The NFL season is back, and it won’t be pretty — at least not for the first few games.
Under the new-ish collective bargaining agreement, teams have less time in training camp to get players ready for the season, and it usually shows in the early weeks.
This should be particularly apparent in the late Monday Night Football game pitting the San Francisco 49ers against the recently relocated Los Angeles Rams at Levi’s Stadium.
According to Pro Football Focus, the Niners have the 6th-worst offensive line, while the Rams boast the fourth-best front seven. And quarterback play projects to be especially heinous: The 49ers have the worst signal callers in the league, while L.A. has the fourth-worst.
While both teams are bereft of significant talent — especially with the benching of Colin Kaepernick, the only player with potential — at the most important position in the NFL, Week 1 is typically a rough go, even for the best. Quarterbacks need time to build rhythm and confidence with their receivers, and that’s hard to come by with limited time together.
Making matters worse, both teams have inexperienced receiving corps.
The 49ers must adjust to a system that’s quite different than that of Chip Kelly’s predecessor. The offensive line will have to implement everything new they’ve learned while trying to stop Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald, one of the best D-linemen in the NFL.
“How much time do we have?” offensive coordinator Curtis Modkins joked when asked what makes Donald so good. “He’s explosive. He’s tough. He’s physical. He’s as good a pass rusher as he is a run defender. And so, he causes havoc on both sides, whether it’s the run game or the pass game.”
In other words, expect a lot of players in 49ers jerseys jumping prematurely before the snap and being called for holding after the play.
On the other side of the ball, the San Francisco defense — the team’s strongest unit, assuming the offense can allow them some rest despite Kelly’s preferred frenetic pace — will need to keep running back Todd Gurley in its sights.
As a rookie in 2015, Gurley ran for 1,106 yards — including a 133-yard performance against the Niners in his only matchup against San Francisco.
“He had an outstanding career at Georgia and the fact that he continued that with the Rams wasn’t a surprise,” Kelly said on Friday. “… Not a lot of running backs have been picked in the top 15 in recent years and there was a reason for it. I think because of his ability and his size, his speed. You know, he’s a unique combination.”
With Carlos Hyde out of the league’s concussion protocol, expect a lot of running in this game. Because, among other reasons, it’s the hardest action to screw up despite limited reps.