The rival between the San Francisco 49ers and St. Louis Rams gets renewed for the first time of the 2012 season on Sunday. St. Louis travels to San Francisco where they have not won since 2007, losing four straight games at Candlestick Park. Both teams are coming off their bye week and they will be equally rested and ready to go.
San Francisco entered their bye week on a two-game winning streak after beating the Seahawks and Cardinals. The defense did not allow a touchdown in either game and only gave up a combined nine points.
St. Louis limped to their bye week after receiving a beat down from the Patriots in London. The Rams scored the first touchdown, but the Patriots scored the next 45 points. After starting the season 3-2, the Rams have lost the last three games and given up 92 points during the losing streak.
The rivalry runs deep between the 49ers and Rams. Anytime they play one another you can throw out the records of both teams and expect a good game. Here are five things to watch for during the game:
Momentum of 49ers Offense
The bye week halted the momentum the 49ers offense had established during the two-game winning streak. Alex Smith had a near perfect performance on Monday Night Football, finishing 18-for-19 with 232 yards and three touchdowns. Smith takes a 102.1 QB rating into the game which ranks fourth in the NFL. He passed for 213 yards and one touchdown in the most recent matchup against the Rams last season.
With the offense averaging 168.9 rushing yards per game, the run game will be a key part to getting the offense going because it will help set up the passing game. Frank Gore enters the second-half of the season with 656 rushing yards, four touchdowns and averaging 5.5 yards per carry . The Rams defense has only nine turnovers this season and during the three-game losing streak they did not force any turnovers. Look for the 49ers offense to take advantage of this.
Michael Crabtree Posed for Big Day
A big part of the momentum on offense for the 49ers was lead by Michael Crabtree. In Week 8 against Arizona, Crabtree grabbed five catches for 72 yards and two touchdowns. He proved against Cardinals CB Patrick Peterson he should be respected as a legitimate number one receiver. In two games against the Rams last season Crabtree had 12 catches for 182 yards and three touchdowns. St. Louis does have a good secondary with the physical Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins at cornerback, but the Patriots lit up the defense for 321 passing yards.
Even though we expected more from Randy Moss at the halfway point of the season, he does have a modest 13 catches for 235 yards, two touchdowns and averages 18.1 yards per catch. Where Moss has proven his value the most is just having his presence on the field. He draws double-coverage most of the time which helps open up the field for Crabtree.
Freeing Up Vernon Davis
For all of the praise Greg Roman receives for his offense being creative with his formations and play-calling, he can’t seem to come up with a way to get Vernon Davis the football. Opposing defenses are doing everything they can to stop Davis and they have been succeeding. In the past three games Davis has been limited to five catches for 71 yards and no touchdowns.
Alex Smith on defenses strategy for Davis,
I see a lot of teams trying to take away the big play in the passing game from Vernon. I don’t know if there’s another big-play tight end quite like him. I know there’s a lot of tight ends that have a lot of catches and have a lot of production, but they don’t necessarily have the explosion that he has. But in taking that away, it’s opened up a lot underneath for other guys.
In two games last season Davis had 13 catches and 150 yards against the Rams. St. Louis ranks 17th in the league in pass defense and allowed Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski to catch eight passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns in Week 8. Smith has shown he won’t throw into double-coverage. For Davis to get open, a lot will depend on whether the Rams defense focuses on the wide receivers or double team him.
Unfamiliarity of Sam Bradford
This will mark the first time Vic Fangio’s defense will go up against Rams QB Sam Bradford after he missed both meetings last season with an ankle sprain. He is improving this season with 1,797 passing yards, eight touchdowns and seven interceptions. He has played well during the three-game losing streak completing 67.0 percent of his passes. Still, after eight games the Rams offense has scored only 11 touchdowns.
Bradford will have WR Danny Amendola back on the field after he missed the past three games with an injury to his collarbone. Amendola is Bradford’s favorite target with 32 catches, 395 yards and two touchdowns this season.
The 49ers pass rush will be able to get after Bradford all game to disrupt his rhythm which will eventually make the Rams passing game a non-factor.
Third Down Conversions
The Rams defense has allowed teams to covert 40 percent of the time on third down, which ranks 15th in the league. In the past two games against the Packers and Patriots, both teams converted a combined 16 of 27 third downs.
A good strategy for the 49ers would be to exploit the Rams on third downs, but the offense is ranked 19th in the league and has only converted 38 percent of third downs. With an established run game the Niners offense should be able to avoid third downs.