This won’t be the first time that Rams running back Todd Gurley sits out against the San Francisco 49ers.
In 2017, coach Sean McVay held out Gurley and other starters in the season finale to rest for the playoffs. Gurley also was sidelined for last season’s finale against the 49ers because of a left knee issue.
Both of those absences did not matter because the Rams had already clinched the NFC West.
But there are greater ramifications to the Rams’ decision on Saturday to rule out Gurley for Sunday’s game against the resurgent 49ers at the Coliseum.
Gurley bruised his left thigh during last week’s loss to the Seattle Seahawks, which dropped the Rams’ record to 3-2 overall and 0-1 in the NFC West. The 49ers are 4-0, and appear ready to join the Rams and the Seahawks in a battle for the division title.
Malcolm Brown is expected to start in Gurley’s place on Sunday, and rookie Darrell Henderson also will play. To add depth, the Rams on Saturday signed second-year running back John Kelly to the active roster from the practice squad, and released receiver Nsimba Webster.
Gurley’s absence will put even more pressure on Rams quarterback Jared Goff and a team that has never lost more than two consecutive games under third-year coach Sean McVay.
The last time Goff played at the Coliseum, he had three passes intercepted and lost a fumble that was returned for a touchdown in a loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He took better care of the ball against the Seahawks.
Goff will need to be especially vigilant against a 49ers defense that is suddenly among the most opportunistic in the NFL.
The 49ers are tied for second in the NFL with 11 takeaways, including seven interceptions and four fumbles.
It’s a complete turnaround from last season, when the 49ers ranked last in the NFL in takeaways, intercepting only two passes and recovering five fumbles.
The 49ers also have 13 sacks. Tackle DeForest Buckner and end Nick Bosa each has three. Tackle Arik Armstead and end Dee Ford have two each. Cornerback Richard Sherman has two of the 49ers’ seven interceptions.
“They’ve done a great job of breaking at the ball, ripping the ball out, punching the ball out and then some of those tips and overthrows that have occurred, they’ve taken full advantage of them,” said Shane Waldron, the Rams’ pass-game coordinator.
Goff this season has passed — and turned over the ball — more often than he did through five games in 2018.
During a 5-0 start last season, Goff completed 120 of 166 passes for 1,727 yards and 12 touchdowns, with only four interceptions. He fumbled three times.
This season, he has completed 140 of 222 passes for 1,649 yards and seven touchdowns, with seven interceptions. He has fumbled four times.
Goff ranks third in the NFL in yards passing, but he is tied with Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons and Josh Allen of the Buffalo Bills for the second-most interceptions.
Last Thursday, Goff completed 29 of 49 passes for 395 yards and a touchdown, with one interception, in the Rams’ 30-29 loss to the Seahawks.
That performance came just four days after he completed 45 of 68 passes for 517 yards and two touchdowns — but had four turnovers — in a 55-40 defeat by the Buccaneers.
Goff is aware of the 49ers’ penchant for creating turnovers but said he would feel no extra pressure to hold onto the ball Sunday.
“Just be yourself,” he said.
Goff has a recent history of success against the 49ers.
In three games during the last two seasons, Goff passed for a combined nine touchdowns without an interception against 49ers teams that posted a combined record of 10-22.
But now the 49ers appear to be on track under third-year coach Kyle Shanahan. The 49ers and the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots are the NFL’s only unbeaten teams.
“The Rams have been at the top of our division these two years, and have had two great years,” Shanahan said. “So we’re trying to get to where they’ve been.”