3TFO: Rams @ 49ers, Week 10
After suffering a 45-7 drubbing by the New England Patriots two weeks ago at Wembley Stadium in London, the St. Louis Rams got a much-needed bye last week. They now travel west to face the division-leading San Francisco 49ers in an NFC West matchup. The 49ers are also coming off their bye week, which followed a 24-3 thrashing of the Arizona Cardinals on Monday Night Football in Week 8. It was their second straight victory and put them atop the division at 6-2 midway through the season.
The Rams have dropped three straight to fall to a losing record once more after starting the year 3-2, which was their first appearance above the .500 mark since November 2006. If they still have any hope of contending in the NFC West, this is a must win game for them. Here are three main factors to watch Sunday as the 49ers attempt to widen the gap in the division.
49ers Offensive Line vs. Rams Defensive Line
While many people focus on the additions at running back and wide receiver, the biggest reason for the increased productivity of the 49ers’ offense in 2012 is the dramatic improvement of the offensive line. Right guard Alex Boone is the only newcomer to the group, however the four incumbents have all stepped up their game this season where now all five starting lineman are currently graded in the Top 5 at their respective positions. Left guard Mike Iupati has not surrendered a sack all season, and center Jonathan Goodwin has not given up a single QB sack or hit through eight games. Left tackle Joe Staley’s run blocking grade leads all NFL tackles, and right tackle Anthony Davis’ improvement landed him on Peter King’s 2012 Midseason All-Pro Team. This group is the main reason why the 49ers lead the league in rushing yards per game.
The Rams’ defensive line is headlined by defensive end Chris Long who, after starting strong in 2012, has struggled the last two contests. After racking up 37 QB disruptions in the first six weeks, he only has one QB hurry to show for the last two games. Despite the recent poor numbers, Long does still rank sixth among 4-3 defense ends in our Pass Rush Productivity ratings.
He will line up against Anthony Davis, who aside from one abysmal game earlier this year against the New York Giants, has not surrendered a sack and only allowed one QB hit this season. Both Long and his fellow defensive lineman Robert Quinn are in the bottom half of all 4-3 defensive ends in Run Stop Percentage. Starters Kendall Langford and Michael Brockers also rank in the bottom half in run stop percentage for tackles. This group will have its hands full trying to slow down the 49ers top-ranked rushing attack.
Rams Offensive Line vs. 49ers Pass Rush
Riddled with injuries, the Rams’ offensive line has been a work in progress all season and they are currently ranked 29th in our Pass Blocking Efficiency Signature Stat. Aside from right guard Harvey Dahl, who has only allowed one sack and one QB hit, the rest of the line has struggled protecting the quarterback. They may get some much needed relief soon as tackles Wayne Hunter, Rodger Saffold, and center Scott Wells have all been limited participants in practice this week.
The 49ers’ pass rush is led by linebackers Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks. They have combined for 11 sacks, and the pressure totals of 32 and 30 respectively trail only Clay Matthews, Ryan Kerrigan, and DeMarcus Ware among 4-3 outside linebackers. Justin Smith has been shutout in the sack department halfway through the season, but what doesn’t show up in the stat sheet is that he’s been very successful freeing up Aldon Smith to charge up the middle on inside stunts. Of course if you ask Kevin Gilbride, he’s been a little too successful with that move. While Justin hasn’t been racking up the pass rush numbers, his 12.0% run stop percentage is second among 3-4 defensive ends behind only J.J. Watt.
The Return of Danny Amendola
The biggest news on the injury front for the Rams is the likely return of wide receiver Danny Amendola Sunday. Prior to missing the last three weeks with what was potentially a life-threatening collarbone injury (it popped inwards, unusual, and dangerously close to arteries), Amendola was averaging 2.73 yards per route run, which is second among all wide receivers who have run over 100 pass routes. Amendola has also been targeted on 31.9% of his pass routes, which is highest among all wide receivers with 100+ routes. He is the glue which binds the Rams’ offense together and lets them move the chains.
Amendola has lined up in the slot on 75.0% of pass plays this season, so it’s likely Carlos Rogers will get the majority of snaps shadowing Amendola on Sunday. The Rams have lost three straight games with their leading receiver out of the lineup, so it will be a huge boost if he can suit up against the 49ers.
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