Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports



This evening, the San Francisco 49ers take on their long-time rivals from Southern California. Each time the 49ers play the Los Angeles Rams, my intense dislike for the yellow and blue is jolted alive from a deep slumber. I think back to the hard-fought Monday Night Football battles, and the seasons when the teams battled for the NFC West crown.

Tonight's game is far from the slobber-knockers of yesteryear. In fact, the Vegas odds makers have the over/under at 40 points and list the 49ers as 2.5-point underdogs. Either the mathematicians in Vegas were bored when they set the line, or they think tonight's match is going to be a battle of two titans, slugging it out to a final score of 21 to 20.

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I'll be honest with you Gentle Reader, I've had a hard time picking a winner in this game. Maybe it's the Gemini in me, or maybe I'm expecting a very sloppy night of Thursday football. I won't be shocked if we see a tied score at the end of regulation and the game head into overtime.

There's no way these teams tie again, so here are a few keys to victory for both teams.

The 49ers Lose If...


The defense has to play 31 more plays than the offense. On September 19, the 49ers held rookie linebacker Reuben Foster and veteran safety Eric Reid out of practice, and yesterday listed both players as out for tonight's game. Additionally, the team announced linebacker Eli Harold, and safeties Jaquiski Tartt and Jimmie Ward are questionable.

If I'm Matt LaFleur, offensive coordinator for the Rams, I'm crafting a game plan that keeps the 49ers' defense on the field for long, grueling drives. LaFleur should ensure quarterback Jared Goff keeps the clock running, chewing up the turf, and sapping the energy from the 49ers' defense. Now and then, I'd have Goff run a no-huddle offense, which will limit the ability of 49ers' defensive coordinator Robert Saleh to rotate fresh players.

The 49ers' defense ran on pure adrenochrome and jellied fire against Seattle. So, how much fuel do they have in the tank? Herein lies the problem with Thursday Night Football. Had the 49ers been given a full week of rest, they'd have no problem keeping Goff on the move and running back Todd Gurley in check.

Brian Hoyer continues his struggles. Indeed, Hoyer's failures play directly into the Rams' favor. We know how poorly Hoyer's played through two games, and if his sub-par play continues this evening, the 49ers have no way to stretch the field vertically. The 49ers are then forced into a one-dimensional offense - namely running back Carlos Hyde – whom the Rams are prepared to shut-down.

Jared Goff finds the holes in the 49ers' secondary. Without Reid leading the secondary, and Tartt and Ward not at 100-percent, the 49ers' secondary is vulnerable to attack. Locating the soft spots in coverage won't be difficult for Goff, but it's a matter of exploiting them at the right time with big plays.

The 49ers Win If...


The defensive line destroys everything in its path. We saw what the 49ers' defensive line did to Seattle last week, and now it needs to carry that domination into tonight's match. It's critical to keep Goff flustered and Gurley running sideline to sideline.

With a hobbled secondary, the defensive line needs to cause disruption in Goff's timing and force him to make bad decisions. Bad decisions lead to forced throws or incorrect reads, and those lead to interceptions.

The secondary gets a pick-six. During Saleh's press conference on September 19, he mentioned the dropped interceptions against Seattle.

Saleh: "I think we had our hands on three footballs. One for sure could have been a pick-six."

Maybe he's using a bit of reverse psychology, but if I'm a cornerback for the 49ers, I'm thinking that our coach is calling us out on the missed opportunity to shift the game's momentum. Tonight, I'd want to show him how many interceptions we can tally, and that's the kind of mentality I want to see coming into this short week and big NFC West rivalry.

Brian Hoyer leads a long drive for a touchdown. More than anything, the 49ers' offense needs a visit to the end zone. There's no guarantee a touchdown leads to a victory, but after 120 minutes of zero success, it is in dire need of a quality drive and six points.

With Hyde coming off a 124-yard rushing performance, the 49ers need to rely on play-action to freeze the linebackers. When head coach and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan had Kirk Cousins behind center, he'd have Cousins roll right or left on play-action calls. The roll-out cut the field and created easier high-low reads for Cousins. These elementary route combinations are exactly what Hoyer needs to see and execute to rebuild his confidence.

Who Comes Out Victorious?


What worries me in this game isn't the 49ers' defense; it'll come to play and keep the team in a position to win.

I don't trust Hoyer leading the offense, and he's becoming the team's kryptonite when he's on the field. With no ability to push the field vertically, the Rams can play eight-in-the-box to keep Hyde in check and collapse the pocket rushing five or six defenders at once.

It'll be a close score, but the Rams win the game 17-10. But, I'm terrible at betting, so don't take this outcome to Vegas.