After a week of rest and recovery, the San Francisco 49ers and the St. Louis Rams are ready for the second half of the regular season with perhaps one team more prepared than the other.
The 49ers don’t have to go far for their first game after their bye week as they welcome the traveling Rams in Candlestick. Last we saw of the 49ers they had just beaten the Cardinals 24-3 in their own home stadium with Alex Smith posting a near perfect performance. San Francisco is riding a 2 game winning streak and have a record of 6-2. The Rams didn’t have a good game as they entered their bye week being decimated by the visiting Patriots 45-7. St. Louis is currently 3-5 and trying to break a 3 game losing streak.
Part of the Rams’ problems lies in their passing game. Sam Bradford might have a completion percentage of of 61.4% but he has shown a problem with turning the ball over. Bradford has thrown 7 interceptions in 8 games this season, something that he cannot do against the 49ers defense.
The Rams aerial attack is also one of the lowest in the league currently ranked 24th averaging 210.3 yards a game through the air. Couple that stat with the fact that the 49ers are allowing 184 passing per yards a game on average (NFL Rank 2nd) spells trouble for Sam Bradford.
49ers LB Patrick Willis, however, knows that Sam Bradford can be a threat if the 49ers defense doesn’t do their job.
“He’s a good quarterback,” Willis said of Sam Bradford. “He’s a smart quarterback, very, very tough and he has a great arm. We most definitely have to make sure that we get after and not let him stay in the pocket and make the throws that he needs to make.”
Having time in the pocket seems to be something that Bradford could use some help in. The Rams have allowed 23 sacks this year to opposing defenses. While the 49ers are the not the biggest pass rush threat, 49ers sack leader Aldon Smith (7.5 sacks) and the rest of that 3-4 defense can still give Bradford plenty of pressure.
As for the Alex Smith of the 49ers has to do, just manage the game. While Smith has not been the flashiest quarterback in the first half of the 2012 season, he has been effective nonetheless as a game manager. Smith currently ranks 4th in the NFL in QB Rating with a 102.1 rating behind Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, and Matt Ryan. Smith has a completion percentage of 69.4% which is just .1% behind Peyton Manning for league best. On top of that, he has thrown 12 TD passes compared to just 5 interceptions.
While the first half of the season has been good to the Alex Smith and the 49ers offense, there’s hope that they can play better for the 2nd half.
“You hope you’re playing you’re best football come November and December,” Smith said. “You hope as the season goes on, you’re playing better and better.”
As much as this contest might come down to the two quarterbacks involved, the running game is still very important to both teams, especially the 49ers. San Francisco RB Frank Gore has taken roughly half the carries for the team overall this year averaging 5.5 yards a carry. The rest is divided through backup Kendall Hunter and anyone else they can hand it off to from wide receivers to back up QB Colin Kaepnernick. Whether it’s an end around play or some unique formation, the 49ers will find a way to run the ball.
“I think certain types of backs can run that stuff and certain types of backs you really wouldn’t want to run that stuff with,” 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman said about the unique formations. “And we have backs that are multi-dimensional that can run that stuff. So, it’s good.”
The 49ers enter the game 1st in the league in rushing averaging 168.6 yards a game on the ground. The 49ers might fair just as well against the Rams this Sunday with their ground and pound style of play. The Rams are more middle of the road when it comes to rush defense allowing 105.5 yards a game on the ground.
The Rams on the other hand need to improve their ground game. Steven Jackson and rookie RB Daryl Richardson are the two backs that the Rams rely on. While Jackson has more carries than Richardson, he has the lesser per carry average (3.7). Richardson averages 5.4 yards per carry this season. 49ers defensive coordinator Nick Fangio has his eye on the talented Richardson.
“I’ve been very impressed with him,” Fangio said Richardson. “And they (the Rams) have been, too, because he’s been getting more and more playing time.”
As a whole, the Rams are certainly underachieving averaging 106.3 yards per game rushing (NFL rank 18th) and that number is likely going to take a hit vs. the 49ers defense. While they have improved considerably against the pass, their strength is still in stopping the run. Patrick Willis and that San Francisco defense are allowing about 87.4 yards a game on the ground, that’s 5th best in the league.
What will happen Sunday at Candlestick? Provided that the 49ers manage to stick to the offensive game plan of a run balanced offense (even when behind) and that Alex Smith doesn’t turn the ball over, expect a 49ers victory at home. The 49ers won both games against the Rams last season and despite the fact that Sam Bradford played in neither game, they are still 12.5 point favorites.
The key still for San Francisco is not committing turnovers, especially when it comes to Alex Smith and the passing decisions he makes. The 49ers are 1-2 this season when Smith throws an interception.
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Written by Daniel Trucios