The San Francisco 49ers aren’t just dealing with low practice participation numbers in the secondary on the eve of their critical Sunday, January 9 road contest against the Los Angeles Rams with a playoff berth on the line. They could be without a top offensive star.
And this particular 49er has been dominant at his position — to the point where Pro Football Focus called him a Most Valuable Player candidate and informed readers during their December 30 article to recognize his dominance: Trent Williams.
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The left tackle did not practice on Thursday, January 6 due to what both Matt Barrows of The Athletic is calling a lingering elbow injury.
With the Rams red-hot and the 49ers already dealing with playing the underdog role for their huge Sunday afternoon showdown at SoFi Stadium, Williams’ injury puts the 49ers’ offense in a bind for this primary reason.
Rams Have Elite Pass Rush
The Rams aren’t just winners of their last five games, but has witnessed their pass rush come alive.
Los Angeles is the NFC leader in total sacks with 47 per nfl.com. Only the Pittsburgh Steelers have produced more sacks than the Rams at 52.
Last Sunday, January 2 in Baltimore, L.A. swallowed Ravens backup quarterback Tyler Huntley for five sacks in the 20-19 road win.
The one who wrecked the most havoc against the Ravens? The new Ram Von Miller, who led the way with two sacks including this crucial stop on the Ravens’ final possession:
On the opposite side of Miller, the Rams have veteran edge rusher Leonard Floyd who has 9.5 sacks and is one away from matching his 2020 total:
But whether the 33-year-old Williams plays or the 49ers go to an alternate option on the blindside, the 49ers also have to deal with the Rams’ most consistent rusher over the years in Aaron Donald, who has lined up as a defensive end in certain scenarios.
And now, the Rams have witnessed a new sack artist and trench penetrator emerge: Greg Gaines, who has produced three sacks in the last six games since getting plugged in at the nose tackle spot.
The 6-foot-1, 312-pounder’s play has additionally caught the attention of ESPN NFL analyst Mina Kimes, who said in her tweet below that “it’s very cool how much Greg Gaines has grown this year — he’s on the field a ‘ton’ and is super disruptive. Looks more agile than he did coming out of UW (University of Washington).”
Anyone who observes and loves trench violence knows the valuable presence a healthy Williams brings to the 49ers. Especially with how well he fared against both Miller and Donald in the Week 10 meeting won by the 49ers — also a contest that saw both men get bottled to zero sacks in that Monday Night Football 49ers rout.
He also buried 6-foot-4, 310-pound Michael Hoecht on this clip from The Athletic’s Robert Mays:
Is There Hope Williams can Play?
While Williams was held out of practice on Thursday, 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan is optimistic that the team will have their All-Pro left tackle on Sunday via Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle.
Shanahan was convinced Williams can give it a go even before the 49ers began preparation for the Rams, telling the Bay Area media on Wednesday, January 5 “Just knowing Trent, being around him, I know it’s hurting him too much for him to go today (Wednesday). But I know this is a big game. If Trent can be out there, he’ll be out there.”
If Williams doesn’t play, perhaps one idea the 49ers could roll with is swinging right tackle Tom Compton over to the blindside. Compton was among the top line protectors in the 49ers’ last meeting against the Rams, as noted by The Athletic’s David Lombardi.
However, in a game of this magnitude and facing an elite pass rush, the 49ers will benefit greatly from having a healthy Williams on the field.