Division games are always crucial no matter who the opponent may be. That said, it’s easy to see why the 49ers may be looking past the St. Louis Rams, as a showdown with Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos looms in Week 7.
But to consider St. Louis a mere speed bump could get the Niners in trouble. Despite their 1-3 record, the Rams have shown fight and been competitive recently against two of the better teams in the NFC. They lost to the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles by a combined nine points, making each game closer and more interesting than it should have been.
The 49ers will have their work cut out for them, as a win in St. Louis on Monday night is in no way a given.
San Francisco has played the Rams 128 times during the regular season, which is more than any other team. The Niners own a one-game advantage in the series with a 63-62-3 record. They’ve met once in the playoffs, which was a 30-3 49ers win in the 1989 NFC Championship.
Last season, the Niners swept the series with two fairly easy victories. In Week 4, Frank Gore paced a 35-11 win with 153 yards on the ground and a touchdown. The defense held the Rams to only 18 yards rushing, while NaVorro Bowman dominated the affair with two sacks and a forced fumble.
In Week 13, San Francisco welcomed back Michael Crabtree, who was playing his first game of the year after recovering from an Achilles’ injury. He made an impact, catching two passes for 68 yards in the 23-13 win, but the story of the game was once again the defense. The unit held the Rams to only six points, before a meaningless touchdown with 18 seconds remaining made the score look closer than it actually was. On the day, they sacked Kellen Clemens three times and intercepted him once.
Players to watch
Anquan Boldin starred in this rivalry in 2013, catching 14 passes for 188 yards and a score over the two games. This season, he’s once again been the team’s most consistent receiver, and leads all 49er pass catchers with 303 yards. He’s yet to get in the end zone though, which should change in Week 6.
The Rams season looked over when they suffered injuries to their top two signal callers (Sam Bradford and Shaun Hill), but to the surprise of many, they may have found their quarterback of the future. The undrafted Austin Davis has stepped up and more than exceeded expectations, putting up big numbers for a once stagnant offense.
Davis ranks in the top 10 in the NFL in completion percentage (eighth, 67 percent), rating (10th, 96.8), yards per game (seventh, 282.3) and yards per attempt (seventh, 7.9).
Game changing factor/Stats to know
While the Rams can score points, they also give them up. They’ve allowed exactly 34 points to three of their four opponents this season. St. Louis is also giving up 6.0 yards per offensive play, which is fourth-worst in the league. However, they’ve also given up the fewest passing yards with 789 and are third-best in total yards allowed with 1,379.
How is this possible?
The fact that the Rams have only played four games has something to do with it, but also consider that St. Louis is tied for the highest turnover percentage in the NFL, as 20.5 percent of their offensive drives have ended in a turnover. Only the winless Oakland Raiders are equally as bad.
Opposing offenses have been put in good situations, or the opposing defense/special teams has done the scoring on their own.
The 49ers defense is starting to gel and is an opportunistic unit. They will come into this game tied for third-best in the NFL with 10 takeaways.
If recent trends hold true, San Francisco should be able to capitalize on some short fields which will make all the difference in this one.
The Rams are a pesky bunch but self-inflicted wounds have been their downfall. Against a lesser team at home, they could come out with a win, but the 49ers are too tough of a matchup issue for them right now. Look for turnovers to be the difference, as the 49ers offense will be gift-wrapped a couple of scores.
Photo: Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
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