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Rams – 9ers Preview

Coming off a bye week the Rams will look to beat their long-time rivals the San Francisco 49ers this weekend. A victory would leave them leading the NFC West at 5-4 with a 2-1 divisional record and sights firmly set on the playoffs. The 9ers are sitting in last at 2-6 and are clearly in need of a W if they want to stand any chance of January football.

History favours a Rams victory, narrowly, as we head into the 122nd meeting of the two franchises. The Rams lead the series 60-59-2, but last season saw San Fran sweep the gold and blue to make it 4 wins in a row. This year Sam Bradford and the new look Rams defense will aim to stop the streak. Patrick Willis will undoubtedly have something to say about that though…

The 49ers are also coming off a bye week following their excursions in London, where Troy Smith led them to a ‘home win’ in a fourth quarter comeback against the Denver Broncos. Smith was handed the gig in preference to David Carr after starter Alex Smith succumbed to a shoulder injury and will be hoping to show enough to leave him in the role. He’ll be playing off the power-running game that focuses on Frank Gore and a young O-Line, with dangerous receiving options in Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis as his primary targets.

The problem for the 9ers will be their pass-protection. Anthony Davis in particular has struggled, giving up 6 sacks, a further 5 hits and 19 pressures. Joe Staley has fared slightly better allowing 2 sacks, 6 hits and 15 pressures. Facing the productive duo of Long and Hall, who have 11 sacks between them and a further 8 hits and a huge 54 pressures combined, will cause them fits. Expect more uncalled holding calls on Chris Long double teams…

What it also means is that we can expect lots of Frank Gore up the middle. The high level of play from Fred Robbins (9 defensive “stops”) and James Laurinaitis (31 stops) during the season to date will be relied upon again. Steven Jackson will have problems of his own though. Any Mike Singletary defense is tough, but the 9ers 3-4 front seven has been brutal. Franklin (18), Smith (21), Spikes (26) and Willis (29) have combined for 94 stops, which is also a worry for the short passing game of the Rams.

Good news for the Rams is the play of San Fran’s defensive backs. Starting corners Nate Clements and Shawntae Spencer are allowing 68.9% and 60.5% of passes completed to their assigned coverage which bodes well for the accurate Bradford. Hard-hitting Taylor Mays is no better either, allowing 84.6% of passes to be completed for an average of 24.9yds. Hopefully Danario Alexander will be able to exploit the deep ball on Sunday…

So… prediction time… As per usual I think the Rams will start strongly and the 9ers will be left to play catch-up. The head-down running of Frank Gore will tire out the defense as the game wears on, but as long as Bradford can exploit holes in their secondary, we’ll have a good chance. The Rams need to approach the game with a similar mentality to the way the Saints play football. Score first. Force them to take risks and get away from the pound-the-rock style of football. Then take advantage of the opportunities, be it sacks or interceptions. Don’t start getting away from what works just because you are in the lead…

Rams win 20-13.


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