When Rams have the ball
Unlike when they played the 49ers in October, the Rams will have running back Todd Gurley in the lineup. It won’t matter much if the Rams can’t improve upon their performance last Sunday in a 44-21 loss to the Dallas Cowboys. Gurley caught a touchdown pass in the second quarter and ran for one late in the fourth after the outcome was decided. He finished with only 20 yards in 11 carries. Quarterback Jared Goff has passed for 17 touchdowns, with 15 interceptions. He suffered a right thumb bruise against the Cowboys but was not limited during practices this week. His top target the last three weeks has been tight end Tyler Higbee, the first tight end in Rams history to amass three consecutive 100-yard receiving games. Tight end Gerald Everett, sidelined the last three games because of a knee injury, is expected to play Saturday. The 49ers feature the NFL’s second-ranked defense, led by a front seven that includes ends Arik Armstong and Nick Bosa, who have 10 and nine sacks, respectively. With veteran cornerback Richard Sherman leading the way, the 49ers rank first in passing defense. Sherman, a five-time Pro Bowl selection, has three of the 49ers’ 11 interceptions. The 49ers have forced 15 fumbles, third most in the league. If the 49ers have vulnerability, it’s run defense. They rank 21st.
When 49ers have the ball
Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has led his team to three victories this season with fourth-quarter comebacks, including one at New Orleans two weeks ago. Garoppolo is completing 69% of his passes, 26 for touchdowns, with 11 interceptions. Tight end George Kittle is a playmaker. He has a team-best 73 catches for 888 yards and six touchdowns. The 49ers bolstered their passing attack by trading for receiver Emmanuel Sanders in October. Sanders has 30 catches, three for touchdowns. Deebo Samuel has 48 receptions, three for touchdowns. But the 49ers’ offense is built on the NFL’s second-best rushing attack. Coach Kyle Shanahan utilizes Tevin Coleman, Matt Brieda and Raheem Mostert with equal confidence and effectiveness. Fullback Kyle Juszczyk is an excellent blocker and receiver. The Rams floundered against the Cowboys’ rushing attack, missing multiple tackles that enabled Ezekiel Elliott and rookie Tony Pollard to each rush for more than 100 yards. Cornerback Troy Hill suffered a fractured thumb early in the game against the Cowboys and had surgery Monday. Cornerback Darious Williams will start opposite Jalen Ramsey, who was voted to the Pro Bowl for the third season in a row. Lineman Aaron Donald has 11 sacks, edge rusher Dante Fowler nine, and linebacker Clay Matthews eight.
When they kick
Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein suffered a thigh injury against the Cowboys. He was not scheduled to kick in practice until Friday, and the Rams might sign a free agent if Zuerlein cannot play against the 49ers. Johnny Hekker set up the Rams’ defense several times against the Cowboys to no avail. Robbie Gould has made 19 of 27 field-goal attempts for the 49ers. Richie Jones returns kickoff and punts.
Gary Klein’s prediction
The Rams are playing to remain alive in the hunt for a wild-card playoff spot. The 49ers have their eyes on a bigger prize — the NFC West title, the top seed in the NFC and home-field advantage for the playoffs. That should bring out the best in Shanahan’s team.