Our 49ers.com staff writers break down San Francisco's next matchup, a Week 16 divisional game in Los Angeles against the Rams. San Francisco will look to replicate the formula that powered the team to a 28-0 win in Week 1.
Let's dive into the keys to the game in this "Four Downs" preview of the 49ers upcoming matchup, presented by SunPower.
1st Down:Who will score the 49ers first touchdown?@Joe_Fann: Colin Kaepernick
Pierre Garçon is always a safe bet here as he leads the team with eight scores, but I'm going to go outside the box a bit. Kaepernick hasn't topped 23 yards rushing over his past three games since his 113-yard outburst against the Miami Dolphins in Week 12. I think San Francisco's starting quarterback finds his groove again this week and creates a few big plays with his legs. That could very well include a trip to the end zone.
@TaylorPrice: Garrett Celek
The smart money is on a 49ers tight end or Hyde. Colin Kaepernick's 13 touchdown passes have been distributed as follows: five to running backs, four to wide receivers and four to tight ends. Celek has caught two of those touchdowns passes, including a 16-yard score in last week's game against Atlanta.
2nd Down: Which 49ers defender will force a turnover?
@Joe_Fann: Rashard Robinson
With Jimmie Ward on Injured Reserve, I like Robinson's chances of standing out over the last two games of the season. Ward has the only interception among 49ers cornerbacks in 2016. It would be great to see Robinson get his first career pick on Christmas Eve.
@TaylorPrice: Antoine Bethea
This is a mojo-pick. Because Bethea stepped up last week and played inside linebacker in a pinch, I believe the veteran defensive back will be rewarded. Good guys deserve a few breaks along the way. Bethea has 96 tackles, one interception and one forced fumble on the year. A team leader like Bethea should be rewarded for his professionalism. I believe he'll find a way to force a turnover on Jared Goff, who has five interceptions in his brief NFL career.
3rd Down: The key stat of the game is...
@Joe_Fann: Hyde's rushing yards
It's hard to argue with Taylor's point, and so I'm going with the personal achievement route over the win/loss route. Hyde is at 950 rushing yards on the season. My expert-level math skills tells me that leaves him with 50 to go until he notches his first 1,000-yard season. After his first two seasons were hampered by injuries, it would be great to see San Francisco's franchise runner take that next step towards being an elite back in the NFL.
@TaylorPrice: Scoring more points
I talked about this on the 49ers Radio podcast this week (available on iTunes and TuneIn), when you have a 1-13 record, the only statistic that matters is out-scoring your opponent. It doesn't matter what your third-down execution is, or how many rushing yards you allowed. All that matters right now is scoring one more point than an opponent and ending this franchise-record losing streak. It doesn't have to be pretty. The scoreboard is all that matters at this point.
4th Down: What is your bold prediction?
@Joe_Fann: 49ers sack Jared Goff four times
And it will be DeForest Buckner, Aaron Lynch, Ahmad Brooks and Jaquiski Tartt, to be exact. In Goff's past four games, he's been sacked four times by the Seattle Seahawks, three times by the Atlanta Falcons, four times by the New England Patriots and three times by the New Orleans Saints. That trend will continue in Week 16.
@TaylorPrice: The 49ers score a special teams touchdown
Let's be bold. JaCorey Shepherd ran back a kick 41 yards last week. It was San Francisco's longest kick return since 2014. I'm calling for a big splash play by the third phase of the game. The 49ers have a lot of new players on the roster this week due to season-ending injuries. It would be something to see one of the new call ups make a game-changing play on special teams. It could be a kick return. It could be on a punt return. It could even come on a blocked punt or field goal. I'm raising the bold-prediction stakes with a nod to the special teams units. Let's get a touchdown on Saturday.