National Football League

Stalter’s Game Notebook: Rams-49ers

+ From the Rams’ standpoint, there were too many head-scratching moments, decisions and plays that went into their 23-13 loss to the 49ers. But if you’re searching for one central theme to sum up the defeat, it’s “physicality.” (Or lack thereof from the Rams.) When teams play the Niners, they know they’re in store for 60 minutes of a physical brand of football. Those that withstand the punches and throw a few haymakers of their own will still be in the game in the fourth quarter. Those that don’t get tossed around like the Rams did on Sunday. If this was a test of fortitude and strength, the Rams failed miserably.

+ The lack of physicality was on display from the cornerback position. I like when the Rams play press coverage on the outsides. I’d rather see their cornerbacks get in the faces of receivers than to play the Charmin Extra Soft zone that the team had implemented under Jeff Fisher in 2012 and for the first half of this season. For anyone who watched the Colts beat the Broncos in Week 7 this year, this is how Indy handed Denver its first loss of the season. The Colts disrupted the timing between Peyton Manning and his receivers by jamming his wideouts at the line, which caused the ball to come out late or not at all. But there’s no payoff if Anquan Boldin is just going to toss your corners around the field like rag dolls. There’s no payoff if the corners get flagged for holding or illegal hands to the face. I’m all for the Rams playing press coverage, but to do so, it requires Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson to win the battle at the line of scrimmage, which they didn’t.

+ The shame of it is that the Rams did a nice job limiting Frank Gore and San Francisco’s running game to 83 yards on 30 carries (2.8 YPC). Their ends also did a great job containing Colin Kaepernick and funneling him inside, where he couldn’t do a lot of damage with his legs. But that effort went for naught because Boldin, Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree either found or created open passing windows for Kaepernick. It flat out wasn’t a good day for St. Louis’ back seven.

+ Outside of Rodger Saffold, it wasn’t a great day for the offensive line, either. Saffold did a fantastic job against Aldon Smith and the rest of the Niners’ pass rushers when he was forced to play left tackle following Jake Long’s injury. But on the play in which Long was injured, he questionably tried to pick up a blitzing Donte Whitner instead of blocking his own defender, Justin Smith. Zac Stacy went to fill the gap and met not only Whitner in the hole, but also Long, and the pair smacked heads. Smith, meanwhile, came off the line untouched and forced Kellen Clemens to heave the ball downfield to Chris Givens, who promptly dropped it to force fourth down. It’s unfortunate that Long got hurt on the play, but the situation likely could have been avoided. Unless Jared Cook was supposed to chip Smith on that play, why Long decided to block Whitner is confusing.

+ The Rams’ issues offensively weren’t limited to the offensive line. Givens, Cook, Stacy and Tavon Austin all had passes go off their hands, while Clemens was exposed by a lack of a running game. Those who claimed that Clemens made the Rams’ offense better than Sam Bradford got a rude awakening watching on Sunday. Clemens has done a better-than-expected job in Bradford’s absence, but he simply isn’t accurate enough to be a full-time starter. And without Stacy averaging 4.5 yards per carry, too much emphasis was placed on Clemens and the passing game.

+ Where was Benny Cunningham? His first carry went for 13 yards, and then he was barely seen again (he finished with just 16 yards on two carries). Much of the discussion last week was about how Cunningham and Stacy gave the Rams a nice one-two punch, but Brian Schottenheimer decided against changing the pace by utilizing Cunningham more.

+ Of course, Schottenheimer’s decision to keep Cunningham on the sidelines was just one of the many head-scratching moments from the coaching staff. Fisher’s decision to run a fake punt reeked of desperation. The Rams hadn’t played well to that point, but it was still a 10-point game when Matt Giordano was taken down well within 49er territory. If the game wasn’t in hand before that gamble, it was when Kaepernick hit Davis for a 17-yard touchdown at the start of the fourth quarter.

+ And why not attempt a field goal to cut the Niners’ lead to 14 midway through the fourth quarter? No matter how you sliced it, the Rams needed a field goal if they wanted to have a chance to tie the game by the end of regulation. Instead, they go for it and Clemens winds up scrambling out of bounds on fourth-and-11. Granted, the Niners probably would have still hung on had the Rams cut the deficit to 14. But even when you’re coming to terms with your own fate, there’s still no reason to throw logic out the window – especially when there’s still over six minutes left on the clock. It’s just bizarre.

+ Most reasonable fans didn’t expect the Rams to beat the Niners on Sunday. But given the way they had played in wins over the Colts and Bears (two teams that could wind up winning their divisions at some point), one would have thought that the Rams would have given a better effort by the Bay. Instead, it was just another painful reminder of how inconsistent this team has been in 2013.