SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — The Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers came to similar conclusions in the offseason: It was time to upgrade over the quarterbacks who helped both franchises reach the Super Bowl in recent years.
The Rams then went ahead and dealt Jared Goff and a pair of first-round selections for Matthew Stafford and the Niners traded away three first-round picks to take Trey Lance as Jimmy Garoppolo’s heir apparent.
The early returns halfway through the first season after those trades couldn’t be more different headed into the first meeting of the season between the NFC West rivals on Monday night.
Stafford has super-charged the offense for the Rams (7-2), who are tied for the second-best record in the NFL and are making a big push for a Super Bowl title.
Lance has barely seen the field for the 49ers (3-5), who mired in a another rough campaign after coming into the year with expectations of being a contender.
After beating the Rams all four times the past two seasons and limiting them to 187.8 yards passing per game with Goff at quarterback, the Niners see a much more difficult challenge with Stafford at the helm.
“He’s playing lights out right now,” linebacker Fred Warner said. “He’s brought a lot of juice to that offense with the ability to stretch the field and get those throws in so many different ways, manipulating defenses. They’re still running a similar scheme, adding a couple of wrinkles. But Stafford is for sure a great addition.”
Stafford has opened up the Rams offense with his big arm and ability to run coach Sean McVay’s system the way it was meant to be. He has already completed 18 deep passes (20 or more yards downfield) in the first nine games, exceeding last year’s total for the Rams by two and matching the 2019 mark.
The Rams have had one of the most productive passing attacks this season led by Stafford and receiver Cooper Kupp. Now they just added Odell Beckham Jr. to the mix and he could make his Los Angeles debut on Monday night after Robert Woods went down with a season-ending knee injury.
“He’s a very talented player, a Pro Bowl receiver and it’s on me to give him the ball when he has the opportunities, our guys to scheme him up and get chances for him,” Stafford said. “I’m just excited that he’s part of our team. As far as what defenses do, I haven’t played a whole lot of defense in my life, but I imagine the more number of receivers we can get out on the field and run down the field, the scarier it’s going to be.”
The Niners haven’t been able to scare opponents much the past two seasons as they have been unable to get back to the level that carried them to the Super Bowl in the 2019 season.
Injuries to Garoppolo and several other key players derailed last season. San Francisco came into this season with aspirations to get back to the Super Bowl and groom Lance along the way.
But this season has mostly been frustrating for coach Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers, who are mired at the bottom of the division for a second straight season.
McVay, who worked with Shanahan on Mike Shanahan’s staff in Washington, understands the frustration.
“We’ll talk before the game, but this is a natural thing that we go through,” McVay said. “‘Tough times don’t last, tough people do.’ That’s what his dad always used to say. I know Kyle’s wired the right way and he’s a great coach. He’s done an outstanding job. I sure have learned a lot from him, and we know it’s going be a great challenge this week.”
The Rams figure to be dealing with Garoppolo not Lance, who hasn’t even gotten onto the field the past two games in a situational role despite being active.
Lance played six quarters when Garoppolo was out with a calf injury and showed some flashes, but also struggled with consistency and accuracy. He has played only seven snaps in the other six games as the talk of him being used to complement Garoppolo hasn’t come to fruition yet.
Shanahan said he has packages for Lance each week, but he hasn’t gotten to use those much as the offense struggles to get into a rhythm.
As for when Lance takes over from Garoppolo for good, that remains to be seen although the clock could be sped up if the team keeps losing and starts looking to the future.
“When he’s ready, when our team’s ready,” Shanahan said about when Lance will take over as starter. “Obviously, (if) there’s nothing to play for, you make that decision for a lot of guys trying to prepare guys for the next year and stuff like that.”
AP Sports Writer Greg Beacham in Los Angeles contributed to this report
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