San Francisco 49ers (1-2) at St. Louis Rams (1-2)
Thursday, September 26 at 8:30 pm ET
NFL Network (Brad Nessler, Mike Mayock)
49ers favored by 3 with a point total of 42
These two NFC West rivals are on a parallel course so far this season: a season opening victory to fuel optimism; a loss on the road to a quality team; then a horrible looking loss that left fans angry and the team with many unanswered question marks.
The Rams have been built up in the off-season based primarily on how well they played against the Seahawks and 49ers last year, with only one loss to those two in four meetings. St. Louis rallied from an 11-point 4th quarter deficit to beat Arizona in week one, but they have not looked good since. At Atlanta the Rams fell behind 21-0 early and scored just three points on their first eight drives. Sunday was an abysmal performance on every level. The offensive line was a sieve, as Sam Bradford was sacked six times and hit eight times on top of that as the Rams were a pitiful 1-13 on third down – with the only successful conversion coming on the final play of the game. The Rams totaled just 18 yards of offense in the first half; at one point the Cowboys had 80 yards to the Rams’ 2, and later the Cowboys had a 310 yards to 43 for the Rams, and a 16-1 advantage in first downs. Defensively St. Louis had no answer for DeMarco Murray, who averaged 6.7 yards per carry and ended up with 175 yards rushing – despite sitting out the 4th quarter. Considering the fact that Murray ran for 253 yards last time he played against the Rams, it’s even more mind boggling that St. Louis did not do more to game plan to stop him.
Meanwhile the 49ers are facing unwanted scrutiny both on and off the field as John Harbaugh lost back-to-back games for the first time since October of 2009 when Stanford lost to Oregon State and Arizona. defensively the 49ers are now without DE Aldon Smith (rehab), NT Ian Williams (IR, ankle), DE Tank Carradine (NFI, ankle), CB Eric Wright (NFI), CB Chris Culliver (IR, ACL), LB Darius Fleming (IR, knee), LB Nick Moody (in-season IR, hand), DE Quinton Dial (NFI, toe), DT Lawrence Okoye (IR, knee) and S Darcel McBath (IR, foot) after also seeing S Dashon Goldson depart in free agency. On top of that LB Patrick Willis (groin) and CB Nnamdi Asomugha (leg) may not be available for this game due in part to it being a short week.
Players to keep an eye on for the 49ers are Michael Wilhoite, Dan Skuta and Corey Lemonier. Wilhoite will get the call at ILB next to NaVorro Bowman if Willis cannot play; the second year player looked solid in preseason when Willis was out with a broken hand, but struggled at times in his first regular season start last week against the Colts. Skuta and/or Lemonier will fill in for the departed Aldon Smith. Skuta is a career special teamer; he had four starts in four years with Cincinnati as an undrafted free agent out of Grand Valley State in 2009 and has been on the field for just six defensive snaps in the season’s first three games. Lemonier is a rookie third-round pick from Auburn who impressed enough in August (eight quarterback hurries and a sack) that San Francisco was comfortable in trading Parys Haralson away to the Saints. Lemonier is still unrefined but will be called upon to speed up his learning curve.
The net result is that the defense which ranked second in the NFL in 2012 when they allowed 17.1 points per game is in tatters; so far this year the 49ers are 25th in points allowed (28.0), 29th in rushing (138 yards per game), 24th in first downs allowed (21.7 per game) and last in red zone touchdowns allowed (10). Opponents have gashed the 49ers run D for 351 yards the last two weeks; that’s the most they have allowed in back-to-back games since the final two games of the ill-fated Dennis Erickson experiment in their 2-14 2004 season. After coming so close to winning it all in 2011 and 2012, are the 49ers falling back to the pack? The Colts’ 27-7 win at San Francisco in Week 3 was the biggest (10 ½ points) upset of the season.
Offensively Colin Kaepernick appears to be confused, perhaps missing safety valve TE Vernon Davis, who may miss another game with a hamstring injury. Kaepernick hooked up with new WR Anquan Boldin 13 times in 17 pass attempts for 208 yards and a touchdown in week one, but opponents have shut the two down since then. In the last two games Boldin has only six receptions on twelve targets for 74 yards and no touchdowns. The 49ers offense now ranks 29th in scoring (14.7 ppg), 27th in yards (318 per game), tied for 28th in first downs (16.3), and is 27th in pass completions (56.4%). In the last two games San Fran has scored just ten points; the last time the scored that few 35-year old Trent Dilfer was their quarterback.
A big part of the culprit on both sides of the ball is penalties; the 49ers are averaging 9.7 penalties per game (second most in the NFL) and 85 penalty yards per game (4th most).
San Francisco is 7-2-1 over the last five years vs the Rams
St. Louis is 5-1 ATS vs the 49ers over the last three years
St. Louis is 4-1 ATS over the last five years at home vs the 49ers
The total has gone over 4 of the last 6 times between these two teams
The Rams are 7-1 ATS in their last 8 NFC West games
The 49ers are 1-9 ATS in their 10 NFC West games
The Rams are 6-1-1 ATS in their last eight games as a home underdog
Jeff Fisher is 1-4 ATS in his last five home games
Jim Harbaugh is 11-7 ATS on the road since 2011
Home teams went 11-5 straight up in Week 3, and are 32-16 SU through three weeks
Favorites went 11-5 straight up in Week 3, and are 35-13 SU through three weeks
Favorites went 9-5-2 against the spread in Week 3, and are 23-22-3 ATS through three weeks
Why is all this meaningless? Because unlike those games, the 49ers will be without DE Aldon Smith (3 sacks on Sam Bradford a year ago) or former QB Alex Smith, and St. Louis no longer has RB Steven Jackson (224 yards from scrimmage vs the 49ers last year) or WR Danny Amendola (11 receptions for 102 yards in his last game vs SF), among others.
Prediction: Despite having to count on so many backups and despite the off-field distractions, I still consider San Francisco to be the superior team. St. Louis has been blown out early the last two weeks, looking bad doing so; by comparison the 49ers were within six points with under five minutes to play last week. If the Rams could get nothing done offensively against the Dallas defense, I don’t see any reason to expect more when they face the 49ers. San Francisco would be wise to get back to their roots on offense and follow the example set last week by the Cowboys, and utilize a heavy dose of Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter rather than force Colin Kaepernick to win the game with a depleted receiving corps.
Pick • 49ers 24, Rams 20
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