The San Francisco 49ers and St. Louis Rams will face off in a division rival matchup on prime time Thursday night. Both teams are 1-2 and coming off disappointing performances. Both were expected to be better than their current record, especially the 49ers, who were expected to compete for the NFC title once again this season.
Instead, the 49ers have been dominated the past couple weeks, and the competition isn't getting any easier. The Rams aren't quite on the level of the Seattle Seahawks or the Indianapolis Colts, but it's a road game and the Niners have struggled with the Rams in recent times.
Last season, the 49ers made it to the Super Bowl, but they didn't have an easy time with the Rams in the regular season. The Rams won their game in St. Louis in overtime, and they followed that by tying the Niners at Candlestick Park.
Let's take a look at both teams below.
Meet the Rams
The message for the past couple years has been the same: if Sam Bradford gets some wide receivers, he might actually break out into a winning quarterback. The Rams went out and drafted Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, and so far their other receivers have played above expectations. Bradford has led the Rams to the No. 8 passing offense in the NFL, with 282.7 yards per game.
Unfortunately, with the gain in the passing game they've also suffered a steep decline in the running game. Daryl Richardson replaced Steven Jackson, but he's been nowhere near as effective. The Rams have the No. 29 rushing attack in the NFL, with a paltry 57.0 yards per game.
On defense, the Rams are pretty middle of the pack. They've allowed only 105.0 rushing yards per game, but the secondary has some serious issues, and that unit has been the biggest reason for St. Louis' losses thus far this season.
Meet the 49ers
The 49ers absolutely needed to get their run game going against the Colts in Week 3. They did, as Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter led them to their only touchdown of the game in the first quarter, but that's where the poor play-calling set in. San Francisco abandoned the run game from there and everything went downhill.
When they did run the ball, they called ticky-tacky outside tosses to Anthony Dixon or stretch plays to Gore rather than force the Colts to work side-to-side as they did with the Hunter touchdown run. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick has been particularly poor over the last couple games, though it's unclear if that's due to his receivers not getting open or if he's just regressing.
Actually, it is clear that hes regressing, but his receivers should get some of the blame as well. The 49ers have some very profound issues, and it's a shame given their extremely talented roster. They need to show they can go out and beat a team like the Rams on the road, or the prospects for this season are not looking good.
Local Takes: Rams
My "under the echolocation" Rams player on defense is rookie safety T.J. McDonald. Colin Kaepernick likes to throw up the middle, and he's been known to run just a tad too. Both these situation will drastically effect young T.J. this Thursday night. He'll be covering over the top against Anquan Boldin, and Vernon Davis if he's healthy. Plus, he'll be crucial when it comes to stopping the run.
Local Takes: 49ers
Steve Busichio of Niners Nation believes this is a defining moment for Jim Harbaugh, and that the 49ers absolutely are in a must-win situation:
It's not going to be easy, but this coaching staff must get back to basics and look to what worked for them in 2011. It's only Week 4, but it's unfortunately do-or-die time. St. Louis represents a real challenge, in a dome environment that is far from forgiving. But the 49ers have the ability to change some things that may just work better if they are amenable to do so. The definition of madness is repeating the same thing and expecting a different result...let's hope the 49ers don't find out what that looks like on Thursday night.
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Rams defensive struggles put spotlight on rookie DC Tim Walton http://t.co/HFW5gVTdIp— TurfShowTimes (@TurfShowTimes) September 24, 2013
From the Week 4 picks:
All of SB Nation's experts picked the 49ers to win this game on the road. There is clearly confidence that Jim Harbaugh will not lead his team to three-straight losses.
Had the 49ers rebounded against the Colts, they would probably be large favorites. As it stands, they opened as 2.5-point favorites and could be had as high as 3-point favorites on some books, according to OddsShark.