To preview the San Francisco 49ers taking on the St. Louis Rams in Week 13, here are five things to watch for during the game:
Wide receiver Michael Crabtree returning from injury has been one of the most anticipated for Niner fans in recent memory. Crabtree will likely not be at full strength, but he will help Colin Kaepernick and his offense. Just having Crabtree on the field will make the Rams defense have to cover him while also worrying about Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis. Boldin and Davis have combined for 14 touchdowns this season.
My prediction for Crabtree is he will have a big game with two touchdown scores. The TDs won’t come on big gains, but expect Kaepernick to look to Crabtree in the end zone when he has one-on-one coverage.
With Crabtree back on offense the 49ers will be a more balanced attack, which means more consistency for Kaepernick in the passing game. Kaepernick has not thrown for over 200 passing yards in two-straight games this season, but that will change on Sunday.
St. Louis’ defense will get pressure on Kap and stop the air attack on a few drives, but with the Rams focused in on stopping Frank Gore most of the game, there will be plenty of one-on-one coverage on the outside. Crabtree, Boldin and Davis will all benefit from this at different points in the game as the Rams will have to leave one receiver in single coverage.
Rams Rushing Attack
The 49ers defense will be going up against a very different offense from the one they faced in Week 4. Kellen Clemens is now at quarterback after replacing Sam Bradford who is out for the season with a torn ACL. Not only has Clemens done a decent at QB, but St. Louis has also found a ground game led by two rookie running backs.
Against the Chicago Bears last week the Rams rushed for a season-high 258 yards. The offense was led by rookie running back Benny Cunningham who had 109 yards and one touchdown. Not to be outdone was fellow rookie Zac Stacy who chipped in with 87 rushing yards and one touchdown. The Rams’ resurgence on the ground has the offense ranked 15th in rushing.
With the 49ers ranking sixth in the NFL defending against the run and limiting the Redskins to just 100 total rushing yards last week, they should not have too much trouble stopping the two rookie running backs.
Last week, Rams rookie WR Tavon Austin had a 65-yard touchdown run vs. Bears for first career TD rushing, his fourth TD in a row from beyond midfield and sixth overall this season. Cornerback Carlos Rogers will draw the task of covering Austin, but despite the receiver’s speed he only had two receptions for six yards against Rogers in Week 4.
Austin is a different and more mature receiver than the one Rogers faced in the last meeting. He is now producing the big plays the Rams drafted him to make this season. He has a 98-yard punt return, touchdown receptions of 57 and 81 yards from quarterback Kellen Clemens during the Rams’ two-game winning streak. Rogers will need help from safeties Eric Reid and Donte Whitner to keep Austin’s quickness in check.
In the past three games, Kaepernick has been sacked 11 times. This season the Rams defense has 33 sacks, which is tied for ninth in NFL. Leading the way on the defensive line is Robert Quinn who has 35 tackles and 13 sacks\. His sack total is second in the NFL.
Left tackle Joe Staley will be protecting Kaepernick from Quinn on Sunday. In order for the 49ers offense to get going against the Rams and for Kaepernick to be able to build confidence early, he will need to be kept upright. The two-time Pro Bowl tackle is having one of his best seasons of his career, but he knows his hands will be full against Quinn:
Quinn plays the same since he got in the league. He’s just having a lot of success this year, getting to the quarterback. The thing I see most improved — his pass rush has always been there — but this year he’s done a really great job in the run game, as well.
Going against him for the fifth time, so I’m familiar with him and the athleticism he has and the way he plays the game. Particularly this year, he’s having a really good year.