The San Francisco 49ers
will visit the Edward Jones Dome
today, looking to avenge (sort of), the tie they and the Rams
played to last month in Frisco.
Question: does one avenge a tie? It is even possible to do so? I suppose if you feel you were clearly superior, to the point a draw feels like a loss, one could attempt to extract vengeance for a tie. Still, seems like revenge sort of requires defeat or dishonor, you know? Maybe the dishonor part could work here.
Anyhow, it was one of the hardest-fought games of the entire season last time out between these two teams, and I expect nothing less than a similarly knock-down and drag-out affair today. You want three things to ensure a Rams win today, and I've got 'em. You can have them, just right after you click on that read more link.
Key #1: Containing Kaepernick
The Niners are currently embroiled in just the slightest little bit of a quarterback controversy, as coach Jim Harbaugh keeps handing the ball to rookie Colin Kaepernick over the veteran (and last year's feel-good story), Alex Smith. Honestly, I would much rather see San Francisco put Smith back out on the field.
What Kaepernick lacks in experience, he more than makes up for in dynamic athleticism, and he brings a dimension to the QB position Smith just can't compete with. Alex Smith can move his feet a little and extend a play via the scramble if need be. Kaepernick can hurt you. In fact, the 66 yards rushing he gained against the Rams in the last meeting between these two teams (the game in which Smith was knocked out with a concussion, in fact), may have been the single most important element in keeping the teams close enough for San Fran to pull out the draw.
The Rams had no containment on Kaepernick last time out. They rushed him, and actually did a fair job of creating pressure, but time and again he was able to break contain and gash the Rams for big yards. That absolutely cannot happen again. The front seven of the Rams has to do a better job keeping Kaepernick behind the line of scrimmage even as they try to collapse the pocket. A more robust performance from the defensive tackles than we've seen recently in particular is a must.
Key #2: Go Balls Deep
Okay, so I stole the motto from the movie Dodgeball. Sue me. (Please don't really sue me, guys who produced Dodgeball.)
Danny Amendola has been brilliant this season, except for the whole 'staying healthy' thing. Week after week, Amendola's name is on the injury report, usually listed as doubtful, sometimes questionable, and every week he comes out and manages to perform pretty well. He's doubtful again this week, and I honestly don't think he'll play much, if at all. You can play through injury for quite a while, but not forever. Even if Amendola is on the field, I just don't know how effective he's going to be.
This is unfortunate, of course, because Amendola is really the first, second, and third options for Sam Bradford a lot of the time. Partially because Bradford keys in on one target like no other quarterback I've ever seen at times (or, at least, no other quarterback with a job), but also because the pair really do have a remarkable chemistry together.
With a limited or perhaps unavailable Amendola, the Rams will need to find a way to get the passing game going, and I think the best way might just be deep. Specifically, working the play-action game and throwing down the field. The middle of the 49er defense, anchored by Patrick Willis, is remarkably stout, and I hate seeing Bradford staring down a receiver in the intermediate passing range anyway. Pushing the run early, and consequently opening up the downfield play-action game, could be the best way for the Rams to try and attack San Francisco. Chris Givens seems the most likely target, as he continues to establish himself as the most talented -- and promising -- member of a very young receiving corps.
Key #3: Turnovers, Turnovers, Turnovers
Really, you could basically say this about pretty much any football game ever played, and you would be mostly correct. (Trust me, this sportswriting thing is mostly smoke and mirrors, with plenty of obvious thrown out there as insight.) But, for this Rams team, you need look no further than last week's game against the Arizona Cardinals -- in relation to the previous few weeks, specifically -- to see just how huge the turnover battle really is.
Against Arizona, the Rams took the ball away a total of four times. They won, 31-17, and made it look fairly easy in the second half of the game. The five games before that, the Rams did not generate a single turnover, a record-tying run, and they won exactly zero of those contests. Those things are not unrelated.
In fact, the tie in San Francisco should give the perfect example of why turnovers will always always always be hugely important. The Rams outplayed the 49ers for most of that game, pushing their intensity level beyond what Frisco was able to match, and should have won. They just couldn't, no matter what they tried, land that knockout blow. The 49ers hung around, kept the game close, and ended up making just enough plays late to tie the score up. Just one little takeaway would have been enough for the Rams. Just one. One extra shot on offense, or one San Fran drive stopped without points going on the board. They couldn't get it, and the result was predictable.
This time around, the Rams need to get that one big play. Or two or three. It's obvious to say, but giving even a struggling offense a couple extra shots at scoring is a huge deal. This is not a great offense for the Rams, by any means, but they've shown signs of development lately. If this team can win the turnover battle, a whole lot of the talent deficit the Rams suffer from could be alleviated.