Perhaps the Rams didn’t watch enough film.
Maybe they did, but the task was still difficult.
Regardless of the reason, the result stands — the Rams couldn’t contain San Francisco 49ers receiver Deebo Samuel when it mattered.
More than a month after the second-year receiver played a key role in a San Francisco victory in the first matchup, Samuel again tore through the Rams’ defense and collected 11 catches for 133 yards on 13 targets in a 23-20 win over the Rams at SoFi Stadium.
This time, he did it with a backup quarterback, and accounted for more than half of Nick Mullens’ 252 passing yards. Coach Kyle Shanahan said he takes a “soft-compliment” approach with Samuel, saying it’s better not to overinflate his ego.
But outwardly, he gave the receiver a lot of praise.
“He’s one of the best football players I’ve ever been around,” Shanahan said. “It doesn’t matter how good it is or how good it looks; he’s going to get it done.”
In a game where both teams leaned on stout defenses, which caused seven collective turnovers, the 49ers’ offense relied on Samuel to produce.
It was Samuel’s first game back after missing three with a hamstring injury. After Mullens had a pass intercepted on the first drive, the 49ers’ offense hit Samuel on chunk plays for 33 and 26 yards, which set up San Francisco’s first touchdown.
The early production mimicked San Francisco’s game plan from Week 6 against the Rams at Levi’s Stadium. On the second play of that game, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo completed a toss play to Samuel, who ran for 35 yards after the Rams’ defense thought he had been touched down.
It had set the tone for the 24-16 home victory, in which Samuel posted 66 receiving yards and a touchdown.Afterward, he took a shot on social media at Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald, who didn’t recognize Samuel’s name during the postgame news conference. Donald later clarified that he only knew Samuel by his jersey number.
McVay said Sunday that Samuel presented problems similar to the first matchup.
“He’s got great contact balance, he makes tough catches in traffic and when they utilize him as a runner … that’s a guy that can really serve [not only] as a good receiver, but as a guy that can be a good threat as a runner,” McVay said. “He’s a strong player and he’s a guy that’s made big plays for them since when he got in as a rookie last year.”
San Francisco again turned to Samuel in the second half.
In the third quarter, Mullens connected with Samuel for 26 yards, another chunk play that contributed to a drive that ended in a field goal. Samuel caught the ball on the stop route against zone coverage, then ran through arm-tackle attempts by defensive backs Darious Williams and Jordan Fuller, only to be pushed out of bounds by Troy Hill.
Running back Raheem Mostert said Samuel’s physicality provided a spark.
“We’re happy to have him back,” Mostert said. “He did a great job for us.”
With the game tied at 20 with about two minutes left, San Francisco predictably targeted Samuel on the final drive. The Rams still couldn’t stop it.
Backed up on the 28-yard line, Mullens passed to Samuel, who beat Williams’ man coverage on an inside release and ran 24 yards to set up the offense near midfield. Then the duo connected on a seven-yard screen and a four-yard slant to put the visitors in range for Robbie Gould’s 42-yard, walk-off field goal.
“That’s all we were trying to do there, just throw a quick one to Deebo,” Shanahan said. “And he came through every single time.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.