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49ers' game plan in win over Rams made sure to minimize Aaron Donald, and Jimmy Garoppolo, too

Frank Schwab
·3-min read

Kyle Shanahan and the San Francisco 49ers had two issues to address for Sunday night’s game against the Los Angeles Rams.

They couldn’t let Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald beat them. They couldn’t let quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo beat them either.

A week after Garoppolo struggled badly on an injured ankle and was benched in a bad loss to the Miami Dolphins, the 49ers made it simpler on offense. Basically, Garoppolo was going to throw a lot behind the line of scrimmage and get rid of the ball fast to the team’s offensive playmakers.

It worked. The 49ers got off to a fast start and the short passing game meant Donald, arguably the best player in football, wasn’t a big factor. The 49ers got a pretty easy 24-16 win to improve to 3-3. The Rams are 4-2.

The 49ers needed a big win, and their coaching staff might deserve the game ball.

49ers have a great plan to pull out win

At one point in the first half, NBC pointed out that Garoppolo’s average depth of target was actually below zero, because he kept throwing behind the line of scrimmage.

The 49ers have the players to pull that off. Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk and George Kittle are all very good after the catch. Garoppolo did a lot of short throwing last season, and he’s good at putting his receivers in a spot to gain yards after the catch. But Sunday was extreme.

The opening drive set the tone. Samuel had a nice play in which he maintained his balance and stayed up for a long gain when the Rams thought he was tackled. Kittle caught a short pass and ran down near the goal line. Samuel scored a touchdown on a quick end-around, behind a nice block by Kittle.

Garoppolo’s best play did come a bit downfield. On fourth-and-2, against a heavy blitz, Garoppolo led Kittle very well over the middle, Kittle turned up and ran the final 33 yards for a 44-yard score and a 14-0 lead. When Garoppolo is not asked to do too much, especially on an ankle that doesn’t look entirely healed, the 49ers are usually pretty efficient.

The game-clinching play summed up the 49ers’ plan. They ran a touch pass to Samuel for a jet sweep, with Garoppolo pushing the ball ahead slightly after the shotgun snap and letting Samuel run with it. Samuel picked up the first down on third-and-7, and the game was done. In the books, it goes down as an 11-yard pass for Garoppolo, though he only pushed it ahead a couple of feet to Samuel.

San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle (85) celebrates after scoring against the Los Angeles Rams. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle (85) celebrates after scoring against the Los Angeles Rams. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

49ers still alive at 3-3

The 49ers have had injuries and some general malaise after their NFC championship. They were 2-3 coming into Sunday night’s game and with a tough schedule ahead, it felt like a must-win game against a 4-1 Rams team.

A strong performance on Sunday night doesn’t mean the 49ers are back. They still have major injury issues and will have to overcome that to stay in the playoff race. Sunday was a step, at least.

The Rams offense was shut down. They misfired on some plays, but mostly the 49ers kept everything in front of them in the passing game. Early in the fourth quarter, Goff had completed just 10 of 25 passes for 115 yards. The Rams were stuck on nine points. They dropped some passes that could have changed the game. It was a rough performance by an offense that has been mostly good but with a couple baffling, quiet performances.

The 49ers aren’t dead. They would have been in trouble at 2-4. A win keeps them afloat in one of the NFL’s toughest divisions. They can thank a fantastic game plan for Sunday night’s win.

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