A win against the SF 49ers this weekend would be very exciting. Of the 5 games remaining in the 2012 season, the 49ers are by far the Rams’ toughest opponent. The 49ers are coming off a QB controversy, but unfortunately it is not the kind of thing that should disrupt their play. The controversy is really more of an opportunity than anything else. In the Rams and 49ers’ last meeting then starting QB Alex Smith suffered a concussion (he was hit hard) and backup Colin Kaepernick was forced to make an appearance. Since then, during games against the Bears and Saints, Kaepernick has really showcased his talents. Kaepernick completed nine passes of at least 20 yards in those two combined wins. His big game potential makes it’s a no brainer to replace Smith who in recent years has been a competent utilitarian.
As long as we’re talking about quarter backs, let’s talk about our QB Sam Bradford. Bradford has completed 84 of 118 (71.2 pct.) for 818 yards with 4 TDs vs. 0 INTs for 101.6 rating in 3 starts vs. San Francisco. In last week’s win against the Cardinals he threw for 205 yards and 2 right-on-target 37 yard TD passes. Where Kaepernick is currently known for play making ability, I’d have to say Bradford is known for bringing up his level of play in big games. Of course this means his level of play has not been up to expectations against weaker opponents, but it should serve the Rams well against the 8-2-1 49ers at the Edward Jones Dome.
When we look at these two teams we see that both teams overall are pretty healthy. Kendall Hunter, the 49ers very solid back up running back will be out for the game and this could be an issue if third stringer LaMichael James can’t perform effectively enough to allow Frank Gore some rest. (The 49ers are expected to give James his first NFL appearance Sunday.) Last year James played for the Oregon Ducks where he rushed for 1,805 yards and came in 3rd in Heisman Trophy balloting. Although I wish him a very successful NFL career, I hope that success doesn’t begin until after playing us. Both teams have a lot of talent although the Rams have more young talent, which accounts for a real lack of consistency. The 49ers on the other hand have been very consistent and are one of the best teams in the NFL.
The key to the match up for the Rams is the same as it would be against any team; execution. When the Rams are clicking on all cylinders they can beat any team (or at least tie them). Other factors:
- Achieving a positive turnover ratio – this isn’t rocket science, but it is so incredibly important for winning in the NFL. Again, the Rams are coming off a 4 interception game against the Arizona Cardinals. Rams corner backs need stops and take-a-ways on Sunday. They cannot have blown coverages which we have also seen a lot of this season.
- RBs Jackson and Richardson need to have big games – To make this happen depends partly on Rams coaches. This is one of the only areas of the team where a lack of execution is typically not the problem. The problem is giving the RBs enough touches. The 49ers have a very tough run defense, but we were able to run against them last time and we’ve got to do it again. These 2 guys must have big games because you know SF RB Frank Gore will.
- I probably should have put this point first, but the Rams offensive line needs to have a big day – The Rams O-line is healthy for perhaps the first time in the entire season. Returning center Scott Wells had an average game last week against the Cardinals, but it was his first game back from injury. RT Barry Richardson had a tremendous performance last week. His pass blocking was solid and when Steven Jackson ran to his side he gained something like 9 yards per carry. The 49ers have a much better pressure and rushing defense than the Cards so everyone on the Rams O-line has to step it up.
- Game management – the Rams have done some pretty stupid things over the course of the season. Bad penalties, bad clock management, bad play calls by coaches, completely ill timed turnovers, and of late even poor field goal kicking. Outside of David Akers (only recently), the 49ers are a very disciplined team. The Rams cannot afford laying any more smelly brain farts.
- And again, execution – everyone on the team has to play at a high level. Special teams have to do their jobs, the defensive secondary has to slow the role of Crabtree and Davis, the D-line and linebackers have got to limit the Frank Gore related damages, etc.
The Rams have been seen to up their play for good opponents. Again, they have also been seen to lay big fat eggs against elite teams (ex: Patriots and Packers). With all the hype surrounding Kaepernick it is important to remember he has very little experience. With a regular dosage of defensive pressure he will make mistakes just like anyone else. An upset on Sunday could go along way for the Rams (not to mention Rams fans). It could be the catalyst we need to finish off the season strong. Go Rams!!!