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Three Things the 49ers can Learn from the Rams’ Super Bowl Loss

Matthew Barr
Feb 5, 2019 at 9:00 AM


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For better or worse, Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay will forever be linked to one another. They are both young, offensive-minded and players' coaches who were hired in the same year. While McVay has seen immediate success with the Los Angeles Rams, Shanahan is still building his San Francisco 49ers roster in his mind's eye. The Rams will certainly look inward after their loss to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LIII but what lessons can Kyle Shanahan, John Lynch and the rest of the 49ers learn as well?

Quarterback is the Most Important Position on the Field


McVay may be an offensive genius but he still needs players to effectively execute the game plan on the field. In the biggest game of his young career, QB Jared Goff played one of his worst games of the entire season. Goff looked uncomfortable the whole game and could never get into any kind of rhythm. He only completed 50.0% of his passes for 229 yards and one atrocious fourth quarter interception that killed the Rams' best drive to that point. Even worse, the play before the turnover, Goff failed to recognize WR Brandin Cooks had broken through the center of the Patriots' defense for what should have been an easy pitch-and-catch touchdown. For an offense that averaged 32.9 points per game leading up to the Super Bowl, it was only able to muster one field goal and much of that falls on Goff.

QB Jimmy Garoppolo represents the biggest question mark in Santa Clara. Shanahan and Lynch still cannot be certain what they have in the quarterback. While he played fantastically down the stretch in 2017, his 2018 was a mixed bag before he tore his ACL in the Week 3 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. Will his knee heal properly? And perhaps more importantly, will Garoppolo be able to bounce back mentally from the injury? If the 49ers want to get over the hump, they will need the answers to those questions to be an emphatic, "Yes." Shanahan's offense requires a smart quarterback that can diagnose a defense presnap and make quick, accurate throws. Garoppolo has shown flashes of being able to orchestrate the complex system and will need to continue to grow in order to dethrone the Rams as NFC West champions.

Defense Can Still Win Championships


As poorly as Jared Goff played, Tom Brady was not much better on Sunday. Rams' defensive coordinator Wade Phillips schemed a great game to keep Brady off balance. Unfortunately, their run defense was inept and allowed Patriots' running back Sony Michel to rack up 94 yards at a 5.2 YPC clip. WR Julian Edelman was the Super Bowl MVP after making 10 catches for 141 yards. Despite those two players' successes, the Rams held the Patriots to only 13 points. Their pass rush was ferocious the whole game and their secondary was able to hold Tom Brady without a single touchdown pass for the first time in his 9 Super Bowl appearances. The bottom line is clear: the defense did exactly what it needed to do to win the Rams the Lombardi Trophy.

The 49ers defense in 2018 was leaps and bounds better than the 2016 debacle of a season under Chip Kelly and Jim O'Neil but not all was perfect in Santa Clara. Current DC Robert Saleh spent much of the season on the hotseat in the eyes of fans for running a defense that was unable to create turnovers and generate pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Those two factors go hand-in-hand and the upcoming offseason is the most important for General Manager John Lynch. The 49ers need to add talent and depth at every position group in order to compete with the Rams. Last offseason, the Rams brought in big name free agent Ndamukong Suh and traded for Dante Fowler at the trade deadline to bolster their defensive line. Lynch and Co. need to come out guns blazing and be aggressive in adding to the current defensive group.

Adaptability on Offense


It is not often that Sean McVay is outcoached. In his two years at the helm of the Rams, he was commonly two steps ahead of his competition. On Sunday, McVay learned the very hard lesson that he is not the smartest man in the room. Patriots' HC Bill Belichick is notorious for scheming defenses that stifle opposing offenses, and this was no different. When the Rams' offense is rolling, it is one of the hardest to contain in the whole league. However, when McVay's "Plan A" has a wrench thrown in it, he has displayed a tendency to stubbornly stick to his guns and try to force the issue. His inability to adjust on the fly left the Rams smashing their heads against a wall offensively.

Kyle Shanahan has had to cater his offense to three different quarterbacks in both of his first two seasons. Brian Hoyer, C.J. Beathard and Jimmy Garoppolo all lined up under center in 2017, while Nick Mullens joined Garoppolo and Beathard in 2018. Each quarterback presented a different skillset and different limitations that Shanahan had to build his game plan around. He was able to develop tight end George Kittle and RB Matt Breida into legitimate threats in his offense. After numerous offensive assistants were poached by other teams, 2019 will present Shanahan with a new set of challenges and how he adapts will determine much of how Year 3 plays out.
  • Matthew Barr
  • Written by:
    Matthew Barr has been writing for 49ers Webzone and 49ers Hub since 2018 and co-hosts the 4th and Gold podcast which can be found on all podcast platforms. He can be found on Twitter fighting an endless battle to get the underscore removed from his handle, @MattBarr_.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


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