The San Francisco 49ers return from their Week 11 Bye to face a Los Angeles Rams team seeking their third-straight win of the season. As the 49ers sit on the outside looking in at the playoff race, the team looks to improve their chances heading into their Week 12 divisional rematch against the Rams. Here are five things to watch for in the final regular season meeting between both clubs.
1. COVID-19 Precautions
Over the team's Week 11 Bye, the 49ers were hit hard with nine players landing on the Reserve/COVID-19 list. Since, three have been activated, however several starters remain, including left tackle Trent Williams and rookie receiver Brandon Aiyuk. Players on the list would need to pass three-consecutive negative tests prior to returning to the active roster, putting several players in jeopardy heading into Sunday's tilt.
Additionally, three other 49ers did not practice on Thursday and Friday due to precautionary measures due to illness. Tight end Jordan Reed and linebackers Dre Greenlaw and Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles are all questionable for the Week 12 divisional match.
Meanwhile, it has been reported that two members of the Rams had Covid results that required "further testing." Although it has not been disclosed if the results in question involve players, coaches or staffers, Friday's practice was canceled out of caution.
Both situations are worth monitoring heading into the weekend.
2. Offensive Reinforcements
The 49ers may be without a number of starters due to the aforementioned precautions, but the team is set to receive several key players back ahead of Sunday's matchup. Deebo Samuel, Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson Jr. are all likely candidates to make a return against the Rams.
Samuel suffered a hamstring injury against the New England Patriots that kept him sidelined for the last three weeks. Mostert and Wilson Jr., who were placed on Injured Reserve list with ankle injuries, both returned to practice on Wednesday. Per Kyle Shanahan, barring any setbacks, all three of the 49ers playmakers are likely to return on Sunday.
3. The Return of Sherm
The 49ers may be receiving several key pieces of the offense ahead of Sunday's game, but Richard Sherman's return to the defense is just as notable.
Sherman missed nine-straight games after suffering a calf injury in the 49ers season opener against the Arizona Cardinals. The corner returned to practice ahead of the 49ers Week 11 Bye. Per Shanahan, the 49ers will activate Wilson Jr., Mostert and Sherman by the 1 p.m. PT deadline on Saturday for the game.
Since being out of the lineup, the 49ers have seen Emmanuel Moseley and Jason Verrett primarily man San Francisco's cornerback spots. Verrett has emerged as one of the 49ers top players on defense with a 77.6 coverage grade that ranks sixth at the cornerback position, allowing just 141 yards in 228 coverage snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. He even earned a spot on the analytics site's Midseason All-Pro Team.
He, in part, leads a San Francisco defense that has held teams to under 209 passing yards per game and allowed opposing quarterbacks a passer rating of 92.8, the fourth-best mark in the league.
With Sherman's impending return, Shanahan alluded that the corner would reclaim his spot in the secondary as long as he's "fully 100 percent." Sherman in the lineup should certainly provide a boost for San Francisco, especially against a Rams offense that's averaging just under 272 passing yards per game, the ninth-best mark in the league.
4. Resurgent Run Game
With a near-complete stable of running backs for the first time since the start of the season, can the 49ers regain their footing in the ground game? The Rams are currently allowing just 3.9 yards per carry and under 92 yards per game to opposing rushing attacks, the fifth-best mark in the league. Meanwhile, over the last three contests, San Francisco hasn't managed more than 55 yards on the ground and an average of 2.4 yards per carry, a far cry from their league-leading numbers a season prior.
Mostert appears to be one of the primary factors of San Francisco's rushing woes. In his four games this season, the running back was averaging 5.9 yards per carry and nearly 76 yards per game while splitting carries with the rest of San Francisco's ball carriers, a significant improvement than when he's out of the lineup.
5. Repeat Output
One of the biggest feats of San Francisco's rollercoaster season might be the team's ability to quiet the Rams perennial All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald. San Francisco's offensive line put up one of their best performances of the season, keeping Jimmy Garoppolo upright throughout the entirety of the contest, giving up zero sacks and just two quarterback pressures.
According to Next Gen Stats, the Rams pass rush struggled to generate pressure on Garoppolo, generating pressure on just 6.1 percent of dropbacks (2-of-33), the Rams second-lowest rate in a game since 2016.
It will be a different challenge in Week 12 as San Francisco's O-line aims to replicate their prior success. Donald currently ranks third in the NFL with nine sacks and 35 pressures despite not recording a single sack or tackle over the last two games. Donald is certainly seeking revenge. He adds to a defense that has surged as one of the top units in the NFL through 11 weeks, something San Francisco aims to counter with the return of multiple offensive reinforcements at Nick Mullens' disposal.