3TFO: 49ers @ Rams, Week 13
We might finally get a winner between the Rams and 49ers. After battling to a 24-24 tie just a few weeks ago, these two teams will square off again this week and hopefully a winner is declared. Since that game it has been quite an adventure for the 49ers. When starting quarterback Alex Smith left that game with a concussion, in stepped Colin Kaepernick and he hasn’t relinquished the starting job yet. Although head coach Jim Harbaugh hasn’t exactly been clear in declaring who is his starter long term, it will once again be Kaepernick getting the start this week.
The Rams have been up and down since the tie with San Francisco. First, they got beat at home by the Jets but followed that up with a good road win in Arizona last week. At 4-6-1 the playoffs might be a longshot, but the Rams are out to prove that they can play with the NFC’s best and a win over the 49ers would do just that. The only way that will happen is if they can win some of these pivotal battles.
49ers Offensive Tackles vs. Rams Defensive Ends
In the previous meeting, Rams defensive end Chris Long had his way with 49ers offensive tackle Anthony Davis. Long tallied 10 total pressures for the game, including a very big sack. For the season Long ranks fifth among 4-3 defensive ends in Pass Rush Productivity with 52 total pressures and seven sacks in 373 pass-rush opportunities. All but three of those snaps have come from the left side, which means he will be matched up with Davis again most of this game. Davis has been average most of the season and ranks 51st among offensive tackles in Pass Block Efficiency, allowing 30 total pressures and five sacks in 347 snaps. If San Francisco decides to slide protection and help Davis out, that would set up a great one-on-one matchup on the other side between offensive tackle Joe Staley and defensive end Robert Quinn.
In the previous meeting Quinn notched two sacks, but only one came against Staley who won the matchup in the running game. Staley is ranked 27th in the NFL in PBE, allowing 19 total pressures and six sacks in 324 pass blocking snaps. With Long figuring to garner most of the attention from the 49ers, Quinn will need to win this battle. Despite having nine sacks, Quinn has logged only two games with a PFF grade above +0.2 this season; he will need his third this week to impact the outcome. Helping slow down the rush will be an increased focus on using play action. Since inserting Kaepernick as the quarterback, the 49ers are using play action on 33% of their passes as opposed to 22.7% when Alex Smith was in.
49ers Edge Pass Rushers vs. Rams Offensive Tackles
On the surface, Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks going against Rodger Saffold and Barry Richardson looks like a major mismatch. But the Rams’ offensive tackles more than held their own in the previous game, and it will be essential for them to do so again.
The Week 10 game was Saffold’s first complete game since opening day and he held up very well against one of the game’s premier pass rushers. Actually, Saffold has been great since returning from injury, and now has the best PBE in the entire league among tackles that have played at least 100 snaps. In 139 pass blocking snaps he has allowed just one sack and only two total pressures. To remain playing at that level he will need to contain Defensive Player of the Year candidate Aldon Smith. Smith is one of the league’s very best pass rushers with 49 pressures, including 17 sacks in 329 pass rushing opportunities, including a six-sack game. Smith has the ability to take over a game and Saffold must contain him.
Brooks isn’t as well-known as Smith but can be just as dangerous, ranking sixth among 3-4 outside linebackers in Pass Rush Productivity. In 302 pass-rush opportunities Brooks has 39 total pressures and six sacks. Brooks will be matched against Richardson for most of this game; in the last meeting, Richardson kept Brooks out of the sack column but allowed five pressures and three batted passes. Richardson ranks 47th among offensive tackles in PBE, allowing 31 pressures and five sacks in 383 pass blocking plays.
Colin Kaepernick’s Opportunity
After declaring that he is going with the hot hand and sticking with Kaepernick as his starter, head coach Jim Harbaugh has been both questioned and praised by varying media outlets. However, the main story is Kaepernick and his ability to win football games. Since taking over in the previous meeting against the Rams, Kaepernick has been a lightning rod both on and off the field. As defensive coordinators start to game plan against Kaepernick, it will be important to see how he responds. So far he has the highest PFF QB rating among players that have taken more than 90 drop-backs with a rating of 106.48. The next closest is Peyton Manning at 100.35. Can Kaepernick maintain those numbers as the sample size increases? This could be the first week that we see if he can maintain those numbers over an extended period of time as the Rams have seen him first hand and could have a plan in place.
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