the Rams and Kyle Shanahan for the 49ers.
The Rams are 1-1 on the season and the 49ers are 0-2. But both teams are improved from 2016 and have shown growth under their new regimes, especially on offense.
San Francisco running back Carlos Hyde has been impressive in each of the team's first two games and he will be a focal point against the Rams. Hyde is fourth in the league in rushing with 169 yards. What is more impressive is the fact he is averaging 7.0 yards a carry. The only issue with the 49ers' ground game is the lack of touchdowns by Hyde. He enters the Thursday night game with no rushing scores.
"I've been pleased with Carlos in both games," Shanahan said Monday after having a chance to look at the game film. "He came to compete (Sunday), and it showed."
The Rams' defense was poor against the Redskins in Week 2 and will need to shore up its tackling while matching up against an improving offensive line. San Francisco guard Laken Tomlinson, who spent the preseason with the Lions but was acquired in a trade, started in Week 2 and made a noticeable impact on the interior run game. This week he will be facing one of the best interior defensive linemen in the NFL, Aaron Donald. Donald did not play in Week 1 after a training camp holdout and looked sluggish in Week 2 against the Redskins. He finished with just one tackle and an assist.
"I didn't win my one-on-ones," Donald said. "When I have one-on-ones, I usually win those. I was doing too much thinking. I keep trying to say, that's on me so I just have to play better."
The Rams' running game appears markedly better than the team showed in 2016. Running back Todd Gurley, the 2015 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, is ranked eighth in the NFL with 128 yards. Though he is only averaging 3.7 yards a carry, Gurley had two rushing scores in the first two games and has added value as a pass catcher with eight receptions for 104 yards and another score. The Rams will need Gurley to continue to be that dual-threat player against the 49ers defense.
Second-year quarterback Jared Goff has grown as a player under McVay. Though he threw a costly interception late in the game against the Redskins to halt the team's comeback, Goff has been poised in the pocket and has shown confidence in his arm and his receivers. Goff had a breakout game in Week 1 against the Indianapolis Colts and was solid in Week 2.
Even though the Rams lost to the Redskins, Goff was pleased with the way the team battled to come from behind. He said he was impressed with "our ability to fight back that we now know we have. Knowing that we can go down 13-nothing, we probably could've even gone down 17-nothing and get a chance to fight back. We've got the weapons out there to make plays -- to make big plays and we get ourselves back in the game. I think it's drastically improved. We now know that we're never out of the fight and continue to keep going. As long as we execute and take care of the ball -- good things will happen."
The 49ers' passing attack under quarterback Brian Hoyer has been dreadful. Hoyer passed for a mere 99 yards in Week 2, and the offense has yet to score a touchdown in 2017.
While the offense has leaned on the rushing attack, Hoyer has been plagued by missed throws and critical drops. Wide receiver Marquise Goodwin has dropped two potential game-changing plays in back-to-back weeks. If the 49ers expect to win at home on Thursday night, they will need more efficient offense out of Hoyer and the wide receivers.
Updated September 19, 2017