DeMeco Ryans is due for a promotion. It appears the defensive coordinator isn’t long for San Francisco because of how effective his unit has been in the first month of the season, and Monday night stands as his best showing yet. Ryans capitalized on a weakened Rams offensive line by dialing up plenty of pressure with a variety of attacks, overwhelming the undermanned Rams to the tune of seven sacks. Ryans’ defense reduced the Los Angeles offense to rubble, limiting the Rams to 257 total yards and keeping them out of the end zone entirely. When things got close late, rising star Talanoa Hufanga delivered the knockout punch with a fantastic pick-six. We’ve seen enough to know the 49ers won’t always get the best performances from Jimmy Garoppolo, but if the defense remains this effective, they’ll have a shot in every game — and Ryans will find himself on the head-coaching interview circuit in 2023.
The Rams’ offense is in shambles. Widely seen as an offensive genius, Sean McVay hasn’t found an answer for Los Angeles’ struggles with the football. The offensive line has been decimated by injuries to the point Matthew Stafford chose to throw to Cooper Kupp — his only trusted target — in double coverage on a crucial third-and-10 instead of waiting one more beat to look to Allen Robinson, resulting in an incompletion. Robinson, meanwhile, continues to struggle to find a place in this offense, and Los Angeles hasn’t shown much of an offensive rhythm. Kupp is all Stafford has to work with in this offense right now. And the running game remains absent, gaining just 57 yards as a team. That’s deserving of a place on the side of a milk carton, and is the only explanation for McVay calling three straight passes in a goal-to-go situation from San Francisco’s 8-yard line.
Deebo Samuel is back to his old self. He never truly left, but after the 49ers failed to do anything of note just a week ago, they took their second straight prime-time game and ran with it. Samuel did so literally, catching a short pass from Garoppolo (which was nearly intercepted), then becoming a tackle-breaking, nightmare-inducing machine, barreling down the field like a runaway 18-wheeler with a convoy of blockers coming along for the ride. The yards-after-catch total on that play was 52, boosting Garoppolo’s final line on a night in which Kyle Shanahan wisely relied on a short passing game and let the targets do the dirty work. Samuel had plenty to show for it, finishing with six catches for 115 yards and a touchdown. As Garoppolo said afterward, the YAC Bros. are back.
This is a Talanoa Hufanga appreciation point. We mentioned him in the first point tonight, but Hufanga has earned his own note. No player on the 49ers’ defense has been better through the first month of the season, which made Monday night a little strange because Hufanga hadn’t made a significant play in the first three quarters. As it turns out, he was saving his best for last. Clinging to an eight-point lead in the final quarter, Hufanga perfectly read a receiver screen, jumping Stafford’s pass intended for Kupp, juggling it and securing the ball just as he took off for the end zone. Hufanga’s pick-six put the Rams to bed and the rest of the football world on notice. You no longer have to watch the 49ers every week to know Hufanga is a difference-maker — and one of my favorite players to watch in the entire league in 2022.
The Rams can’t survive the Bay Area once again. Monday night marked Los Angeles’ seventh-straight regular-season loss to the division-rival 49ers. They’re remarkably bad when heading to the greater San Francisco area, falling to 3-11-1 in road games against the 49ers since 2008. That’s well before the start of the Sean McVay era, but no matter the coach, quarterback or home city (they were headquartered in St. Louis until 2016), the Rams just can’t get the job done in San Francisco. Monday night was only one game, but it stands as a point of concern for the Rams, who at 2-2 are tied with the 49ers and the rest of the NFC West, but have a lot of questions to answer going forward. It’s difficult to defend a Super Bowl title — one earned in part by taking down the 49ers at home in the NFC Championship Game — and performances like this one don’t inspire much confidence.
NFL Research: Matthew Stafford threw his 28th career pick-six Monday night, tying him with Hall of Famer Joe Namath for the third-most thrown by any player since 1950. Stafford also failed to throw a touchdown pass for a second straight game, the first time he’s done so in consecutive contests since Weeks 15-16 of the 2016 season.
Deebo Samuel, 49ers roll over Rams, forge four-way NFC West tie
SANTA CLARA, Calif. — In their two losses this season, the San Francisco 49ers’ defense just needed a little help from the offense. On Monday night against the Los Angeles Rams, it turns out what was really needed was a heaping helping of Deebo Samuel.
The Niners’ previously struggling offense got the spark it needed from Samuel, who ignited the offense with a whirling dervish of a 57-yard touchdown catch and went on to a six-catch, 115-yard night. San Francisco’s suffocating defense took care of the rest in a 24-9 victory that was the Niners’ seventh straight against the Rams in the regular season. The victory pushed the 49ers to 2-2 on the season and 2-0 in the NFC West.
Eye-popping Next Gen stat: Samuel’s 57-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter included 51 yards after catch over expectation, per NFL Next Gen Stats. That’s the second most on any pass play for the Niners since 2016, behind only the 83-yard catch he had to set up a score in a Week 8 win against the Chicago Bears in 2021. Samuel ran a total of 79.7 yards on the touchdown.
Buy Talanoa Hufanga’s breakout performance: The Niners’ second-year strong safety looked like an emerging star in the season’s first three weeks with his fearless, attacking style and better-than-his-40-time coverage skills. But Hufanga made a big statement in front of a national audience Monday night, stepping in front of a short Matthew Stafford throw and juggling the ball a bit before securing it and racing 52 yards for the game-sealing touchdown. The Niners’ defense is already star-studded, but it looks like they’ll need room for one more.
QB breakdown: 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo insisted all week that finding a rhythm was a work in progress and would take some time. And while that was clearly still the case on Monday, Garoppolo undoubtedly improved from Week 3 to Week 4. Garoppolo missed some throws he needs to make, but he was mostly on time and getting rid of the ball quickly behind an offensive line missing star left tackle Trent Williams. Most important, he had zero turnovers in a game in which a giveaway could have turned the outcome. He finished 16-of-27 for 239 yards with a touchdown for a passer rating of 100.7. — Nick Wagoner
Underrated statistic to know: The first-quarter field goal by Rams kicker Matt Gay marked the first points the 49ers have allowed on their first defensive possession this season. It was also the first points allowed by the 49ers in a first quarter this season. They were the last team to allow a first-quarter point.
Coach Sean McVay said after the Los Angeles Rams’ Week 3 victory that the offense was still figuring out its identity. In the Rams’ loss on Monday night, that identity did not involve finding the end zone against an excellent San Francisco 49ers defense.
QB breakdown: For the second week in a row, Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford did not throw a touchdown, but this time, Los Angeles’ offense couldn’t do enough for an NFC West victory. Stafford completed 32 of 48 passes for 254 yards with an interception and a fumble. The offense once again ran through Cooper Kupp on Monday night, as the wide receiver finished with 14 catches for 122 yards. Only Kupp and tight end Tyler Higbee had more than three catches for the Rams.
Troubling trend: After allowing seven sacks to the Buffalo Bills in the season opener, the Rams’ offensive line held steadier in Weeks 2 and 3. But against the 49ers on Monday night, Stafford was sacked seven times, including four in the first half. Stafford was pressured 17 times, his second most since joining the Rams, per ESPN Stats & Information research. The Rams are dealing with several injuries on the offensive line and were down to their third-string center, Jeremiah Kolone, after center Coleman Shelton left the game with an ankle injury.
Biggest hole in the game plan: Stopping Samuel continues to be an issue for Los Angeles. Including the playoffs, Samuel has scored five touchdowns against the Rams since the start of the 2021 season. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, that is tied for the most by any player against any team since the start of last season. Samuel finished with six catches for 115 yards, although 57 yards came on the biggest play of the game, when Samuel evaded several Rams tacklers for a long catch and run for the touchdown. Samuel had two plays for 29 or more yards on Monday. The Rams have one of that distance or more all season. — Sarah Barshop
Underrated statistic to know: Stafford’s pick-six that Talanoa Hufanga returned for a 52-yard score in the fourth quarter was just the third on a screen pass in the past three seasons across the league (Tom Brady threw one in 2021 and Cam Newton threw one in 2020).
Mile Sanders wants more: How his emergence makes the Eagles so much better
PHILADELPHIA — Eagles coach Nick Sirianni brought his young son, Miles, to his postgame news conference Sunday and sat him on his lap while he talked about the 29-21 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars that lifted Philadelphia to a 4-0 record.
Miles shot his dad a quizzical look as he heard his first name being suddenly shouted when Sirianni got animated talking about another Miles — Miles Sanders, who set career highs in carries (27) and rushing yards (134) while tying a career best with two touchdowns on the ground to guide the offense through a wind- and rain-swept afternoon at Lincoln Financial Field.
“Miles Sanders is our No. 1 back! There is no question about it!” Sirianni said.
The inside joke goes back to training camp, when Sanders worked one day with the second-team unit, sparking some speculation about how tight his grip was on the starting job. Sanders had already deemed this season to be “a little personal” and made it known after the hub-bub over practice reps that he was out for respect. Some of his long runs during training camp would finish with Sanders shouting in the direction of the gathered media. That edge has not dissipated through four regular-season games.
“He played angry in my opinion,” quarterback Jalen Hurts said. “He played with a purpose [Sunday] afternoon.”
Sanders is in the final year of his rookie contract. He is motivated to silence doubters. He plays behind one of the best offensive lines in football (second best in run block win rate behind the Kansas City Chiefs) and alongside a quarterback in Hurts who draws attention in the backfield as a running threat. At age 25, he is smack in the middle of his prime. He is healthy. This has proved to be quite an effective combination. Sanders is third in rushing yards (356) through four games behind only Saquon Barkley (463) and Nick Chubb (459), and is averaging 4.9 yards per carry.
His standout play is really good news for the Eagles, who, as the only undefeated team remaining in football, have received plenty of it to this point in the season. It’s good because, while Kenny Gainwell, Boston Scott and Trey Sermon are all positive contributors, having a true lead back adds to the variety of ways in which they can win games. We’ve seen them lean on the play of Hurts, who ranks fifth in passing yards (1,120), first in yards per pass (9.1) and third in rushing touchdowns (4). We’ve seen them rely on their defense, which is first in sacks (16) and tied for first in takeaways (10).
Now, with the remnants of Hurricane Ian making conditions wet and miserable in South Philly, we’ve seen them supported by Sanders and the ground game, which ripped off 210 yards against a Jacksonville team that led the league in rush defense coming in (55 yards per game).
“There were a lot of ugly runs in there that [Sanders] made positive yards out of,” said center Jason Kelce. “That’s what you want out of a running back. When we block it up well, you’re going to get good yards. But the running backs that can make something when there ain’t much there, that’s when you know you’ve got a good one, and Miles was doing a lot of that [Sunday].”
Sanders, meanwhile, gave most of the credit to an offensive line that continued to dominate even when tackle Jordan Mailata and guard Isaac Seumalo exited with injuries.
The Eagles now know they can win shootouts and slop-fests alike. And although injuries have factored into Sanders’ career, they now have evidence that he can handle a heavy workload (he hadn’t carried it that many times since a game against Rutgers in 2018, when he was playing for Penn State) and thrive in the assignment, all while protecting the football in “train wreck” like elements, as Kelce described them. That bodes well for an Eagles team that could very well be playing meaningful games in January.
“Definitely getting in the groove,” Sanders said of the increased carries. “Whenever they call my number, I’m going to be ready, regardless.”