St. Louis is 4-6-1 heading into Week 13, which means it is facing a must-win game. Every game from here on out is essentially a must-win if the St. Louis Rams want a shot at making the playoffs. Six losses seems like it will be the cutoff point for the NFC playoff picture.
Think about it; the Seattle Seahawks currently hold the No. 6 seed and are already at five losses. With the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Minnesota Vikings in the NFC playoff picture as well with the same records, Seattle will need to win four of its final five games.
The Rams' remaining five games look like this—they play San Francisco, Buffalo, Minnesota, Tampa Bay and Seattle. The 49ers and Vikings games are at home with the other three being on the road. It's ironic that three of the five remaining games are against clubs that I mentioned above being in the hunt for that sixth playoff spot.
However, it all starts with the 49ers this week. If they knock off San Francisco, they control their own destiny the rest of the way. Coach Jeff Fisher has to be pleased with his team's play last week and should be pleased with their draw the rest of the way out.
Let's take a look at which matchups the Rams will need to win so they can put together their second two-game winning streak of the season.
When the Rams Are on Defense: Chris Long vs. Anthony Davis
The last time these two teams met, the Rams defensive line had its biggest game of the year. Statistically it was better against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 5, but considering the level of competition, there's no question Week 10 was its best week rushing the passer.
According to Pro Football Focus, Chris Long, Michael Brockers and Kendall Langford all had their best games of the 2012 season against the 49ers. The three of them combined for three quarterback sacks, three quarterback hits and 11 quarterback hurries.
As a team they combined for 26 total pressures—which means Long, Brockers and Langford accounted for 65 percent of the defensive pressures themselves. Yet, there was still one man who single-handedly disrupted the 49ers passing attack.
Coming into Week 10, Long was in the midst of a two-game slump that had only seen him produce one quarterback hurry in 116 snaps. But 49ers right tackle Anthony Davis was in the Thanksgiving spirit two weeks early as he helped No. 91 get out of his funk by surrendering a total of nine pressures to Long.
In the screenshot above, Long is lined up on the inside of Davis with safety Quintin Mikell and outside linebacker Rocky McIntosh lined up on the outside. Both Mikell and McIntosh will be attacking downhill at the quarterback with Long working the inside B-gap.
With Brockers and Langford getting adequate penetration in the A-gap, it allows Long to have a one-on-one matchup against a right tackle that he has dominated throughout his career. Over the course of five games against Davis, he has piled up 23 total pressures—five sacks, four hits and 14 hurries.
On this particular play, Mikell and McIntosh's pressure collapsed the pocket from the outside-in so Long could use his leverage to step up and take down Colin Kaepernick for the sack. The sack proved to be crucial as it pushed the 49ers back into a 3rd-and-forever situation.
St. Louis ended up getting the ball back in overtime, but it ran out of time and the game ended in a 24-24 tie. Not the way either team would have liked it to end considering both teams had opportunity after opportunity to put the game away.
If the Rams want to keep the game neck and neck against San Francisco again, they will need Long to have that same kind of impact against Davis. As I mentioned above, he has won every matchup against the first-round pick out of Rutgers. Not to mention he plays much faster in the Dome.
When the Rams Are on Offense: Steven Jackson vs. NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis
Like the defensive matchup of Long, St. Louis will want another Week 10 repeat performance from Steven Jackson on the offensive side of the ball. SJ39 eclipsed the 100-yard mark for the first time all season against San Francisco, and the Rams became the first team to rush for 150 yards against the 49ers since Week 11 of the 2010 season.
Impressive considering Jeff Fisher's offensive line has been riddled with injuries and Jackson hasn't quite had the most electrifying year until recently. There's no question St. Louis was coming off its bye as the team looked refreshed in every aspect of its game, yet it couldn't land the knockout punch when it needed it the most.
Regardless, they tied the toughest team on their schedule and they did it on the road.
And even though I keep praising Jackson for keeping the Rams offense as balanced as possible, a lot of praise needs to land on the shoulders of the interior offensive line as well. Center Robert Turner, left guard Shelley Smith and right guard Harvey Dahl all displayed the ability to get to the second level on their blocks in the run game.
Turner probably did the best job considering he always had the joyful experience of taking on Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman one on one. Coincidentally enough, his best run-blocking game of the season came against the two best inside linebackers in the NFL.
This first-quarter 10-yard run from Jackson backs up everything I've been trying to explain about the interior offensive line. In the very top image you can see the blocking assignments, but if you go to the second image you see just how Turner and Smith locked up Willis and Bowman.
I circled and put an x through Turner at his moment of contact with Bowman. He immediately snaps the ball and jets five yards downfield to lock up with the All-Pro inside linebacker. Smith also jets as soon as the ball is snapped and heads right for the other All-Pro linebacker.
When looking at Turner in the second photo, look directly to the left and you can see the third-year left guard get a strong push on Willis. The play of these two players had both linebackers struggling all game long.
Pro Football Focus gave combined grades of negative-8.1 to Willis and Bowman. The lowest total both players have combined for since head coach Jim Harbaugh took over the 49ers. I have a hard time believing St. Louis' interior offensive line will have a repeat performance in Week 13, but even if it plays half as well as it did in Week 10, the Rams have a good shot at running the ball with success.
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