After the 49ers crushed the Steelers in Week 1, many expected them to cruise against the Rams on Sunday at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif.
But the 49ers knew it wasn’t going to be easy, not with Matthew Stafford on the field and coach Sean McVay calling the plays on the sideline.
The 49ers’ ferocious defense needed to make adjustments to eventually break through the Rams’ quick game en route to a 30–23 victory to improve to 2–0 on the season. They had trouble creating pressure against Los Angeles’s revamped offensive line and containing stud rookie wide receiver Puka Nacua, the first player in NFL history to record at least 10 catches and 100 receiving yards in each of his first two career games.
Last year, the 49ers recorded a whopping seven sacks and 11 quarterback hits on Stafford during the first meeting between the two NFC West rivals. On Sunday, All-Pro linebacker Fred Warner recorded San Francisco’s lone sack, but it was a critical one that changed the momentum in the second half. Warner’s stop on third down paved the way for the offense to score a touchdown on the following drive, and increase the lead to 27–17 in the fourth quarter.
Sports Illustrated spoke to 49ers defenders Talanoa Hufanga and Arik Armstead in the visiting locker room of SoFi Stadium. Here’s what they had to say about the victory over the Rams.
Sports Illustrated: Was Fred Warner’s sack in the third quarter a turning point for the defense?
Arik Armstead: Definitely. That was a huge play. We definitely got to do a lot better generating more pressure. That is something that we didn’t do well, so we’re looking to get better in that area.
Talanoa Hufanga: For us, we think the offense sparked it. Once we got a couple stops, they started going down the field [in the second half]. I think that’s what got the momentum going defensively. I think once it was 20–17 with the field goal, that gave us the command.
SI: Were you surprised how well the Rams played without Cooper Kupp and a new roster filled with so many inexperienced players?
TH: We were trying to get a good beat on them, trying to figure out what they’re trying to accomplish. They were trying to get the ball out pretty quick. But the more you hold it, the faster we are because our guys are going to get there, so we did a great job figuring ourselves out in the second half, putting things together to limit their explosiveness, but give credit to the Rams. They had a great game plan.
AA: I wasn’t surprised. They have a good team, a good organization, good quarterback and good players. So, yeah, I wasn’t surprised. A lot of division games are close, knowing each other so well. Glad we found a way to get a win.
SI: After two games, how’s it been integrating Javon Hargrave with the defense?
TH: He almost had a sack or a tackle for loss. He said he got close to the quarterback on that one, but just to see his explosiveness up front has been great.
AA: It’s been going great, but we gotta keep building that continuity.
SI: Talanoa, what stood out to you about facing Rams rookie wide receiver Puka Nacua?
TH: I’m very blessed to play against him because his brother [Kai] used to play here [with the 49ers], so that’s kind of cool. Another Polynesian kid from BYU. Very blessed to play against another Polynesian, and seeing him out there making those plays. I think he’s the first rookie with the most catches through two games. Congratulations to him.
SI: With so many great players in the NFL of Polynesian background, including yourself, what does it mean to see another one in Puka?
TH: Obviously, you don’t want him to make that many plays against us, but seeing another Polynesian in the NFL is pretty cool.