After a whirlwind of changes in the offseason, the new era St. Louis Rams are looking to get back on track after a somewhat disappointing 3-5 start in 2012. Five games into the season, the team was 3-2 and looking to stay competitive in the NFC West division. But three straight losses has hindered their hopes as they now continue to fight into their second half.
Both teams having a bye in week 9, the Rams head to San Francisco to take on the divisional powerhouse 49ers this Sunday. Close to making it to the Super Bowl last season, the 49ers are continuing that success this year as they are 6-2 and hold the top spot in the NFC West.
St. Louis is a major underdog in this one, but have to somehow make a statement. A Rams win would not only keep them in the running for the division, but would also give them a fresh start to the second half of the year.
This is what the St. Louis Rams must do in order to accomplish this tough task.
When you think of the San Francisco defense, it's unreal to imagine how much talent they actually have on that side of the ball. They are ranked second in the league against the pass, and fifth against the run. Teams have been held to just 184 yards through the air while totaling just under 88 yards on the ground this season.
While this is a cause for concern for any team getting ready to take on the Niners, this especially holds true for a struggling Rams offense. They have gained an average of 210 yards per game while allowing Sam Bradford to be sacked 23 times.
If they want to stand a chance in this one, the offensive line must protect their quarterback. With all-pro center Scott Wells possibly set for a return after a harsh foot injury, and Rodger Saffold also a potential lineman back in the mix, the Rams will look to keep Bradford's jersey clean on Sunday. If they expect to put points on the board, Sam will have to take less pressure than he has been in recent weeks.
The Rams defense must do what their offense cannot allow: major pressure on the opposing quarterback. In this game, that happens to be Alex Smith who is coming off a career game in Week 8 against Arizona. He was 18 of 19 throwing for 232 yards and three touchdowns.
He has been dramatically improved as a quarterback under the influence of head coach Jim Harbaugh. However, Frank Gore has been a monster of a running back this year as well. He is averaging 5.5 yards per carry and the 49ers are the top rushing team in the league.
San Francisco's running game comes first, but the Rams must be able to stop the pass. They've given up 11 passing touchdowns this season compared to only eight rushing. St. Louis' total passing yards given up per game is 237.5, but only 105 on the ground.
What this means is that with the Rams' stout defensive line and great linebackers, they will have a legitimate shot at continuing their success against the run. Pressuring Alex Smith and forcing him into bad decisions will be a key to the game. Frank Gore will run the ball without a doubt, but St. Louis has to stop Smith from getting too comfortable in the pocket.
In addition to the Rams defense stopping Alex Smith all while trying to contain Frank Gore, they can only be held to certain standards. But it would help if they weren't constantly out on the field after having only a three-minute rest because the offense is not producing.
This will be a tough task in the divisional matchup. While the Rams defense looks to force short possessions for San Francisco, the offense also has to help their team on both sides of the ball.
Three-and-outs will not cut if for St. Louis in this one. An offense that doesn't show up equals a defense that will be extremely tired on the field. Do you want an exhausted defense to go up against Frank Gore, Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree? The answer to that is a resounding no.
A major factor in the Rams getting a win over the 49ers is simple. They have to score more points. Yes, it seems obvious, but it's an area where St. Louis has struggled so far this season.
With a San Francisco offense averaging almost 24 points per game, the Rams cannot trade field goals for touchdowns in this one. Three points by Greg Zuerlein won't help if the opponent is putting touchdowns on the board.
So many times this year we have seen the Rams slowly move their way down the field on offense. Then something strange happens when they get around the red zone. They somehow lose focus, abort their true gameplan, and either give up sacks or lose yardage which results in settling for field goals.
Especially on the road where the Rams have struggled this season, they cannot let this happen anymore. A win against such a hard-nosed opponent can only happen through major points by touchdown.
Kickoff is at 4:25 ET this Sunday.