It’s no secret that the San Francisco 49ers have put themselves in a bit of a hole as they begin the home stretch of their season. With nine games left to go, the Niners trail the Arizona Cardinals by two games in the division, and are one of many currently in the mix for one of the two Wild Card spots.
What bodes well for the 49ers, however, is that they are close to becoming whole again. The offensive line should be welcoming back Mike Iupati as soon as this week, although they will have to make due with rookie Marcus Martin at center with Daniel Kilgore out for the year
On defense, the returns of NaVorro Bowman, Patrick Willis, Aldon Smith and Glenn Dorsey are right around the corner, but it’s still unknown exactly when they will be back. That means that they will most likely have to face off with the St. Louis Rams without some or all of the above mentioned defensive stalwarts.
Can the 49ers continue to stay afloat until reinforcements arrive?
It was just a few weeks ago that Colin Kaepernick played one of his best games as a pro in a 31-17 victory over the Rams. Kaepernick was decisive and poised in the pocket on his way to 343 yards through the air and three touchdowns. Anquan Boldin added seven catches for 94 yards and a touchdown, while the defense finally broke through with five sacks.
Overall under Jim Harbaugh, the 49ers haven’t had much of an issue with St. Louis, going 5-1-1 during his tenure. The one exception being 2012, when the Rams went 1-0-1 against the soon-to-be NFC Champions.
Players to watch
If the emergence of Stevie Johnson seems like a surprise, it shouldn’t. After all, when the 49ers traded for him this offseason, he already had three 1,000-yard campaigns under his belt with the Buffalo Bills.
Through seven games, Kaepernick has had nothing but success throwing Johnson’s way. The two have hooked up 25 times on just 31 targets (80.6 percent) for 235 yards. Johnson is also tied for the team lead with three touchdown catches.
While Johnson has made an impact, he’s still only playing on 31 percent of the team’s offensive snaps. Look for that number to increase as he continues to build a rapport with Kaepernick.
Although part of a committee, Tre Mason looks like he could be an impact player for years to come in St. Louis. The Rams inserted him into the lineup three weeks ago against the 49ers, and he’s had 30 carries for 155 since then. In the one game he saw extended action, he rushed 18 times for 85 yards in a Week 7 win against the Seattle Seahawks. Look for a heavy dose of Mason, especially if Willis is out again.
Game changing factor
The 49ers have been banged up, and the bye couldn’t have come at a better time. Even though Bowman, Smith and possibly Willis will still be missing, players like Vernon Davis had a chance to rest their nagging injuries.
As for the Rams, injuries and down years from key players have made them a bad football team.
At 2-5, they have given up the most yards per play on defense (6.2) and gained the fifth-fewest amount of yards on offense (2,355). Austin Davis has been a nice story, but he struggled with the 49ers at home in Week 6, so playing at Levi’s stadium won’t do him any favors.
Stats to know
Harbaugh has a 40-14-1 regular season record as the 49ers’ head coach. Generally, coaches who win like Harbaugh have success when they have two weeks to prepare for a team. That’s not necessarily the case with Harbaugh. He’s gone 1-1-1 after the bye during his tenure, with his only win coming in 2011 against the Cleveland Browns.
After each of the last two regular season byes, the 49ers struggled offensively for much or all of the games. In 2012, they were held to seven points against the Rams until a late fourth quarter flurry helped them to get a tie. Last season, the Niners were held to 46 net passing yards in a 10-9 defeat at the hands of the Carolina Panthers.
The Rams are in the midst of a brutal stretch, having to play four of five on the road and are already 0-1 (34-7 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs) to start that off. To make matters worse, the teams left are the 49ers (away), Arizona Cardinals (away), Denver Broncos (home) and San Diego Chargers (away).
This lineup of games, and its daunting nature, will be too much for St. Louis and their inferior roster. They will get their second of possibly five straight losses as they won’t be able to keep up with a rested 49ers team coming off a bye.
Photo: Getty Images
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