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Why there are reasons for optimism on defense after loss to 49ers

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By: Venie Randy Soares

Quentin Lake makes a tackle after some tight coverage | Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

Moral victories don’t count, but L.A. youngsters are bucking expectations

Everyone knew the Los Angeles Rams defense would have their hands full, but even in a 30-23 loss, the young Rams defense showed reasons for optimism. No, moral victories don’t count for much in the NFL, but The San Francisco 49ers offense can wear down opposing defenses with both the run and pass the ball by attacking the whole field with a stable of playmakers and role players.

Even with the loss and not much production from Aaron Donald, not all is lost. Three weeks ago, the narrative was that this game would be an ass kicking and the Rams would be 0-2 at this point. The defense just didn’t have enough talent to compete. Instead, the Rams the Rams defense dominated the Seahawks and yes, held its own versus the 49ers.

Giving up 30 points and 359 yards isn’t exactly statistically stellar, but the Rams young group has shown they will hang tough and compete, whether ahead or behind. 49ers head man Kyle Shanahan can set up a gameplan. He knew the Rams weak spots and consistently had audibles set up for QB Purdy to exploit numerical advantages, particularly out on the edge.

And it’s just really hard to play a bend-but-don’t-break defense without a consistent pass rush. L.A. needs more.

It may be an over-simplification, but the ‘Niners success was that they cashed in on their big plays. Two interceptions were turned into six points, RB Christian McCaffrey broke a long run to set up a score, WR Jajuan Jennings made a tough contested catch to set up another. On the Rams defensive side, they couldn’t get enough consistent QB pressure to force Brock Purdy off his spot, didn’t tackle particularly well, and didn’t improve on stopping the outside game.

Here’s this weeks drive chart review:

Drive #1

The 49ers opened the game with a balanced 75 yard touchdown march, six runs and five passes. The damage was done on inside runs (36) quick crisp passing (39 yards). On Christian McCaffrey’s 14 yard scoring run, safety Jordan Fuller made a poor tackle attempt at the six allowing CMC across the goal line. 49ers 7, Rams 0

Drive #2

Six plays for 66 yards, ending in a field goal. The big play was 51 yard run around left end by CMC. On the play, the Rams were in what looked like a four-man front with Ernest Jones lined up like a traditional outside linebacker. L.A. strung it out pretty well, but McCaffrey found a crease. Rams corner DeCobie Durant made a poor tackle attempt, weakly diving at his feet three yards downfield. The Rams did toughen after that holding two runs to four yards and getting the reversal of a 49er reception to force the three. Durant had good coverage and even if allowed, the catch would have been two yards short of the stick. 49ers 10, Rams 3.

Drive #3

Rams force their first 1st half punt of the 2023 season, allowing 30 yards on five plays. The ‘Niners opened up with two strong plays, a 12 yard pass to TE Greg Kittle and 17 reverse run with WR Deebo Samuel. But RB McCaffrey was held to a yard up the gut, QB Brock Purdy overthrew WR Brandon Aiyuk who had broken clear on a double move, and on 3rd down, L.A. got nice pressure and forced QB Purdy to break the pocket where E Byron Young was able to get a sack. 49ers 10, Rams 10.

Drive #4

With 1:45 left in the half, the ‘Niners traversed 75 yards in seven plays to tie the score at halftime. S.F. used two straight swing passes wide around right end and an off tackle run to quickly move 35 yards to the Rams 40. WR Jajuan Jennings sat down in the zone for a 20 yard catch and then WR Samuel got behind Rams CB Derion Kendrick in the end zone. Kendrick committed pass interference, first down at the L.A. one. CB Kendrick was flagged for facemark on the next play as well. With one second on the clock, a half yard from the goal line, the Rams were inexplicably not in a short yardage front, leaving the A gaps exposed and the linebackers three yards off the ball. QB Purdy easily snuck it in. 49ers 17, Rams 17.

2nd half

Drive #5

Quick three-and-out on the 49ers opening drive. QB Purdy started with a fumbled snap and fell on it for no gain. On a 2nd down pitch out wide, LB Christian Rozeboom fought off a block and filled an outside gap to hold the play to three yard. A third down post pattern over the middle was overthrown with S Jordan Fuller right there. 49ers 17, Rams 17.

Drive #6

The wheels start to come off for L.A. with 4:10 left in the 3rd quarter. After a nice, long drive, Rams QB Matthew Stafford hits RB Kyren Williams with a pass at the S.F. 26 yard line, Williams doesn’t look it all the way in and the ball caroms off his hands/chest into the hands of a 49er for an interception. San Francisco only got off five plays, but K Jake Moody hit a 57 yard field goal. WR Brandon Aiyuk was wide-open in a zone soft spot for 18, TE George Kittle got 12, and two short runs for RB McCaffrey preceeded the FG conversion. 49ers 20, Rams 17.

Drive #7

As the 4th quarter starts, the Niners went to the pass and embarked on a seven play, 74 yard touch down drive to widen the the divide. Two completions to WR Samuel (23 yards) were sandwiched around a 31 yard completion to WR Jennings. On 3rd and 1 from the 15, S.F. attacked the A gap again with QB Purdy sneaking for three yards. The coup de grace was a swing pass to WR Samuel, where he weaved through some poor tackling for a 11 yard catch and run. 49ers 27, Rams 17.

Drive #8

The Rams came right back for a field goal and the defense stepped up for another three-and-out, this one totaling totaling eight yards. But this drive was not without controversy. On the first play, A quick out appeared to fumbled by WR Samuel after seven yards. The NFL Gamebook lists the ball as ruled out of bounds and even though there was a timeout, neither the officials or Rams staff decided to force another look at the play. L.A. stopped a wide run short and on 3rd and 1, pressure forced QB Purdy to misfire forcing the punt. 49ers 27, Rams 20.

Drive #9

After their second interception, the 49ers took over at the Rams 15. The L.A. defense buckled down allowing seven yards on two short McCaffrey runs and getting pressure to force QB Purdy to throw the ball away. K Moody booted his third field goal of the day. 49ers 30, Rams 20.

Drive #10

The ‘Niners were just killing clock, running four plays, three to McCaffrey and one to Samuel. Two offensive penalties limited S.F. to -12 yards before punting. 49ers 30, Rams 20.

What to make of Week 2

Defensive line

It was more of the same for this unit. They defended the run between the tackles pretty well, the ‘Niners did their big run damage outside. But the group didn’t get QB Purdy off his spot enough to make a real difference and more importantly, those not named Aaron Donald could not exploit their 1on1’s. The starters were Larrell Murchison, AD, Bobby Brown, and Jonah Williams.

Murchison played the first few snaps and was gone as just as fast with total of six snaps. Donald, like you might guess, got a lot of interest from S.F.’s offensive line and did get a little pressure, but was mostly quiet. Although Williams stacked another solid game vs. the run, he didn’t press the pocket.

BBrown and Kobie Turner split reps at nose tackle. Like last week, I don’t recall Brown ever getting any penetration or shedding his blocker to create any havoc, the tackles he was credited with looked like just falling on the pile well off the line of scrimmage. Turner looks to be developing, he shows that he can at least get some push and got a couple of nice pressures right up the gut. EBrown did not play.


Byron Young is holding up his end and making some progress. He’ll get there. Tough draw vs. Trent Williams and still had some “close, but no cigar” moments to go along with a cleanup sack, couple of QB hits, and a handful of pressures. He added five tackles.

Although Hoecht got pinned inside one time, he improved setting the edge. He actually took himself out of the play by not staying aware and losing sight of the ball on a reverse, leading him to a terrible angle. Zach VanValkenburg played only six quiet snaps.


Ernest Jones was fighting an illness late in the week and was questionable for the game. He had production with 10 tackles, but lacked his usual fire and emotion. He was more reactive and wasn’t striking and making plays at the line of scrimmage like in Week 1.

Christian Rozeboom didn’t start or play much on the 49ers first scoring drive, nor the final TD drive of the 1st half, replaced by a safety. Rozeboom is not a subtle player, he makes a decision and charges headlong in pursuit of the ball. His angles can be questionable though. Right now, I think the Rams defense, particularly vs. the run, is better with him in the game.


Not surprisingly Jordan Fuller and Russ Yeast combined for 13 tackles with the S.F. pass attack attacking soft areas of the zone and the run game looking to get outside. Both handle their deep responsibilities pretty well and made the tackles they were supposed to.

Veteran John Johnson started as the Rams went with three safeties, he looked tentative tackling and didn’t see much action after the first drive.

Quentin Lake got on the field for 10 snaps. He had a sticky coverage play on a completion over the middle and had a QB pressure on late breaking blitz.


After a good game in Week 1, Kendrick regressed. Last year, he played himself out of a starting role by giving up too many big plays and the 49ers abused him staying away from the other side of the field. He struggled both tackling and in coverage.

DeCobie Durant gave up some receptions. Some of the receptions are scheme and lack of pass rush pressure, allowing the S.F. receivers to get into the soft spots of the zone. I thought Durant had some sticky coverage reps, on the long completion he was in pretty good position and just got over-powered by a bigger, stronger wide out. That ball almost came loose as the tumbled to the ground.

Ahkello Witherspoon is schemed to play mostly outside and with the ‘Niners pass game attacking Kendrick, the middle of the field and flats, his day was quiet. Although, he’s not an aggressive pursuer of the ball when its away from him, he did hustle across the field to run down 49er RB McCaffrey on his 51 yard run.

Did the Rams defense do what it needed to do?

Yes and no. The defense did not fold its tent when the offense put them into tough spots late in the game. They held S.F. to 2 of 9 on 3rd down conversions for the game and 138 total yards in the 2nd half

But as far as protecting the edge against the run, preventing big chunk plays, and not missing tackles the Rams did not. The ’Niners, by my count, totaled 156 yards from the tackles outward and that whether by run, quick screens or swing pass, They also had seven chunk plays over 15 yards, with a handful of others that just missed that number. As far as missed tackles, I’m not sure how the NFL decides that, but I quit counting after 10 times the first player with contact did not bring the runner down.

Looking forward to the Cincinnati Bengals next week, the dangerous Joe Burrow is nicked up and the Cincy offense is struggling to get started. They are 30th in scoring, 30th passing, and 28th rushing. Although on the road, it would appear that the Rams can have another solid game on defense.

Of course, nothing is certain, but before the the season, I thought the Rams had 12 games on the schedule that they could win. The two ’Niner games, Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles, and Baltimore Ravens being the outliers where they would need to play extremely well and get some breaks. No reason to to move off that position, yet.