The 49ers will see a much different Rams offense Thursday night than the one they saw in 2016.
Last year’s Los Angeles offense was plain and predictable. After one particularly bad day, a 42-14 loss to the Falcons, Rams running back Tod Gurley said his team had “a middle-school offense.”
“I mean, I’m going to be quiet,” Gurley said. “My mom said if you don’t have anything good to say, don’t even say it. I’m just going to leave it at that.”
At season’s end, the Rams offense ranked dead last in the NFL, averaging 262.7 yards per game – even worse than the 31st-ranked 49ers (308.1 yards per game).
But this year, the Rams have come to life. When the 0-2 49ers travel to the Los Angeles Coliseum to take on the 1-1 Rams (5:25 p.m. kickoff Thursday) they’ll see a group that has averaged 352.2 yards per game (10th in the NFL) and has scored 66 points, tied for third-best.
Quarterback Jared Goff, who looked lost as a rookie in 2016, is a new man in a new offense under first-year head coach Sean McVay. The former Cal standout has a 103.2 passer rating, has completed 66.7 percent of his throws for an average of 265 yards per game and has two TD passes versus one interception. Plus, he’s already completed 11 passes of 20 or more yards, the second-best total in the NFL. Tight end Gerald Everett and wideout Cooper Kupp have been his favorite targets.
And, it’s a balanced attack. Gurley ranks eighth in the NFL in rushing and has scored two TDs.
Niners defensive coordinator Robert Saleh says his unit will need to build on what it did last week in a strong performance against the Seahawks. Though San Francisco fell 12-9, the 49ers front seven put more pressure on the quarterback and the defense did a solid job for most of the game against the Seattle running attack.
“The things they do offensively, they put so much stress on you from a coverage standpoint and a run-game standpoint,” Saleh told reporters. “You’ve got to be disciplined and you’ve got to be very detailed in your approach because if you sleep for a second they can get you how they want.”
The 49ers’ best asset could be the team’s talented young defensive linemen who appear to be coming on strong.
This year's No. 1 pick Solomon Thomas had four tackles, including two for loss, and a quarterback hit. Last year’s No. 1 DeForest Buckner had four QB hits and five hurries. Arik Armstead, the No. 1 choice from 2015, had a sack and five QB hurries.
Saleh says Thomas is just gaining momentum.
“He takes a step forward every day,” he said. “You want to talk about relentless in his work ethic, that young man has a chance to be special if he continues working the way he does.”
The Rams are 2½- to 3-point favorites for Thursday’s game.