Quarterback Colin Kaepernick will look to overcome his woes from the previous two weeks.
While Week 1 against the Green Bay Packers was a chance for playmakers like quarterback Colin Kaepernick and wide receiver Anquan Boldin to shine, the subsequent two weeks have shown little by the way of offense.
If the 49ers want things to get back on track, expecting they will want to do so now, Week 4 could prove to be a pivotal turning point for the franchise as they look to return to form.
The Rams will not be an easy opponent to do this against. Last season, San Francisco was winless in its two games with the division rival. In 2013, St. Louis will look to continue where they left off as head coach Jeff Fisher and the Rams defense match up against a 49er team traveling east after a short week.
What effect will that factor, among others, have upon San Francisco's offense in Week 4?
Can the 49ers get back on track like they hope? Or will the downward trend continue to surprise fans and analysts of the franchise?
What is known is that this 49ers team is far too good to allow that trend to continue. While the woes experienced in Week 2 against the Seahawks should have been alleviated against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 3, San Francisco is very much capable of turning around the offense.
After three weeks, the Rams defense sits at 27th in the league in yardage allowed. The 49ers should be able to take advantage of that. San Francisco should also be both hungry and angry after what happened against the Colts. That should also provide some motivation.
It is also possible that the 49ers utilize more of the read-option formation on offense which worked so well for them the latter part of the 2012 season and has been minimally utilized thus far into 2013.
Only time will tell.
Regardless, here are predictions for the notable offensive stars on the 49ers heading into Week 4.
Running back LaMichael James has yet to be utilized in 2013.
Wide receiver Jon Baldwin and running back LaMichael James have not figured into any of the 49ers' 2013 regular season plans thus far.
In James' case, this makes sense. Recovering from a preseason injury, James has not been at 100 percent, yet his absence has been felt.
Much of this can be attributed to the fact that starting back Frank Gore has been limited on the ground for the majority of the season thus far. His head-first run style is something that has not worked out very well given the 49ers offensive line not being able to generate holes.
James provides plenty of options to move to the outside. His speed and elusiveness creates additional headaches for opponents' run defenses. Look no further than what he did towards the end of last season.
Whether or not James is healthy enough for a return is still in doubt. According to Mindi Bach of CSN Bay Area, 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman still lists James as a game-time decision.
James has stated via Twitter that his knee feels fine and that he is ready to go, per Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area.
Given the general ineffectiveness of San Francisco's running game at this point, the 49ers could use James' services.
If he does suit up, expect James to see half a dozen carries or so and net at least 20 yards rushing. Do not be surprised if he gets involved in the return game as well.
It has been interesting to see how much San Francisco's offense has utilized fullback Bruce Miller in the passing game thus far. He already has five receptions for 56 yards and is tied for second on the team in receptions for players not named Boldin or Davis.
On one hand, it is good that Colin Kaepernick has a checkdown option in the passing game. On the other, Miller is not the type of person a team would want to focus a game plan around.
If Miller gets a catch or two against the Rams, it would not be surprising. If there are any more, the offense should continue to be worried.
As far as Baldwin is concerned, the 49ers seem more inclined to develop his abilities and improve upon what he has shown thus far.
Head coach Jim Harbaugh said it was a possibility that Baldwin would be in uniform against the Rams for Week 4 and commended the 2011 first-round pick for his work during practice.
Yet there are still plenty of other receivers ahead of Baldwin on the depth chart and it is unlikely that any passes go his way during the course of the game. While he may get on the field for a snap or two, do not expect anything more out of him.
Could Marlon Moore play a bigger role against St. Louis?
Unlike Jon Baldwin, wide receiver Marlon Moore has played in each of the first three games of the 49ers season thus far.
After those three games, Moore has just one reception for six yards.
Granted, the 49ers were probably not expecting big things out of Moore when they signed him in the offseason. Yet they were hoping to get something—anything—out of him by this point.
Moore's absence from San Francisco's offensive game plan has become even more precarious after the injury suffered by tight end Vernon Davis. It is also critical given the 49ers' need to distribute the ball through the air.
Hopefully, Moore will get a chance Thursday to showcase a little more of what he can do.
A couple of passes may come Moore's way against St. Louis and hopefully for his and the 49ers' sakes, Moore hauls them in. He showed a knack for getting open against the Colts last week as tweeted by @JeffD731.
The 49ers would be happy with two receptions for 15 yards. Anything beyond that would be a bonus.
Vance McDonald could see more playing time Thursday.
Before the regular season began, I wrote a piece highlighting rookie tight end Vance McDonald and his impact on the 2013 49ers.
After the recent injury to fellow tight end Vernon Davis, McDonald's importance may be bigger than ever.
Thus far into the season, McDonald has three receptions for 50 yards. That is nice to see out of the rookie and it is good that he is getting his fair share of snaps.
One 49er fan voiced frustration with how McDonald was being utilized and stated so via a tweet. It read, "Would love to know why [Garrett] Celek and Bruce Miller have more targets than Vance McDonald. No excuse for that, ever."
Yet with Davis injured and his prospects for starting Sunday not entirely guaranteed, McDonald could be a favorite target for Colin Kaepernick if the 49ers offense chooses to utilize him.
The reason I state such is pretty simple.
San Francisco's offensive rhythm has been thwarted by good pressure up front and tight man coverage against their wide receivers. When he has had time, Kaepernick has struggled to find open receivers down the field because of this and the 49ers offense has been stymied.
Perhaps offensive coordinator Greg Roman could utilize more short and immediate passes emulating from a three-step drop. Here is where McDonald could factor into the equation.
At 6'4" and 267 pounds, McDonald is a big target and showed an uncanny ability to haul in tough catches during San Francisco's training camp.
As such, the 49ers would be wise to utilize more of him on Thursday.
Given the precarious condition of San Francisco's offense heading into Week 4, Davis will probably be on the field. Yet the 49ers will likely limit his snaps somewhat to ensure his injury is not aggravated.
Do not be surprised if McDonald hauls in four or five passes and equals his season total of 50 yards during the game. That number could also be higher if Davis is further limited or does not take the field at all.
Kendall Hunter scored the 49ers only touchdown in Week 3.
Running back Kendall Hunter was one of the lone bright spots for the 49ers offense against Indianapolis in Week 3.
He ran for 14 yards on four attempts during the game and scored the only San Francisco touchdown in their losing and lackluster effort.
With fellow back Frank Gore possibly losing a step and the return of LaMichael James still in question, it is possible that Hunter's role increases in Week 4.
It would be silly to assume that Hunter surpasses Gore in touches this week. Barring injury to Gore, Hunter should figure between six and ten carries during the game.
Those numbers are obviously higher than what he posted in Week 3. Yet, it is feasible that San Francisco does not abandon the run like it did against the Colts. Fans should expect a little more out of Gore and the running game. That translates into more opportunities for Hunter as well.
While he is averaging only 2.8 yards per carry thus far, Hunter does provide an option outside of Gore and could be utilized on some of the more unique packages that the 49ers offense should consider employing against St. Louis.
If those six-to-ten carries produce 20-plus yards of offense, the 49ers would be happy.
Quinton Patton deserves more looks on offense.
Quinton Patton's rookie season has started off eerily similar to that of former 49ers receiver A.J. Jenkins.
Granted, Patton is not Jenkins and was able to showcase his explosiveness during the preseason. Yet, he has been all but absent from San Francisco's offensive scheme for the first three weeks of the season. Heading into Week 4, Patton has yet to record a single catch and can boast a single 7-yard kick return to his stat sheet thus far.
Patton is more talented than the numbers suggest thus far. Part of the problem could be that the 49ers coaching staff does not particularly play rookies until they have fully proven themselves in camp. This argument is supplemented by Golden Gate Sports writer David Ochoa who states:
The coaching staff is notorious for not playing rookies until they believe they are ready. If you don’t show that you are capable, the coaches have no problem with keeping you on the bench. This is not the case for Patton. Patton has the talent and the ability to be on the field.
Granted, Patton has yet to prove himself in the regular season and it is fair to assume that opposing defenses are not yet intimidated by him.
However that is the reason why the 49ers could look to him more often.
Patton should be seeing more time as San Francisco's slot receiver and would benefit from going up against nickel and dime defensive backs.
This case is argued by John Middlekauf, who contributes to CSN Bay Area.
Let us assume for a moment that the 49ers coaching staff is on the same page and decide to give Patton some more looks.
Would Patton be able to record a few catches against a Rams defense that has allowed 864 yards through the air thus far into 2013? It is not only possible, but even likely.
If given the opportunity, Patton could put up three or four receptions for around 40 yards. Throw in his first regular season touchdown as well to sweeten the possibility.
Can Kyle Williams retain his status as the 49ers' No. 2 receiver?
Wide receiver Kyle Williams has an incredible opportunity to showcase his talents and emerge as a solid receiving option in the wake of Michael Crabtree's injury.
Thus far, he has done relatively little to meet those expectations.
He has nine receptions for 87 yards thus far into 2013 and his lack of statistical performance showcases the well-known drop-off the 49ers have after Anquan Boldin.
Will he be able to step up his game against the Rams?
It is likely that Williams will match up against second-year cornerback Janoris Jenkins in Week 4, which could spell a tough day for San Francisco's No. 2 receiver.
Adding to Williams' troubles is a nagging rib injury that was reported by Cam Inman of the Bay Area News Group.
As such, do not expect big things out of Williams against St. Louis.
He may get a reception or two, but that would be it. Anything more than 20 yards would be surprising.
Vernon Davis' injury will be a key factor in Week 4.
Heading into the 2013 season, tight end Vernon Davis figured to be one of the primary weapons in San Francisco's offense.
After his six reception, 98-yard performance against Green Bay in Week 1, there were few reasons to assume otherwise.
Yet Davis injured his hamstring in Week 2 against Seattle and subsequently missed Week 3 against the Colts.
What happens in Week 4 is still up in the air.
Greg Roman revealed very little about Davis' status heading into Thursday Night Football. In an interview published by Grant Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, Roman answered after being asked about Davis' status, "We’ll have to wait and see. It probably will be a game-time decision. Jim [Harbaugh] could talk to you further on it."
Harbaugh was even more elusive. When asked a similar question, Harbaugh responded, "We'll see."
Yet desperate times call for desperate measures and it is safe to assume the 49ers want Davis back as soon as possible even if it means he is not at 100 percent. While they do not want to cause further problems to Davis' hamstring, they need his services to both spread the field and give Colin Kaepernick more options.
It would be surprising to see Davis out of uniform against St. Louis.
While Davis may not play an overwhelming majority of snaps during the game, he should at least figure into the equation.
Expect Davis to record five or six receptions during the game. If he can generate 40-plus yards of offense, San Francisco would be that much better off. Their offense will not likely revolve around him, but Davis' presence on the field would be enough to make the Rams' defense think twice about bottling up Anquan Boldin.
Frank Gore hopes to have a performance like he did in Week 3.
One cannot overlook the fact that running back Frank Gore is getting older.
In Weeks 1 and 2, Gore appeared to show his age, gaining a combined 60 yards over the course of the two games. Yet, the lackluster performance was not entirely his fault. San Francisco's offensive line, which was one of the best last year, failed to generate the same holes Gore was so accustomed to.
In Week 3, Gore looked more promising, gaining 82 yards on 11 attempts against the Colts. Yet for whatever reason, Gore disappeared from the game plan in the second half which resulted in rumors that he was becoming frustrated with head coach Jim Harbaugh.
Gore has since stated that he was upset with how the 49ers have been playing and not with Harbaugh's decision-making.
Whatever the apparent controversy is, the fact remains that San Francisco needs to get as much as they can out of Gore. They need it now.
Matching up against St. Louis' run defense will not be an easy task. Last season, Gore ran for only 58 yards the last time the 49ers visited the Rams.
As such, the Rams will look to shut Gore down again with a talented front seven that includes linebacker James Laurinaitis and defensive end Robert Quinn. St. Louis figured out how to shut down San Francisco's running game last year and they will likely try to do so again.
The result may not be that pretty for Gore and the running game.
Gore may break off a solid 20-plus yard gain which would skew his statistics, but do not expect much more than a 50 or 60-yard performance. He could get involved with the receiving game which would be a bonus. Contributing in that means would help.
Expect Gore to get a number of touches throughout the game. San Francisco cannot abandon the run like it did against Indianapolis last week. Twenty-two carries seems like a logical number. He also may haul in a reception or two as well.
The 49ers want Anquan Boldin to put up Week 1 numbers.
After his 208-yard performance against Green Bay in Week 1, wide receiver Anquan Boldin looked like one of the most brilliant acquisitions in recent San Francisco memory.
Then Seattle and Indianapolis did all they could to shut him down the subsequent two weeks.
The Seahawks held him to just one reception and the Colts fared well holding him to five catches for 67 yards.
What is happening is pretty clear: Opposing teams are recognizing the fact that San Francisco does not have legitimate and consistent options around the field. Defenders are then locking down on Boldin and forcing other members of the 49ers offense to beat them.
So far, no one else has stepped up.
The Rams will try the same formula and it may be very successful given the circumstances.
As mentioned by Grant Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, Boldin mostly will face Rams cornerback Cortland Finnegan. The last time those two faced each other—Week 2 of the 2011 season—Boldin caught just three passes for 46 yards and Finnegan broke up a career-high four passes.
The fact that San Francisco boasts few offensive weapons at this point spells trouble.
The good news is that Boldin has six career games against the Rams with 100-plus yards.
If—and that is a big if—other members of the 49ers offense are able to step up and take some of the pressure off Boldin, it is possible that he has a great game in St. Louis. A number of things will have to happen though.
First, receivers like Williams, Patton and Moore will have to get open. If they can create some space, it will force the Rams' secondary to reevaluate its position on Boldin. Vernon Davis and Vance McDonald could also assist in doing this.
Colin Kaepernick will also need to have enough time in the pocket to find his receiver. He has a good rapport with Boldin so that should not be an issue.
I expect Boldin to have a solid game against the Rams. Eight receptions for 95 yards seem about right. I would also not be surprised if Boldin gets into the end zone at least once during the game.
With the way things are going for the 49ers offensively, my predictions would bode well.
Can Colin Kaepernick rediscover his rhythm in Week 4?
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick was the talk of San Francisco after his performances in the latter half of the 2012 season. After the last two weeks, he has become a target of many 49er fans' frustrations.
This has caused much speculation regarding the 49ers' young franchise quarterback and drawn comparisons to their former-signal caller Alex Smith. Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee points this out further by writing:
[Kaepernick] keeps a close eye on his Twitter feed. In the hour before he spoke to reporters Tuesday, he marked as "favorites" seven additional insulting and critical messages. He seems to especially like/loathe the ones that include references to former 49ers quarterback Alex Smith.
Hash tags aside, the fact remains that Kaepernick has lost his rhythm. If San Francisco wants to rediscover its winning ways, Kaepernick will have to figure into the equation.
Fortunately, Week 4 should provide ample opportunity for this to happen.
A number of things need to go right here. First, Kaepernick needs to recall how St. Louis shut him down in Week 12 last season. That should serve as a lesson. In addition, the recent losing streak should be a cause for motivation.
His receivers need to do a better job of getting open. Kaepernick should also be inclined to use his legs as a weapon, like he did so effectively in 2012.
If those elements, and more, can factor into San Francisco's offensive game plan, the 49ers should be in good shape.
As such, Kaepernick could have a nice rebound as well. He will not put up numbers like he did against Green Bay in Week 1. Yet if things go right, he could pass for over 300 yards, while completing about 65 percent of his passes. Adding two touchdown passes to the mix also seems reasonable.
Kaepernick could also return to his rushing ways which have waned thus far in 2013. Adding 50 yards on the ground is also worth speculating.
It almost seems that the 49ers go where Kaepernick goes. If he performs well, so does the rest of the team.
St. Louis is the one thing standing in the way.
San Francisco's Week 4 matchup against the Rams will likely not be a pretty game. The flaws that have become apparent in the 49ers offense will likely still be present. Hopefully though, there will be signs that point in the right direction.
At this spot, the 49ers need to get back to their winning ways. This may result in a number of different offensive aspects and changes that fans have not seen much of, or at all, this season.
What transpires shall reveal more of what San Francisco is about in 2013. In a way, Week 4 could be a turning point for the team.
Which direction that turning point is remains unknown.
All statistics, records and accolades courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com unless otherwise stated.
Peter Panacy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report, covering the San Francisco 49ers. Follow him @PeterMcShots on Twitter.