What to Watch For: 49ers at Rams


The invasion is under way.

As many of you know, the 49ers’ fan base travels better than any group in the NFL. Whether in Dallas or St. Louis, die-hard Red and Gold fans often outnumber their opponent, turning a home-field advantage into a cacophonous road game.

St. Louis is the epicenter of the sports world this week, but it’s always been a baseball city, and rightly so.

As the “Arch City” watches its Cardinals on Monday night, the Red and Gold will invade neighboring Edward Jones Stadium and turn it into a hovel for passionate 49ers fans.

You can summarize the importance of the 49ers – Rams game monetarily: there are still tickets available for $25. If you purchase a plane ticket, fly to St. Louis and watch the game, it’s plausible that you save money versus watching the game at Levi’s Stadium. I’m just saying.

But its football, and for some of us it, its life. Let’s analyze what to watch for in Monday’s divisional showdown.

What to Watch For: 49ers at Rams

1.) The 49ers Must Finish in the Red Zone

The Niners move the ball as well as any offense in the NFL. Finishing drives, now that’s the real problem.

Here’s an excellent graph provided by Niners Nation that perfectly illustrates the 49ers’ red zone woes:

The 49ers ran the ball 63% of the time last season – the highest percentage in the NFL. By doing so, they created more third-and-long situations than any team in the league. Because of this, they often settled for field goals.

This season is no different, as the 49ers are again settling for field goals with reckless abandon.

Vernon Davis is expected to play (back), instantly improving this team’s red zone prowess. Still, the Rams’ run defense is average at best . This will tempt the 49ers into running the ball in the red zone because of soft boxes.

Offensive balance is key. By keeping a steady diet of run, run, pass – not pass, run, pass, – the 49ers will finish drives.

Colin Kaepernick must improve his accuracy in crunched spaces and trust his receivers to make plays, otherwise this game will stay close until the end, fraying nerves and prompting us to curse at our televisions.

2.) Pass-Protection

It’s an issue, but one that is improving.

The 49ers – primarily Joe Staley and Mike Iupati – must stop Rams’ premier pass-rusher, Robert Quinn, from getting to Kaepernick. While without a sack in 2014, Quinn is still every bit as daunting as his incredible 2013 campaign suggests. 

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  • Anthony Davis is officially out for the game, but there’s no better time to be unavailable. Quinn lines up on the right side 100% of the time, a remarkably dull stat for such a talented player. If pressuring Kaepernick is on Jeff Fisher‘s docket, then shifting Quinn to the left side to pin him against a less-talented right side of the 49ers’ offensive line is a smart move.

    Chris Long is out until at least Week 12, so it’s safe to assume that Quinn gets the most attention. Michael Brockers is a talented defensive tackle, but Quinn is the driving force behind this defense. If the 49ers minimize his production, I don’t see how the Rams stay in this game past halftime.

    3.) Frank Gore and Carlos Hyde

    The 49ers want Gore fresh for the latter half of the season and the ensuing playoff march. Marcus Lattimore will join the team 21-days after being activated from the Physically Unable to Perform List (PUP) this upcoming Tuesday, but in the meantime, Hyde will see an increase in his workload.

    The Niners used the Rams as a stepping-stone last season, putting their early season struggles behind them with a dominating performance on the ground in a 35-11 drubbing.

    Gore will receive around 12-15 carries, Hyde slightly less – somewhere in the 10-12 carry range. Intermingle their production with Kaepernick’s typical 8-10 carry performance, and the 49ers will approach 200-yards rushing against a run-deficient Rams defense.

    4.) Get to Austin Davis

    The Rams’ third-string (now first?!) quarterback has never faced the 49ers, so there will be a feeling out process for both teams.

    In last year’s 35-11 win, the 49ers – primarily NaVorro Bowman – blitzed the ‘A-gap’ early and often. It created chaos for the Rams’ offense and kept them from establishing a rhythm.

    Via Pro Football Focus, the Rams rank 30th in the NFL in pass blocking efficiency. Vic Fangio knows this and will exploit Davis with blitz-heavy packages on early downs. The 49ers rarely blitz, but when faced with uncertainty, it’s always smart to dial up the pressure.

    The Niners rediscovered their offensive identity against the Rams last season. Look for their pass-rush to do the same on Monday night.

    5.) Show a Killer Instinct

    It’s plausible the 49ers get a big lead in this game. If so, amp it up a level and display a killer instinct. The 49ers have blown two games this year due to a lack of this; take it to another level and prove that those games were an aberration.