The San Francisco 49ers return to Candlestick Park to host the division rival St. Louis Rams this week. At this point, the 49ers have control of their playoff destiny. If they are able to win the rest of their games, they will secure at least the sixth seed in the playoffs. The Rams will be a tough opponent and have strung together a couple of wins against quality opponents in the Chicago Bears and Indianapolis Colts. Let’s take a look at some things to watch out for when the 49ers play the Rams.
1) Robert Quinn and Chris Long vs. Anthony Davis and Joe Staley
The Rams have a very good set of defensive ends in Quinn and Long. Chris Long doesn’t have the high sack total but he has been a presence on the defensive line. He seems to save his best games for the 49ers so this will be another test for Anthony Davis. He had a half sack against the 49ers in their last game on Sept. 26. Davis did a good job of keeping Long away from Colin Kaepernick. Long is a high motor player that will be a major factor in the Rams attempt to stop Kaepernick from being the dual threat player that he is capable of. Over the last two years, Long has 3.5 sacks against the 49ers.
Quinn is among the league leaders with 13 sacks. He is a super athletic defensive end that gets a really good jump on the ball. Joe Staley is athletic also, so he will be a perfect match for the 49ers. Quinn had a sack in their matchup earlier this year. The 49ers tackles will need to keep Quinn and Long from getting pressure on Kaepernick. If they can keep the pocket clean for him, he will be able to continue the success that they had last week against the Washington Redskins.
2) How The Return Of Michael Crabtree Affects The Rams Defense
The 49ers have activated Michael Crabtree and he is ready to go. Jim Harbaugh hinted that Crabtree will return this week against the Rams. Once he gets back into the swing of things, the receivers on the 49ers offense will each fall back into their roles. Crabtree will be the number one receiver and Anquan Boldin will benefit from not having to always go against the top corner on the opposing defense. Mario Manningham will get to fall back into the role that he had when he was with the New York Giants. He will get to go against a lesser corner because the top two will be covering Boldin and Crabtree. Lastly, Vernon Davis will get to become the matchup nightmare that he is capable of being.
Jeff Fisher has already admitted that he will prepare for Crabtree regardless of whether or not it is announced that he is playing. Crabtree will force the Rams to not stack eight in the box. This will open things up for the running game. If the Rams decide to press the 49ers receivers, they will pay. Crabtree may not be in top shape but he is still strong enough to beat it. Mario Manningham also showed how he can win at the line of scrimmage and get open on slants. The 49ers seem to have found a way to get the ball to Boldin when corners press as well.
The Rams have finally found a way to get production from Tavon Austin. He has shown the big play ability that warranted the Rams selecting him early in the draft. Austin has been chosen as the NFC Special Teams Player of the Month. He has three plays of more than 60 yards in the last two games. Austin is an explosive player that can score from anywhere on the field whether it be by punt return, rushing or receiving. The Rams will look to continue to get big plays from Austin.
4) Ahmad Brooks
Ahmad Brooks has continued to be a standout player for the 49ers. He had two sacks in the Redskins game and had six tackles. He sets the edge and is a reason why most teams are not able to run outside of the tackles against the 49ers because he does such a solid job of not letting any running backs get outside of him. The Rams may use Tavon Austin on a reverse and if they do it to Brooks’ side it is unlikely to work because of how disciplined he is. Look for Brooks to have another standout game against the Rams.
5) LaMichael James On Punt Returns
The 49ers have been able to get much better field position with LaMichael James as their punt returner. He came close to breaking a return against the Redskins. James is averaging 13 yards per return and has returned one punt 40 yards this season. The days of Kyle “Fair Catch” Williams are a thing of the past. James’ ability to set the offense up with better field position will help the offense.
The Rams have played well over their last few games. Division rivalries are always unpredictable regardless of thier records. This game will be a dog fight, even with Kellen Clemens at quarterback.