This is the day San Francisco 49er fans have been waiting for since May. The long-awaited return of star receiver Michael Crabtree is upon us. And his return could not have come at a better time. Colin Kaepernick and the offense finally broke through against the lowly Washington Redskins secondary, and the return of Crabtree should open up the offense even more. Over the last seven games, the defense is allowing an average of only 12.8 points per game, third in the league during that stretch behind the Seattle Seahawks and the Carolina Panthers.
However the St. Louis Rams will present an unexpected challenge. They have won their last two games against the Colts and the Bears by an average of 27.5 points. The Niners must not sleep on this team or they will get burned.
1. Contain Zac Stacy and the running game
Zac Stacy has been a revelation since taking over the starting running back job from Daryl Richardson. After the season-ending injury to Sam Bradford, Kellen Clemens was forced to take over the starting quarterback job. Stacy has saved the Rams offense by taking the pressure off the former backup quarterback.
However, with Stacy’s emergence has made the Rams’ offense one dimensional. In the last game against the Bears, the Rams averaged 7.8 yards per rush, but only 7.3 yards per pass attempt. This provides the 49ers a fairly simply strategy to stopping the Rams’ offense – stuff Zac Stacy.
Kellen Clemens has not proven himself an adequate NFL starting quarterback. He has had a ghastly 51.3 completion percentage and a total quarterback rating of 43.0. Stacy is the lynchpin of this offense. Contain him, and you contain the Rams’ offense.
2. Be Disciplined in Tackling Tavon Austin
After being misused in his first nine games of his NFL career, Tavon Austin has come alive in his last two games, flashing the game-changing speed and quicks he advertised at West Virginia. Austin certainly has not been the model of consistency this season, as most of his big plays this season have been big yardage touchdowns.
The way football teams are taught to contain speedsters is through proper gap discipline and backside tackling. Tavon Austin has exploited teams inability to be discipline tacklers and has used his speed to take advantage.
Austin is not a polished enough receiver at the NFL level yet that he can beat defenses with his route-running abilities. Good discipline in the gaps and the backside will be able to contain the speed of Austin.