Grant Cohn: Why the 49ers will win their season finale
When the 49ers beat the LA Rams this Sunday, remember this column.
It says here the 49ers will win 19-17, despite missing three running backs, three wide receivers and a quarterback, and playing a 12-win team that can’t take the day off. This game is really important to the Rams. They could blow their first-round bye in the playoffs if they lose to the 49ers.
Oddsmakers predict the Rams will win by 10 points.
Here’s why the oddsmakers are dead wrong:
1. They underestimate the 49ers’ defense.
The oddsmakers expect the Rams to score exactly 29 points, and it’s easy to see why:
The 49ers’ defense has allowed 30.3 points per game on the road this season.
But that stat is misleading. In each of the 49ers’ seven road games, either Reuben Foster or Malcolm Smith played weak-side linebacker and both were awful. Foster couldn’t remember the play call consistently, and Smith couldn’t move well — he had an Achilles injury.
Now, Foster is on the commissioner’s exempt list while cashing checks from the Washington Redskins and Smith is on the bench. And suddenly, the 49ers’ defense plays with discipline. Because the new weak-side linebacker, Elijah Lee, isn’t bad. In fact, he may be the best linebacker on the team.
Isn’t it amazing how many good players the 49ers didn’t know they have?
Lee has started four games. And with him in the lineup, the 49ers defense has given up just 19.5 points per game. He allows the defense to function. Without him, it’s chaos.
The Rams will have to grind to score points against the new, improved Niners.
2. Jared Goff is a pedestrian quarterback right now.
Earlier this season, Goff was superhuman when he had his slot receiver, Cooper Kupp, who is a terrific player. Goff trusts him more than any other receiver.
But Kupp is out for the season with a torn ACL. And his injury hurts Goff.
When Kupp was healthy, Goff’s quarterback rating was 118.1. Since Kupp has been out, Goff’s quarterback rating is merely 86.6.
The 49ers will double-cover both of the Rams’ outside receivers — Robert Woods and Brandin Cooks — and take away the play-action deep passes to force Goff to patiently check down to his tight ends. Goff hates checking down and he’s not patient. He will force passes into coverage.
The Rams will have to run the ball well to win.
3. Todd Gurley will miss the game with a knee injury.
When the 49ers and Rams played at Levi’s Stadium on Oct. 21, Gurley scored three touchdowns and the Rams won 39-10.
With Gurley out this Sunday, the Rams’ starting running back will be C.J. Anderson, whom they signed off the street less than two weeks ago.
In his first game with the Rams last Sunday, Anderson rushed for 167 yards and one touchdown. But he faced the Arizona Cardinals, who have the NFL’s worst record and seem to have quit on their head coach, Steve Wilks. The Cardinals reportedly will fire him at the end of the season, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
The 49ers have not quit on Kyle Shanahan. They will play hard against the Rams, and shut down their fill-in running back.