However unlikely that may sound, that's one of my bold predictions for the 49ers (1-2) against their divisional rivals on Thursday.
The Rams (1-2) gave the Niners fits last year, but so far this season, they've looked just as lost as San Francisco.
To avoid falling below St. Louis in the standings, the 49ers could use a few, if not all, of the following predictions to come true.
This makes NaVorro Bowman’s performance very important. Bowman will be around the ball constantly as the Niners try to slow down the St. Louis run and short-passing game.
Bowman has yet to have an All-Pro performance this season. With the San Francisco defense reeling, it’s Bowman’s time to shine against St. Louis’ mediocre offense, regardless of whether Willis plays.
It all starts with the run defense. When the 49ers stop the run and force teams into 3rd-and-long situations, they put themselves in better position to get sacks.
As Bowman and Co. are shutting down Isaiah Pead and Daryl Richardson (if he plays), the 49ers will have better opportunities to pressure Sam Bradford.
Sure, the loss of Aldon Smith could be crippling, but this might just force defensive coordinator Vic Fangio to be more aggressive with his blitz schemes.
Also, rookie Corey Lemonier should see more playing time in Smith’s absence. He was impressive in the preseason, and he could be just the shot in the arm the defense needs.
The Rams allowed six sacks to the Dallas Cowboys last week. If anything, a short week should hurt their ability to fix their protection schemes.
First off, I’m not suggesting the 49ers feature the read-option heavily on Thursday. Defenses have wised up to the scheme. It should be used sparingly to keep the Rams defense off balance.
This prediction is more about Colin Kaepernick looking to run when plays break down.
The 49ers signal-caller seems less inclined to scramble for first downs this year, instead throwing the ball into coverage when he has running lanes. But with his team at 1-2, he needs to take some chances with his legs to get the offense going.
Kaep’s longest run of the year is 28 yards. He’s due for a longer one, and I predict he’ll get it this week against St. Louis with a few other decent scampers mixed in en route to eclipsing 70 rushing yards for the fourth time in his career (playoffs included).
According to Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area, Frank Gore expressed frustration during the second half of San Francisco’s loss to Indianapolis.
I don’t blame him.
Gore had 11 carries for 82 yards, but he did not have a carry in the fourth quarter.
On Tuesday, when asked about being visibly upset on the sidelines against Indy, Gore said:
"... I wasn’t thinking about how many times I touched the ball. I just wanted to win. Get that nasty taste out of our mouth. That’s what I was thinking about."
In two games against the Rams last year, Gore had 44 carries for 155 yards (3.52 yards-per-carry average). But last week, the Rams allowed 175 rushing yards and a touchdown to DeMarco Murray. Did the Cowboys expose flaws in St. Louis' run defense that San Francisco can exploit?
After the 49ers' offensive debacle last week, expect Gore to be the No. 1 priority in the game plan, as the team attempts to alleviate Gore's frustration and take as much pressure off Kaepernick as possible. About 100 yards rushing and a couple of touchdowns would do wonders for San Francisco’s offense.
Sometimes, an NFL team needs an ugly win to get back on track.
The 49ers offense has been in a funk the last two weeks. The Colts and Seahawks covered Anquan Boldin tightly, forcing Kaepernick to look to other pass-catchers. To put it simply, nobody has stepped up.
I’m not expecting a revelation on offense this week. The Rams matched up well with the 49ers last year. Assuming Janoris Jenkins and/or Cortland Finnegan contain Boldin, Kaepernick will once again struggle to pass the ball efficiently.
When the Rams have the ball, the 49ers should have no problem containing Sam Bradford, even with a couple of backups potentially starting. Bradford's yards-per-attempt average stands at 6.3 in 2013, ranking 27th in the league.
It’ll be a close game from start to finish. It might come down to the kicking game.
Dawson has made 14 of his last 15 50-plus-yard field goals. His long-range accuracy could prove very useful in the Edward Jones Dome.