The San Francisco 49ers travel to St. Louis this Thursday to play against their division rival, The Rams. The 49ers and the Rams made for some interesting football last season when they tied once and were mere seconds away from tying again. This game between long, hated division rivals is sure to be a good one, and there are plenty of things to watch for.
1. The Pass Rush
Last year Aldon Smith accounted for half of the 49ers’ 38 sacks. This year, he has 4.5 of their seven. How will the 49ers generate pressure without him? He is going to be replaced by newcomer Dan Skuta on base downs and rookie Corey Lemonier in passing situations. Both these players have big shoes to fill. The rest of the defensive line is going to need to step up and pick up the slack left behind in Smith’s absence. Ahmad Brooks, Ray McDonald, Justin Smith and even Glenn Dorsey are going to have to great games if the 49ers hope to be successful on passing downs. Either that, or Vic Fangio is going to need to reach deep into his playbook for some blitzes that can generate pressure on Ram’s Quarterback Sam Bradford.
2. The Passing Game
Everyone knows the troubles the 49ers are experiencing in the passing game. In the last two games, it has been nearly nonexistent. The only receiver the 49ers have with experience is Anquan Boldin, and he can’t do it on his own. With the chance of Vernon Davis not playing this game, the 49ers receivers and the coaches are going to need to do something to try and open up the passing game. The Rams’ front seven are not slouches and they will dare the 49ers to try to beat them through the air by focusing on the run game. Whether it is winning individual match-ups, creating mismatches, or taking advantage of mistakes, the 49ers need to get something going in the air in order to win this game.
3. The Play-Calling
The 49ers’ coaching staff has recently been criticized for their play-calling. On both sides of the ball, the play-calling has been highly scrutinized. On the offense, even when the passing game was struggling and the running game seemed to be working, the coaches seemed to refuse to run the ball. Once the 49ers get behind, the coaches seem to panic and abandon the run game as if they are down by 20. On defense, many fans are frustrated with the soft zones and unoriginal blitzes that have been called recently. With all of the injuries that the 49ers have been experiencing recently, the coaches need to be borderline perfect to give the team a step up on their opponents.