3TFO: 49ers @ Rams, Week 4
Thursday Night Football comes to St. Louis this week, as the San Francisco 49ers take on the Rams in a matchup of two NFC West teams looking to shake off disappointing 1-2 starts.
San Francisco is coming off two straight lackluster performances, a 29-3 drubbing by Seattle in Week 2, and Sunday’s 27-7 loss at home to Indianapolis. The 49ers are going to be without Aldon Smith (rehab), and likely Patrick Willis (groin) and Nnamdi Asomugha (knee) on defense. However, tight end Vernon Davis should be back in the lineup for a team that has struggled mightily the past two weeks in the passing game.
The Rams have also lost two straight, including a 31-7 beatdown at the hands of Dallas last Sunday. The winner of this game will stay within sight of Seattle in the NFC West, while the loser risks digging an early three-game hole. Here are three things to focus on for Thursday’s key divisional battle.
49ers Pass Rush
The 49ers’ pass rush will take a big hit with the absence of Aldon Smith. Smith has racked up 17 QB pressures in just 91 pass rushes this season, and is ranked second among 3-4 outside linebackers in our Pass Rush Productivity rating.
In the preseason, the 49ers were deep at outside linebacker, but trades of Parys Haralson to the Saints and Cam Johnson to the Colts have left them somewhat thin at the position with Smith’s vacancy. Dan Skuta is officially next in line on the depth chart, but it’s likely Skuta will be in on base packages while rookie Corey Lemonier will come in on passing downs. Lemonier has yet to see the field on any passing plays in the regular season, but during the preseason he had 11 QB pressures in just 53 pass rushes while earning a +2.9 pass rush grade.
Skuta and Lemonier will be matched up against left tackle Jake Long. Long has surrendered 13 QB pressures this season, and currently ranks tied for 45th out of 62 tackles in our Pass Blocking Efficiency rating.
Getting pressure on Sam Bradford will be vital to the 49ers success on defense, as Bradford’s 91.1% accuracy percentage when not pressured is tops in the league, while his 47.4% accuracy percentage when being pressured currently ranks 30th.
Robert Quinn vs. Joe Staley
Rams defensive end Robert Quinn is currently our highest graded 4-3 defensive end (+18.5) after three weeks. Quinn got off to a huge start by amassing 17 QB pressures in the first two weeks alone, before being held to just one hurry last Sunday against Dallas. He’ll face a stern test this week against Joe Staley, who was our top rated tackle in 2012.
Staley’s run blocking hasn’t been anywhere near his 2012 dominant form, but he has still been steady protecting the quarterback. He’s allowed only one sack and seven total pressures so far this season, and is currently tied for 19th (with teammate Anthony Davis) among tackles in PBE.
With Davis matching up on the opposite side against Chris Long, both tackles will play a vital role in whether the 49ers can get their passing game back up to speed.
Tavon Austin vs. Carlos Rogers
When the Rams traded up in the first round this past April to select Tavon Austin, it raised the blood pressure of many 49ers fans. In Danny Amendola’s one appearance against San Francisco in 2012, Amendola caught 11 balls (in 12 targets) for 102 yards, with six of those catches coming at the expense of Carlos Rogers. This did not include an 80-yard reception in overtime where Amendola beat Rogers that was called back due to a penalty.
Austin has run 86.6% of his pass routes this year from the slot, and he will be matched up a majority of the time with Rogers. Austin has caught 16 of his 22 slot targets, but he’s dropped three passes, and has yet to flash the big-play potential he showed in college, as he is averaging only 6.7 yards per reception from the slot, and 6.6 yards per catch overall.
In spite of Amendola’s performance against the 49ers last season, Rogers actually performed relatively well overall while lined up in the slot in 2012. Rogers’ 1.01 yards per snap in slot coverage last season tied him for 15th among 45 cornerbacks.
After a solid first two weeks of the 2013 season, Rogers had a rough outing last week against Indianapolis. He allowed five catches for 58 yards (including 52 yards coming after the catch) in 20 slot coverage snaps, bumping his yards per coverage snap in the slot to 1.44 on the season. If Rogers can rebound from last week and keep Austin from breaking a big play, it could be the difference in deciding what will likely be a tight game.
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