National Football League

Rams-49ers Primer

+ In prepping for the Rams’ matchup with the 49ers, I started to look back at that Thursday night game at the Edward Jones Dome in which San Francisco completely manhandled the Rams, 35-11. But looking at that game to preview this Sunday’s matchup is completely useless. The Rams were a completely different team back in September. They had no identity on offense. They had no running game. Their defense wasn’t playing anywhere near its capabilities, and the special teams were an utter disaster. It was that game where Jeff Fisher decided that what the team was doing wasn’t working and a fundamental change needed to be made. And give credit to Fisher and his staff for saying, “Everything we did in the offseason, preseason and over the first three weeks of the regular season isn’t working, and we need to change our approach.” Normally head coaches are too stubborn to make a philosophical change like that, and Fisher did.

+ The question that I have about the 49ers, and I know you share similar thoughts, is whether or not they really did figure things out in Washington on Monday night, or was their success a product of how bad Washington is defensively? Ironically, that was one of the Redskins’ best games on defense – and they surrendered 27 points and 304 total yards. Is that good?

+ What should worry the Rams is that the Niners finally connected on some big plays. The San Francisco offense has been pretty punchless over the course of the season, but Colin Kaepernick connected on pass plays of 40, 32 and 23 yards, all to different receivers. One thing the Rams have done well over the past two games is strike for big yards and limit the big plays on defense. It’ll be interesting to see if that trend continues for the Rams this weekend.

+ Another thing I would be concerned with is how Kaepernick repeatedly targeted Josh Wilson on Monday night. A couple of weeks ago, we had the discussion of whether or not Kaepernick had been regressing in the offense. He wasn’t going through his progressions, and his decision-making was questionable at best. But he seemed to simplify things on Monday by simply attacking Washington’s weakness, which happened to be Wilson. To put everything in context, Kaepernick threw at Wilson 11 times, completing 10 of those passes for 194 yards and one touchdown. And it wasn’t as if Wilson was locked onto one receiver – Kaepernick completed passes to Mario Manningham, Anquan Boldin, Vernon Davis and Vance McDonald with Wilson in coverage. Washington tried to hide him, but Kaepernick found him.

+ How does that apply to the Rams? Well, due to the injury to Cortland Finnegan, rookie Brandon McGee will see extensive action this Sunday. And although I expect Michael Crabtree to be limited as he returns from the Achilles injury that held him out of the first 12 weeks, this will be the first game in which Kaepernick has his full complement of weapons. Understandably, McGee struggled last week against the Bears. He was targeted four times, allowed four receptions for 47 yards and was flagged for three costly penalties. Josh McCown had a lot of success targeting McGee last Sunday, and I would imagine that the 49ers will lock onto him this weekend as well.

+ The front seven will be key. The Panthers have one of the most active front sevens in the game right now, and they dominated Kaepernick and the 49ers a few weeks ago. Charles Johnson, Greg Hardy and Dwan Edwards all had excellent days rushing the passer, and it caused Kaepernick to be inaccurate. They did a nice job funneling Kaepernick to the middle of the field, where Luke Kuechly was waiting. If the Rams are going to win this game, they’re going to need Robert Quinn, Chris Long, Michael Brockers and William Hayes to be at their best. James Laurinaitis will have to be active in the middle of the field. Of course, the Rams drafted Alec Ogletree in large part to neutralize what Kaepernick brings to the table, so he’ll need to have one of his best days, too. He was around the ball a lot last week vs. Chicago, but there were too many missed tackles all around.

+ Offensively, do what you’ve been doing. The blueprint for the Rams’ success on offense the past two weeks hasn’t been complex. The offensive line needs to continue to dominate in the running game, Benny Cunningham and/or Zac Stacy need to continue to be decisive, Kellen Clemens can’t turn the ball over and Brian Schottenheimer needs to continue to figure out ways to get Tavon Austin the ball in open space. The fact that Austin has only been targeted eight times in the passing game the past two weeks isn’t that big of a deal because when he has had his opportunities, he’s winning his one-on-one battles or, like on his 65-yard run against the Bears, he’s using his athleticism to cash in on a perfectly designed play-call and execution.

+ The Rams have also capitalized on their opportunities. They were 3-of-4 inside the red zone last week against the Bears. It’s not about time of possession, it’s about what you do with those possessions when you have an opportunity to score and the Rams were able to find paydirt several times last week. It’ll be no different on Sunday vs. the Niners.