On five-game skid against 49ers, Rams need to put their minds over turnover matters
He is one of Sean McVay’s good friends. He also is a mentor.
But for most of the last three seasons, San Francisco 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan also has been McVay’s nemesis.
Consider: The Rams will go into Sunday’s game against the 49ers riding a five-game winning streak — but with a five-game losing streak against the 49ers.
Is there a mental block that McVay and his team must get past to beat the 49ers on Sunday at SoFi Stadium?
“No,” McVay said Friday during a video conference with reporters. “I think we’ve got to play better and coach better in that window of time that we’re allotted. There’s a lot of different narratives.
The Times’ Sam Farmer analyzes each matchup and predicts the winners of Week 18 of the 2021 NFL season.
“They’ve done a great job, definitely. I’m not going make any excuses, but to say a mental block, no.”
Said cornerback Jalen Ramsey: “They’ve had our number. It is frustrating, but they don’t have mind control over us, nothing like that.”
The Rams (12-4) are positioned to claim a valuable prize if they defeat the 49ers (9-7). The Rams can clinch the NFC West title for the third time in five seasons under McVay, and earn the No. 2 seed for the NFC playoffs. If the Rams lose, they also can win the division if the Arizona Cardinals lose to the Seattle Seahawks.
The 49ers can earn a playoff berth with a victory, and with a loss can qualify if the New Orleans Saints lose to the Atlanta Falcons.
Shanahan said this week that there was nothing he could pinpoint as to why his team has been so successful against the Rams.
“I would guess we’ve won the turnover battle the majority of the times, but each one is kind of its own game,” Shanahan told 49ers reporters. “And so, I never really tied those together when we went into it and especially being this one right now, it really has no bearing on what’s happened in the past.
“It’s all about these four quarters.”
In the last five games involving the teams, the Rams committed nine turnovers, the 49ers seven. That’s not a wide margin, but the 49ers returned three interceptions for touchdowns, including one in a 31-10 Rams defeat in November.
“This is one of those teams where for whatever reason, who knows, moon’s in the wrong position or whatever, we decided to turn the football over — and not only turn it over, but turn it over in our own territory a bunch against these guys,” Rams offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth said. “So, hopefully we can just stop that and then let’s just play from there and see what happens.”
Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald dismissed the notion that there is a mental component to overcoming the 49ers.
“It’s just about playing mistake-free football,” he said. “The last couple times we played them they got the best of us because it’s hard to win in this league when you are turning the ball over or not playing great defense at times.
“We can’t do that.”
Rams Jalen Ramsey and Taylor Rapp did have an argument on the field against Baltimore last week, but they’ve mended fences and moved on to 49ers game.
Whitworth said the Rams are playing well and he expects that to continue Sunday.
“You’re like, ‘Man, it’s time that we play our best when we play these guys,’ ” he said. “You can’t keep using the excuse, in my opinion, like that you didn’t play well. It’s like, ‘All right, you know what, you’ve got to show up and play.’ ”
Rivalry games within the division are much like playoff games, Whitworth said. The margin for error is smaller, and errors costlier.
“You’ve got to play well in those games,” he said, “and you’ve got to play well in those moments, because that’s what it’s going to be like in playoff time, and there’s no more games promised to you.”
After losing to the 49ers in November, the Rams lost to the Green Bay Packers, who will be the top-seeded team in the NFC playoffs. The Rams have not lost since.
Rams running back Cam Akers was supposed to sit out the season because of an Achilles tear, but he has healed extremely fast and is set to play Sunday against the 49ers.
Now they meet the 49ers again.
Are the Rams playing as well as they have all year?
“In certain moments we are,” McVay said. “I’ve really appreciated there’s been different ways we’ve kind of learned how to win as a team.
“It hasn’t been perfect by any stretch, but I think sometimes those are even the more rewarding ones. ... Finding different ways to win and be able to do it in different ways I think is a good sign for our team as we try to go into the playoffs.”
For McVay and the Rams, defeating the 49ers first would be even better.
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