On Sunday, the San Francisco 49ers will play their third straight game against NFC West rivals, when they play host to the St. Louis Rams at Candlestick Park. Having bested the Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks in their last two games, they have their sights set on the basement-dwelling Rams.
St. Louis started off the season better than expected, but quickly fell to the bottom of the division. They've had a bye week to dissect Jim Harbaugh and his exotic offense formations, but the very same Harbaugh has also had a week off to devise some new ones.
With a win, the Rams would be one away from .500, which is probably better than anybody thought they'd be this year. Unfortunately, 49ers quarterback Alex Smith is 9-1 against the division, and multiple players are coming off of big games, including running back Frank Gore and wide receiver Michael Crabtree.
That said, Rams quarterback Sam Bradford has thrown for 543 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions in his only two starts against the 49ers. He hasn't lost to the 49ers as the starter, but this is the first time that San Francisco defensive coordinator Vic Fangio will get a chance to gameplan against him.
Meet the 49ers
Jim Harbaugh led this squad to a 13-3 regular season record and an appearance in the NFC Championship in his rookie season. This time around, the team could actually be better. The offense is unquestionably better. New faces Mario Manningham and Randy Moss have contributed here and there, while a defense that returned all of its starters is just as good as advertised.
San Francisco boasts the No. 2 defense in the NFL. They've allowed the second-lowest yards in the NFL (2,171), the fewest points in the NFL (103) and the fewest points per game (12.9). One area where they've regressed is the takeaway department, but they're also seeing the field a lot less, meaning they're making the stops when they need to.
Offensively, Michael Crabtree has stepped into his own, and has five touchdowns in his past four games against St. Louis. He's got 22 catches for 365 yards over his last four against them. He had two receiving touchdowns in his last game, and the only other time he's done that was against St. Louis last season. Running back Frank Gore has 341 yards from scrimmage in his last three home games.
Meet the Rams
Rather than ride Steven Jackson further into the ground, the new-look Rams have elected to put the game in the hands of quarterback Sam Bradford. It hasn't been the most successful venture, given their 3-5 record, but Bradford hasn't been terrible this season by any stretch of the imagination.
Bradford has completed just 61.4 percent of his passes, but his average yards per pass is up this year, at 7.2, the first time it's ever been beyond 6.1 in his two-plus seasons. He's thrown for eight touchdowns and seven interceptions. One glaring issue on offense is the fact that he's been sacked 23 teams, and this year is on pace to be sacked the most of his career.
The aforementioned Jackson is having a down year, nearing career lows on per carry stats and yardage stats, especially if you discount his rookie season. His carries are way down but, when he has the ball in his hands, he's still not producing.
Rookie Daryl Richardson is actually performing much better in that vein, and he'll be looking to establish himself as the guy going forward. Given the running back history between those two teams, a good start would be burning the 49ers for a big game.
Local Takes: 49ers
James Brady from Niners Nation (that's me!) takes note of the fact that Frank Gore is out-lasting Steven Jackson, as both have played for a similar length of time and have been the bell-cow of their team's offense.
There's one argument that I'm OK with making right now though: Gore is better in 2012, and he's got more time left. St. Louis' propensity to ride Jackson into the ground has caused him to suffer a steep decline in productivity this year, and he's on pace for career lows in just about everything, especially is you discount his rookie season.
Local Takes: Rams
Tyler Bishop of Turf Show Times listed some keys to the game, and one of them was that the Rams had to be aggressive on defense:
Stay aggressive. This is a ball control team, and they want nothing more than a team to play it safe, so they can "dink and dunk", and handle the clock. This offense keeps their defense, which does not rotate more than one player typically, off the field. They hope to score an explosive play on an overly aggressive team to get them to back off, but the Rams will have to stay with this gameplan, and force them out of their comfort zone. Accept the big plays as they come, but force this team to throw and beat the blitz.
Follow the Fun
Add these fine follows to your Twitter timeline:
What can the 49ers expect from the Rams offense this Sunday? sbn.to/Zle8CG— NinersNation (@NinersNation) November 10, 2012
Hakim used to play for the UFL Locomotives, coached by Jim Fassel, father of Rams ST coach John Fassel ... ALL THE CONNECTIONS!— TurfShowTimes (@TurfShowTimes) November 7, 2012
@Eric_Branch, 49ers beat writer
Roger Craig on the holes #49ers Frank Gore is running through: "It’s fun taking on defensive backs instead of those linemen or linebackers."— Eric Branch (@Eric_Branch) November 10, 2012
Both teams are coming off a bye week, but the 49ers have more rest. They also have more wins, better players, home field advantage, momentum, a better offense, a better defense and much, much more. Andrew Sharp of SB Nation picked the favored 49ers in his Week 10 picks and it's the smart pick under any circumstances. San Francisco should win this by a touchdown or more.
The pick: 49ers win, 27-10
The 49ers opened as 11-point favorites for this one, though the line has moved even more in their favor, as some have them favored by as much as 13 points, according to OddsShark.com. The over/under is pretty low for this one, set right around 38 points.