We’re back! Every week I’m going to give you reasons to watch Thursday Night Football, which is typically one of the worst games in any given NFL weekend. This week, we’ve got the Rams playing the 49ers in Santa Clara — a preseason favorite for the worst of all Thursday night games this season.
The Rams and 49ers were both hot garbage last season. The Rams’ biggest headlines came from Jeff Fisher reportedly not wanting Eric Dickerson around, and his subsequent firing. For the 49ers, they just weren’t all that talented outside of Colin Kaepernick, and dumped Chip Kelly after just one year.
Thursday is going to feature a pair of teams that aren’t good, but are trying to build themselves up. Here’s why you should watch.
Aaron Donald is one of the best players in the NFL.
Pro Football Focus ranked the top 50 players in the game right now, where their picks were “informed by grading, statistics, and schematic context.” They concluded that Donald is the best player in the NFL.
Donald’s probably not going to be the name that the casual fan (or even a diehard, really) points to when asked who the best player in the NFL is. He’s not your traditional mammoth of a defensive lineman. Donald is just 6’0, which is short for somebody playing defensive tackle, but he makes it work.
This is Donald going up against Warren Herring of the Falcons last season, who is 6’4, 294 pounds — A Large Gentleman:
Before you scold me — yes, I know that Donald being smaller helps him get underneath Herring and is an advantage. It’s still impressive that he’s able to do it with the size difference.
But like, your dad might be as tall as Aaron Donald. And Donald is handling these guys like it’s nothing. That’s wild (even if he is 285 pounds).
Donald didn’t like how he played last week in his first game this season. “I need to win those, that’s what they put me out there for,” Donald said via the Los Angeles Times. “Just got to knock off the cobwebs and go out there and play a lot better.”
I really do feel bad for Brian Hoyer, because Donald is likely going to knock off the cobwebs off, and Hoyer off his feet. (lol jk can’t wait!)
Carlos Hyde is your cliched physical, and punishing running back.
BREAKING: the 49ers are not good at quarterback. In fact, there’s really not a whole lot to watch on their offense. Brian Hoyer is slangin’ the rock to Pierre Garcon and Marquise Goodwin, and the rest of their receivers, you’ve never heard of. The one highlight on the offense, is my mans “El Guapo” — Carlos Hyde.
This was Hyde last week against the Seahawks, bouncing off a defender to gain another 20 yards:
El Guapo rushed for nearly 1,000 yards last season on 217 attempts. He’s also been one of the best running backs in the NFL in yards after contact. In 2015, he was 7th with 2.83, in 2016, he was 6th with 3.05, and this season, he’s 5th with 3.13 yards, per Pro Football Focus.
So far this season, he’s got 169 yards on the ground, averaging seven yards per carry. That number will eventually decrease, but he’s currently 4th in the NFL in rushing yards.
So yeah, the 49ers offense as a unit might not be so fun Thursday night, but Carlos Hyde very well could be.
What is Jared Goff going to do?
Eyes are on Jared Goff in his second year in the NFL. Last season was a dumpster fire, with the Rams a complete mess between a weak roster and coaching chaos. He’s now got a young coach in Sean McVay, and an opportunity to build a foundation moving forward.
In Week 1, Goff showed promise completing 21-of-29 attempts with 306 yards and a touchdown in a 46-9 rout of the Colts. Week 2 was a step back, where he completed 60 percent of his passes for 224 yards with a touchdown and a pick. Against the 49ers, a defense that was 32nd in total yards last season, Goff has a nice opportunity to have a rebound week.
Hopefully he doesn’t harm any referees this week:
Jared Goff showing off that accuracy on the ref's head. pic.twitter.com/kJNUwc9QaY— Sung Min Kim (@sung_minkim) September 17, 2017
Head on a swivel, or whatever they say.
The 49ers have a young and explosive defensive line.
The 49ers have spent first round picks the last three seasons on their defensive line. It’s been a weak link for them, and now they’ve got a trio of players that could grow into the NFL’s next great defensive line.
We all know about Solomon Thomas, who the 49ers drafted No. 3 overall this offseason. And hey, he looks pretty damn good so far:
Rookie Solomon Thomas (the 49er starting on left side of the screen) is an absolute physical freak pic.twitter.com/RzreJpftX1— Ben Baldwin (@guga31bb) September 20, 2017
But they also have DeForest Buckner, who was drafted in 2016, and Arik Armstead, who was selected in 2015. They’re finally starting to produce, which will help improve a 49ers defense that was straight up bad last season.
If they’re able to get pressure on Jared Goff, the 49ers could pick up their first win of the season, and Kyle Shanahan’s first of his head coaching career. Plus, we all like seeing mean defensive lineman wreaking havoc on quarterbacks.
The Rams are bringing back their yellow Color Rush uniforms.
LOOK AT THESE GOLDEN/YELLOW BEAUTIES:
IT'S BACK!!— Los Angeles Rams (@RamsNFL) September 19, 2017
Thursday Night Football. Color Rush. pic.twitter.com/ouLiGCf0AL
I wrote on Tuesday about why these were perfection. We won’t get too into the weeds here, but as you know, Color Rush is one of the main grabs on a crappy Thursday night. The Rams’ Color Rush uniforms might be the best that any team puts on.
49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh is a character
You know those stupid-tough football coaches you see portrayed in films and on TV shows? That’s basically Robert Saleh.
Peep what he said during 49ers training camp, in which he says he’s excited for the violence his unit is going to create:
“I can’t wait for the whole defense. I’m not sugar coating that. I can’t wait to see them against somebody new. I can’t wait to see us against another offense. I can’t wait for all that. I can’t wait to see us tackle. I can’t wait to see us hit. I can’t wait to see the violence at which we play.”
He’s also known to get incredibly excited and animated after the defense makes a big play — which you probably could have guessed.
So if you see a bald gentleman pumped on the 49ers sideline, that’s your guy.
Enjoy Thursday Night Football, as much as you can.