8:15 p.m. ET (ESPN) | Levi’s Stadium
Week 10’s installment of Monday Night Football features an NFC West rivalry that is sure to be heated despite their adverse placement in the standings. The Los Angeles Rams look to end a four-game losing streak against the San Francisco 49ers with the home team looking to squash a harrowing trend in its home stadium. Armed with star-studded reinforcements, the Rams are all in on 2021 and a win on MNF would level L.A. with the first-place Arizona Cardinals. Perhaps that’s a perfect opportunity for the 49ers to play spoiler and reverse a season that has gotten out of hand.
Here are four things to watch for Monday night when the 49ers host the Rams:
1) How will the Rams use their midseason acquisitions? Odell Beckham and Von Miller suddenly found themselves in sunny Los Angeles midway through the season and represent a team fully invested in its 2021 Super Bowl aspirations. NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Saturday that Beckham is expected make his debut with the Rams just days after agreeing to a one-year deal, which came after his divorce from the Browns. Beckham’s quick turnaround may have much to do with the loss of wideout Robert Woods, who suffered a torn ACL in practice on the same day OBJ landed in L.A. Asking Beckham to fulfill Woods’ role would be a stretch considering their difference in skillsets and Beckham having had just one practice, but Matthew Stafford and coach Sean McVay shouldn’t have any issue in utilizing the star receiver. On the other hand, Miller, who was acquired via trade two weeks ago, is questionable to play with an ankle injury, but his debut with the team would finally actualize an all-time great pass-rushing duo. Miller (110.5) and Aaron Donald (91.5) are two of eight players currently in the league with 90-plus career sacks and the ninth duo ever to play its first career game as teammates having already passed that total. Per NFL Research, in two of the last four instances of 90-plus sack teammates, the younger player had five-plus sacks in the game (Arizona’s Chandler Jones had 5.0 sacks Week 1, 2021 with J.J. Watt; Kansas City’s Derrick Thomas had 6.0 sacks in Week 1, 1998 with Leslie O’Neal). History bodes well for the younger Donald, who once tied his single-game sack high (4.0) versus San Francisco.
2) Keeping up with Cooper Kupp. The Rams offense has largely ran through Stafford’s No. 1 target, who currently leads the league in receiving yards (1,019), receptions (74) and receiving touchdowns (10). Nine weeks into Kupp’s remarkable campaign, the Rams wideout needs 143 receiving yards and one TD reception on Monday night to set new career-highs just nine games into this season (previous single-season highs: 1,161 yards and 10 rec TD in 2019). Personal bests aside, Kupp has a great chance at maintaining a historic pace against a banged-up 49ers secondary. The 28-year-old is in the running to make the exclusive “Triple Crown” club of wide receivers. Only Jerry Rice (1990), Sterling Sharpe (1992) and Steve Smith (2005) have ever led the league in all three major receiving categories by season’s end, per NFL Research.
3) Kyle Shanahan’s offense needs to shine. A big win over the star-studded Rams could be the start of a necessary midseason 49ers turnaround after losing five of their last six. Shanahan’s 49ers have the most wins (5-3) of any NFL team against the McVay-led Rams, but finding offensive consistency will be needed in order to get their fifth straight win against this L.A. squad. Maintaining long scoring drives is a two-fold recipe for success that will start and end with a running attack headed by standout rookie Elijah Mitchell and Jeff Wilson Jr. (the 49ers’ leading rusher a year ago) seeing his first action of the season. Of course, the threat of a ground game can open things up for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who has Deebo Samuel and George Kittle at his disposal with Brandon Aiyuk coming into his own. Second in the league to Kupp in receiving yards, Samuel’s 882 yards (49 receptions) are the most by a 49ers player through the first eight games of a season in franchise history. Perhaps even rookie QB Trey Lance will get involved in some situations, but a balanced blend of run and pass are foundational elements of Shanahan’s system, and controlling the narrative of the game script in this one is essential.
4) Can the 49ers break a home field skid? It’s been over a year since the 49ers have won a game at Levi’s Stadium, and their winless home record this year (0-4) has furthered a glaring mark for the “Faithful” in Santa Clara. The 49ers’ home record of 23-34 (.404 win percentage) at Levi’s Stadium ranks them 61st out of 63 teams to play a minimum of 25-plus games at a home stadium since the 1970 merger, per NFL Research. A loss on Monday night to the Rams would drop the 49ers to 62nd behind the Atlanta Falcons (14-21, .400 win percentage at Mercedes-Benz Stadium) and in front of the Cleveland Browns (69-110-1, .386 win percentage at FirstEnergy Stadium). Adding insult to an alarming trend, the Niners’ last home win with fans in the stands came on Jan. 19, 2020 when San Francisco punched its ticket to Super Bowl LIV. Considering the 49ers’ last home win came in Week 6 of the 2020 season versus the Rams (Oct. 18, 2020), perhaps the stars are aligning for an upset.
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