St Louis Rams (2-9) vs. San Francisco 49ers (9-2)
Kickoff: 1:15 PM PST
Preview: Five things to watch out for in the Rams vs. 49ers game:
Offensive Line and Pass Protection
One of the biggest reasons for the 49ers losing on Thanksgiving was a lack of protection in the passing game. QB Alex Smith was sacked a season-high nine times and could not get the offense going to score enough touchdowns to pull out the win. The Ravens defense looked like they were jumping out first before the offensive line moved anticipating the snap count. The 49ers will need to fix this against the Rams if they want a passing game.
The Rams may not be a good team overall but their pass defense is one of the best in the NFL. Led by DE Chris Long (25 tackles, 10 sacks) and LB James Laurinaitis (90 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 INT’s) the Rams passing D ranks 8th overall and 2nd in the NFC. The only way the Rams will beat the 49ers is by pressuring Smith all game like the Ravens did. The Rams defense has 29 sacks this season and is capable of slowing down the 49ers passing game. The 49ers O-line needs to make a big statement that last week was a fluke by protecting Smith all game and limiting the Rams to one or two sacks. If not, the game will not be as close as Niner fans anticipate.
Frank Gore’s Rushing Record
Niner fans should have something to cheer for early in the game, Frank Gore becoming the 49ers all-time leading rusher. By early in the game I mean the first play on offense for the 49ers. Gore needs just 22 rushing yards to pass former Niners RB Joe Perry who had 7,344 rushing yards with the 49ers. The Rams are horrible against the run. They are dead last in the NFL against the run allowing 5.1 yards per carry and giving up an average of 159 rushing yards per game, so it looks highly likely Gore will break the mark in the game.
Earlier this season Gore passed Roger Craig on the 49ers all-time leading rushing list.
"It's not really on my mind. The big picture is winning the game. I'd be happy if I do it this week. It would be a blessing. I would like to do it this week, especially in front of the fans. It'd be a great time for us to win and for me to get the record." Frank Gore
Clinching the NFC West
The big story line this week is the 49ers being able to clinch their first NFC West title and playoff berth since 2002. It has almost been a decade since Niner fans have been able to celebrate the team winning an NFC West title. What will make the win even sweeter is it will put Rams head coach Steve Spagnuolo more on the hot seat. Niners fans should relish the fact that the Rams are regressing after finishing 7-9 last season after enduring years of the Greatest Show on Turf. Now is the 49ers time.
After clinching the NFC West the 49ers cannot go into cruise control because they still have plenty to play for. Down the stretch the 49ers will attempt to keep pace with the Green Bay Packers, but if anything they will try to hold down the number two seed and a first-round bye. The 49ers hold a one game lead over the Saints who have an 8-3 record.
"It's a big deal. It's a step. We may be ahead on the chip count, but we don't have a seat at the final table. We need to focus on this game. We need to do everything we can to physically, mentally, emotionally prepare for this game because we know that the St. Louis Rams will be doing the same thing." Jim Harbaugh
49ers Performance After Losing
The rivalry runs deep between the Rams and 49ers. Even with the Niners favored to win by as much as 13 points the Rams might put up a good fight. The 49ers need to show they are playoff ready by easily handling the last place Rams after losing to the Ravens. A win over a division rival that clinches the NFC West is a good way to get over the loss. The 49ers will be able to cover the spread only if the offense jumps out early with touchdowns and gets the crowd going, anticipating an NFC West title.
The Rams have suffered through injuries all season and this week is no exception. The Rams have one of their best players on offense and defense listed as questionable for the game. QB Sam Bradford and DE Chris Long have both missed practices this week due to ankle injuries. Bradford has already missed two games this season while Long has not missed any. If Bradford and Long cannot go on Sunday the 49ers have an even better chance of pulling off a big win. Last season Bradford was a pest in his only two career starts against the 49ers with 543 yards, two touchdowns and a 1-1 record.
Rams injury report:
LB Josh Hull
OT Mark LeVoir
QB Sam Bradford
DE Chris Long
DT Justin Bannan
S Darian Stewart
P Donnie Jones
LB Chris Chamberlain
CB Justin King
WR Dominique Curry
FB Brit Miller
Prediction: Rams 12 49ers 31
Jim Harbaugh will have the 49ers fully prepared to erase what happened last week, so expect big plays on offense and defense. Even if Bradford starts he will be playing on a bad ankle which means the 49ers will have plenty of chances to score touchdowns with good field position. I am calling a trifecta of touchdowns in the game: one on offense, defense and special teams.