Deebo Samuel returns to ‘wide-back’ ways as 49ers put away pesky Rams

INGLEWOOD, Calif. — Deebo Samuel stays ready for when the Los Angeles Rams are on the schedule.

Just ask him.

“You can say that,” Samuel said when asked about his success against the San Francisco 49ers‘ NFC West division rival. “But we just come out here and execute at a high level. It was a hard-fought battle. … They know us; we know them. So we knew it was going to be grind this week.”

San Francisco’s “wide back” seems to especially play well at SoFi Stadium against the Rams. And Sunday’s 30-23 victory in front of a sea of 49ers fans clad in red was no exception for Samuel. He finished with 101 scrimmage yards — 63 receiving, 38 rushing — and a touchdown in San Francisco’s win.

In eight career games against the Rams, Samuel has 857 scrimmage yards and nine touchdowns. 

He had said during training camp that he felt 2022 was a down year for him and that he focused during the offseason on trimming down and regaining his speed. 

That hard work paid off for Samuel on his lone touchdown, an 11-yard run on a bubble screen to the left side of the offensive formation. Samuel ran through a would-be tackler in cornerback Derion Kendrick and weaved his way through several other L.A. defenders before cutting back for the end zone.

“We knew I was going to be 1-on-1 with the corner,” Samuel said. “He shot his gun, but luckily, he shot it at my foot. I was able to break the tackle and just get in the end zone. You could see all the guys and how determined they were to get me in the end zone as well by all the blocking.” 

Samuel also got into it with Kendrick after being tackled out of bounds, with a 49ers fan along the sideline stepping in to separate the two.

“He just ran up and headbutted me out of nowhere. I was kind of like, what’s going on,” Samuel said about the dustup with Kendrick. “But that was kind of cool to see a fan get into it and try and protect the team as well.” 

Samuel’s performance was part of another 30-point effort offensively for San Francisco, following a 30-7 Week 1 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Along with Samuel, running back Christian McCaffrey stood out, finishing with 116 rushing yards on 20 carries and a score.

Brock Purdy was an efficient 17-of-25 for 206 yards, with no touchdowns and no interceptions. The second-year QB’s stats could have been much better had he connected on three deep passes, overthrowing Brandon Aiyuk, Jauan Jennings and Samuel for what would have been big gains.

But even more impressive was the offensive performance of the upstart Rams, who went toe-to-toe with one of the best teams in the NFL. Matthew Stafford played well for a second straight game, finishing 34-of-55 for 307 yards and a score. Stafford’s favorite target was once again Puka Nacua, who totaled 15 receptions for 147 yards on 20 targets.

The BYU product now has the most receptions (25) in NFL history for a player in his first two career games.

“We watched the film from last week, and that quarterback is just as good as he’s always been,” San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan said about Stafford. “So is Aaron Donald. And like we saw last week, that team is coached very well. They’ve got two good schemes. 

“I know they’ve changed some players from in the past, but there’s still some Hall of Famers out there playing at a high level.” 

David Helman, Kevin Kugler and Mark Sanchez react to Rams vs. 49ers

The 49ers finally slowed down Stafford in the second half by blitzing more, forcing two turnovers that helped San Francisco get control of the game. 

Stafford had a throw to running back Kyren Williams bounce off his hands, with San Francisco defensive back Isaiah Oliver hauling in the deflection for an interception at the 4:10 mark of the third quarter. Cornerback Deommodore Lenoir also picked off Stafford later in the second half. 

However, the Rams served notice that they are not just competing for the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft, and teams will get their best shot from them each week. 

“Today was a great opportunity for us to be able to learn,” Rams coach Sean McVay said. “To be able to understand where that margin for error is. But I love the look in these guys’ eyes. I like the way they continue to be able to compete through the finish.” 

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And just like the Rams, Samuel says there’s room for improvement for the 49ers, which is a scary though for their opponents. 

“We missed a lot of opportunities out there,” Samuel said. “I feel like we left four touchdowns out there. But that’s what practice is for. And we’re going to keep building week in and week out to get better in that area.”  

Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @eric_d_williams.

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