Sunday is the closest thing to a "must win" for the San Francisco 49ers as they look to get their season back on track. The 49ers look to play catchup in the NFC West during their primetime matchup against the Los Angeles Rams on "Sunday Night Football." Here are five things to watch for in the Week 6 matchup.
1. Aaron Donald.
Aaron Donald has, and continues to be, one of the most dominate pass rushers in the NFL. Last week in the Rams 30-10 road win over the Washington Football Team, Donald was a human wrecking ball, notching four sacks, three quarterback hits, three tackles for loss and forced a fumble. As a result, Donald was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week.
The 49ers have struggled to keep their quarterbacks upright, allowing 18 sacks through five games, the fourth-most in the league, and five sacks in each of the team's last two matchups. Kyle Shanahan said this week that several were the result of busted protections and miscommunications of the offensive line in the blowout loss to the Miami Dolphins.
Those errors hindered the 49ers by way of stalled drives and turnovers. After registering just one giveaway through their first four contests, the 49ers have recorded four over the last two games. Those critical mistakes can't happen against a Rams team that is tied for the league lead with 20 sacks.
Donald has 7.5 of the team's total, along with six tackles for loss, 13 quarterback hits and a league-high 33 pressures. Mitigating those errors are crucial if the 49ers offense has any hopes of sustaining drives and putting points on the board.
2. Cornerback Help
In a defensive backfield that aided in limiting opposing quarterbacks to an average of 184.0 yards through the first four weeks of the season, San Francisco gave up 343 passing yards and two touchdowns to Ryan Fitzpatrick in their Week 5 loss to the Dolphins. Fitzpatrick exploited San Francisco's holes at cornerback with a number of the team's starters either out or limited due to injury.
The 49ers received encouraging news on Thursday as cornerback Emmanuel Moseley was a full participant at practice for the first time since Week 2. Moseley missed three games with a concussion and saw a specialist last week to help assist in his progression. Signs are pointing to Moseley returning to the lineup in Week 6 against a Rams offense that is averaging 274.4 yards through the air, with Jared Goff completing over 71 percent of his passes through five games, the fourth best in the league.
According to Pro Football Focus, San Francisco's main starters at corner have allowed a passer rating of 71.2 through five weeks (Moseley, Richard Sherman, K'Waun Williams, Jason Verrett), compared to their replacements who have allowed opposing quarterbacks a perfect rating of 158.3.
3. 49ers Ground Game
Kyle Shanahan said Raheem Mostert was the best player on the field in Week 5. He has the opportunity to put on an encore performance on Sunday. Mostert is coming off of a 90-yard performance where the running back averaged 8.2 yards per carry on just 11 rushes. Even in the 49ers rough loss, the team still managed 131 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries, averaging 6.9 yards per carry.
Heading into Week 6, Mostert leads all NFL running backs in yards per carry with 7.0. Jerick McKinnon is closely behind at sixth in the league at 5.5. The two can continue the trend on Sunday against a Rams defense that's allowing near 5 yards per carry (106.4 yards per game).
4. 49ers Run Defense
Conversely for the 49ers defense, the Rams by-committee approach is averaging near 4 yards per run. So far this season, the 49ers defense has held their opponents ground game to under 3.8 yards per carry. Eliminating the Rams run game will force Goff and Los Angeles' offense to focus on their passing attack against the 49ers third-ranking passing defense.
5. Throwback Uniforms
The highly anticipated return of the 49ers all-white uniforms will make their season debut on Sunday. The uniform features white jerseys and pants, the iconic drop shadow number, three stripe sleeve, black and red pant stripes and a throwback oval decal on the side of the helmet and throwback wordmark on front the bumper of helmet – reminiscent of the 49ers 1994 Super Bowl season.
The alternate throwback uniforms made their debut in 2018 on primetime against the Rams. The uniform returned twice during the 49ers 2019 Super Bowl run – Week 8 against the Carolina Panthers and Week 17 at the Seattle Seahawks. The 49ers have won their last two contests in their alternate uniforms. They'll attempt to continue that trend on Sunday.