Under the bright lights of Sunday night football, the San Francisco 49ers found redemption with an impressive victory over the Los Angeles Rams. After an atrocious showing the previous week, the 49ers turned in a solid outing against their division rival. In what was a must-win game to salvage the season, San Francisco performed well under the lights at Levi Stadium. Today we take a look at the three keys that stood out in the victory and how the 49ers may have saved their season.
During the two-game losing streak, San Francisco’s offensive line struggled to keep the pocket clean. As a result, the 49ers surrendered 10 sacks combined over the two games. On Sunday, against the best defensive lineman in the league, the 49ers did not allow a sack. The Los Angeles pass rush was unable to generate consistent pressure on the day which allowed the San Francisco offense to find a solid rhythm for most of the game. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo started his second game since returning from a high-ankle sprain and looked much more comfortable this week. While not fully recovered, Garoppolo was allowed time to survey the field and was rarely forced to move off of his dropback point in the pocket. Garoppolo finished the game completing 23 of 33 attempts, for 268 yards passing and three touchdowns. It was quite the bounce-back performance for the San Francisco signal-caller.
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A major part of keeping Garoppolo clean under the lights was played by the right side of the offensive line. Right tackle Mike McGlinchey and right guard Daniel Brunskill were instrumental at slowing down defensive tackle, Aaron Donald. At one point during the NBC broadcast, the commentators mentioned that Donald had accounted for just a single quarterback pressure and one quarterback hit. Brunskill himself must receive a bulk of the praise as he often worked against Donald without assistance and did more than hold his own against the All-Pro defensive tackle. In pass protection, Brunskill was quick with his hand placement and kept his feet moving to avoid getting out of position. At right tackle, McGlinchey did a solid job of absorbing Donald’s power rushes. McGlinchey had taken a heavy dose of criticism over the previous two weeks but showed his ability under the lights against the Rams.
— Sunday Night Football (@SNFonNBC) October 19, 2020
The offense started fast. It started with major adjustments by the coaching staff. The 49ers focused on getting the ball out of Jimmy Garoppolo’s hands. It started with getting the ground game working. The 49ers finished the game with 37 rushing attempts for 122 yards on the ground. However, head coach Kyle Shanahan threw in at least a half-dozen short passes that effectively served as long handoffs, specifically a quick touch pass. In shotgun formation with a receiver coming across the formation, Garoppolo took the snap and guided the ball forward in the same motion. These touch passes and screens helped to negate the pass rush for the Rams while also getting the ball into the hands of the San Francisco playmakers like Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, and George Kittle. Samuel opened the scoring on one of these plays.
Deebo Samuel can't stop, won't stop 😤pic.twitter.com/WHdRqVrIgK
— PFF (@PFF) October 19, 2020
Defensively, Dre Greenlaw returned from injury. Greenlaw slipped into the hole left by Kwon Alexander on the weakside. Emmanuel Moseley also made his return. Having missed the previous two weeks due to a concussion, Moseley’s return allowed the 49ers to focus their safeties in the middle of the field. San Francisco’s defense held the Rams to 198 yards passing with tight coverage on the outside and flooding the field underneath. The 49ers took away the bootleg from Los Angeles. In previous matchups between Sean McVay and Robert Saleh, the Rams moved quarterback Jared Goff out of the pocket to neutralize the San Francisco pass rush. However, the 49ers kept a rusher as a sort of spy on Goff, while walking down a defender at the end of the line when the Rams were in a run formation. It was an impressive move by the embattled defensive coordinator.
When the 49ers defense took the field last week against the Miami Dolphins, they did so without their top three cornerbacks. They started Brian Allen at one cornerback position, a player who had not seen action in the league since 2018. Understandably, the unit was shredded and embarrassed. However, when the lights came on for Sunday’s matchup, the 49ers welcomed back Emmanuel Moseley to the lineup. The addition transformed the defense and helped spur the unit to shut down the high-powered Rams offense. It wasn’t Moseley who dominated on Sunday night, although he was solid on an island, it was instead the veteran Jason Verrett. The former first-round selection was the best player on defense for the 49ers. He was targeted just twice, allowing zero catches, with a pass breakup and game-changing interception. Pro Football Focus graded Verrett at a 94.0, highest out of all defenders for either team.
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Without a sack, the pass rush did a solid job of collapsing the pocket and limiting the time that Jared Goff was allowed. San Francisco forced the Rams offense to methodically drive the football on every possession. Goff finished with a 50% completion percentage and the most productive Rams receiver was the tight end, Tyler Higbee, with 56 yards receiving. Los Angeles’ top threats, wide receivers Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods, finished with a combined seven receptions on 19 targets, for 40 yards receiving. It was a throwback to the suffocating defense from the 2019 season for the 49ers, even if the pass rush wasn’t a dominant feature. It was a stellar performance for a defense desperate to welcome back pieces from the injured list. The 49ers will need their defense to replicate this type of performance if they hope to sneak into the conversation for the playoffs this season.
This end zone INT 👀 #FTTB
— NFL (@NFL) October 19, 2020
Next Step Forward
The schedule doesn’t get any easier for the 49ers. San Francisco travels to the east coast to face the New England Patriots. The Patriots have a stingy defense and could cause problems with their run-heavy offense. That is followed by a visit to Seattle and a quick turnaround for a Thursday night game against the Packers. The 49ers would be wise to focus on replicating their performance under the Sunday night lights. San Francisco now sits at 3-3 on the year. They have the chance to get back into playoff contention. The 49ers showed the type of team they can be with the powerful performance against the Rams. Was it a flash in the pan or can the 49ers sustain that level of play?
– Ryan Adverderada is the Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage 49ers. He also covers the Arizona Cardinals for Full Press Coverage. Like and follow on Follow @ryanadverderada