By Jerrell Richardson
St. Louis Rams (1-2)
Head Coach: Jeff Fisher
Players to Watch: Sam Bradford, Jared Cook and Tavon Austin
Recently, the game between the 49ers and the Rams would serve as a trap game for San Francisco. The 49ers are by far the better team, and most people picked the Rams to finish dead last in the NFC West. However, the Rams outplayed the 49ers last season in both of their meetings, and can boast that they were the only team in the division to not suffer a loss to the 49ers in 2012.
With all things considered, there is a tremendous amount of pressure on San Francisco to win this game. Despite the multitude of issues surrounding the 49ers, they will still have the better team on the field Thursday Night, and if they play like they can, they will snap their first losing streak under Jim Harbaugh as well as their losing streak to the St. Louis Rams.
When San Francisco Has the Ball: Advantage 49ers
The 49er offense is still a work in progress, and after scoring 10 points in 2 weeks it’s hard to imagine them having a clear advantage over any defense. But the missing element to the offense has been the ground game, which should make its triumphant return this week. With the success of Frank Gore to start the game last week, along with the reports that the franchise’s leader rusher has had words with Coach Jim Harbaugh, there is no doubt that the running game will be featured Thursday. There are still concerns with the passing game, but Anquan Boldin is still out there. If Vernon Davis is able to play, then Colin Kaepernick will have two viable targets, and enough to out point the St. Louis offense.
As bad as the 49er offense has looked, the St. Louis defense has been just as bad. St. Louis comes into this game ranked 23rd against the pass, 17th against the run and have allowed at least 24 points in every game this season. If San Francisco struggles against the Rams to move the ball, the level of concern will rise to new levels.
When St. Louis Has the Ball: Advantage 49ers
Despite the current losing streak the 49ers find themselves in, the defense has played pretty well. They are ranked ninth against the pass, which has been the team’s Achilles heel the past two seasons. However, while the pass defense has stepped up, the run defense has struggled. Part of it is due to the fact that they are spending so much time on the field, but San Francisco is allowing 138 yards on the ground per game this season, which puts them ahead of only two other teams. The good news for the 49ers is that the Rams play perfectly into San Francisco’s strengths defensively, as the Rams can hurt you through the air, but scare nobody with their running attack.
It’s only Week 4, so stats are not exactly accurate, but the Rams leading rusher Darryl Richardson’s number look more like one good game, instead of three bad ones. He has 30 carries for 98 yards with a season long rush of seven yards. It’s also a bad sign when Sam Bradford, not exactly known for his quick feet, is the team’s second leader rusher with 26 yards. With no real running game to speak of, the Rams will have to rely on the pass, which they have done well this season. They are ranked eighth in the NFL, averaging a little under 300 yards per game.
While the 49ers pass defense has been exceptional, they will have a lot of bodies to chase around and will not be able to single on any one player. The Rams leading receiver yardage wise is Jared Cook, but Sam Bradford has done a good job of spreading the ball around. Wide receivers Tavon Austin and Austin Pettis both have just as many catches if not more than Cook, and make it impossible for the defense to take away Bradford’s favorite target because he doesn’t have one.
The Rams can do damage through the air, but are playing to the strong point of the 49er defense. St. Louis will have to score more than the seven points, (their total last week), which should not be a problem since they are at home, but still will have an uphill battle facing the 49er defense, even if San Francisco is without some key defensive players.
Was Last Year A Fluke?
When they line up across from each other the 49ers have the favorable match up across the board, but they know that means nothing. They are playing a team that had their number last year, and playing that team in their home stadium. To make it even more complicated, it’s a division rival that is already familiar with them. It will ultimately come down to San Francisco executing and playing 49er football. Few teams like their chances against the 49ers, and while the Rams have every right to be confident heading into this game, there is no question who the better team is, and who should easily win this division battle.
For more 49ers news and updates, visit 49ers Central.
Jerrell Richardson is a Bay Area native who due to a college career at San Diego State University has grown an appreciation for all things sports related in California. His heart will always remain in San Francisco though where he currently resides and covers everything from the San Francisco 49ers and Giants to the San Jose Sharks and California Bears Baseball team. Jerrell is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. His work can be found on Examiner.com.