By Jerrell Richardson
St. Louis Rams (5-6)
Head Coach: Jeff Fisher
Players To Watch: Benny Cunningham, Zac Stacey, Tavon Austin, James Laurinaitis
In Week 4, San Francisco traveled to St. Louis and dominated the Rams, so with this game in San Francisco the 49ers are understandably the clear favorites in the rematch. Despite the venue and the easy win a few weeks ago, this does not figure to be a cake walk. If San Francisco hopes to extend its winning streak, they are going to have to do so against a Rams team that as the season has progressed. St. Louis enters this game on a two game winning streak and have obliterated their opponents 80-29 during that run. Unfortunately for the visitors, the home team has also gotten better since their prior meeting, and this is still not a favorable matchup for the Rams. It will be closer than the 24 point margin in the last game, but when the dust settles, San Francisco will be the one with the two game winning streak.
When St. Louis Has the Ball: Advantage 49ers
The Rams offense has been a juggernaut the past two weeks. They scored 38 points against the Colts, and followed that by putting up 42 points against the Bears. So while team has not had the best numbers this season running or passing the ball, they have clearly been better as of late. Quarterback Kellen Clemens, filling in for Sam Bradford, has been up and down after being thrown in the fire and the team has relied on the running game to keep them in the win column. As a team they are averaging 200 yards the past two weeks, and Benny Cunningham is averaging 9.35 yards per run. The emergence of the running game has forced defenders to turn their attention away from Tavon Austin, who has taken advantage.
In Tavon Austin, the Rams will have the most dynamic player on the field. It’s no coincidence that as the offense has exploded, so has Austin, who had 138 yards and 2 touchdowns against the Colts and a 65-yard touchdown run against the Bears. He is also a threat in the return game, shown by his 98 yard punt return against the Colts. The problem is that as impressive as the Rams have been running the ball, that plays right into the hands of the 49ers, who last week shut down the league’s top ranked rushing attack. Cunningham will find it much harder to find running room against the 49ers and the Rams only hope is that Austin can get free in the secondary or on a return. The 49ers’ secondary has been better than average this season, and will have all eyes on Austin. If the 49ers can avoid the big play, they will make life difficult for the Rams offense.
When San Francisco Has the Ball: Advantage 49ers
The last time these two teams met, the 49ers literally ran up and down the field. Frank Gore had 153 yards and Kendall Hunter chipped in another 49. On the season, the Rams are allowing 111 yards per game and will need to do a better job this time around if they hope to pull off the upset. This will start and end with Rams linebacker James Laurinaitis, who leads the team in tackles and is also tied for the team lead in interceptions. If Gore starts to pile up the yards, the Rams will have to employ the same game plan as the Redskins and stack up against the run, which is something they can’t afford to do with a shaky secondary.
The Rams are ranked 22nd against the pass and while San Francisco is still last in the NFL throwing the ball, they will finally have their full complement of receivers on the field and the ability to move the ball through the air will be there. The Rams do not have the bodies to cover Vernon Davis, Anquan Boldin and Mario Manningham all over the field and will need a big game from defensive end Robert Quinn, whose 13 sacks is second in the NFL, and can cause problems for Colin Kaepernick. The threat of Kaepernick running though will at least slow down Quinn off the edges, and should be able to give the 49ers time to continue the recent success through the air.
Second Time Around
Playing a division opponent for the second time is never easy, but it works both ways, and the 49ers are at home. So while it’s going to be tough to beat the same team twice, it’s going to be just as hard on the Rams to figure out how to defeat the 49ers. The San Francisco passing game showed signs of life last week and will be a point of interest moving forward. The 49ers game plan should be to exploit St. Louis with their run as they did in the last meeting, but it’s the passing game that needs the fine tuning to show that last week as more of a trend then a luck. The good news is that regardless of what the offense provides, the defense is going to limit the Rams scoring, and the end result should be another 49er victory.
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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.