49ers vs. Rams: Top Storylines to Watch in Pivotal Thursday Night Matchup

Mike Hoag@MikeHoagJrCorrespondent IISeptember 26, 2013

December 2, 2012; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Rams defensive end Chris Long (91) defends against San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) during the second half at the Edward Jones Dome. St. Louis defeated San Francisco 16-13 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

The San Francisco 49ers and St. Louis Rams have both disappointed but have a chance to get back on track during their Week 4 matchup on Thursday Night Football.

For a division pegged as potentially one of the best in the NFL, it has been a rough start for the NFC West. While the Seattle Seahawks are unbeaten, they are carrying the load in a division that is just 6-6 in the young 2013 season.

But that doesn’t mean two teams won’t emerge to make postseason runs as nearly everyone predicted. Which team will it be other than the presumed Seahawks?

Week 4 may give us a better idea.

The Arizona Cardinals don’t look like contenders, but neither have the 49ers or Rams to this point. Overall, that’s the overarching storyline heading into this one, but there is still more you should monitor Thursday night.


San Francisco’s Offensive Woes

After an offensive outburst against the Green Bay Packers in Week 1, the 49ers have been anything but explosive in consecutive losses to the Seahawks and Indianapolis Colts. They scored just 20 points in both games combined and weren’t able to do much of anything in their passing game.

Credit that to inexperience, scheme, Colin Kaepernick, or whatever you have to; the results just aren’t there. After putting up over 400 yards against Green Bay in their Week 1 win, teams have clamped down on Anquan Boldin and stifled their plans.

Since that win, Kaep has thrown just 277 yards with no touchdowns and four interceptions. According to ESPN Stats & Info, he rates at the bottom of the league during that stretch:

Not having Vernon Davis last week didn’t help, either. Davis is still questionable to play as of Thursday afternoon. Without him on the field, Kaepernick and the 49ers may continue to see the similar results against an underperforming pass defense that gave them problems last season.

Without Davis on the field, Kaep has significantly struggled throwing the football, per ESPN’s Ed Werder:

Davis’ health will be an important key for the 49ers to monitor leading up to kickoff and throughout the game.


Sam Bradford the Prolific Passer?

If not for a couple of other teams’ rushing games being dreadful, the Rams could easily be the worst running team in the NFL through two weeks. After letting Steven Jackson go via free agency, they have yet to find a suitable replacement between the tackles.

Sam Bradford is averaging 47 passes per game as a result. That’s not exactly a recipe for winning most weeks. It gives defenses the chance to attack, and Bradford was full-on assaulted in a 31-7 beat down by the Dallas Cowboys in Week 3. Sacked six times, his first sacks of the season, Bradford and the Rams offense floundered.

This week, though, Bradford and the gang may be meeting the 49ers at the perfect time. Dominant pass-rusher Aldon Smith is out for the matchup after being placed on the reserve non-football injury list as he begins treatment for substance abuse, per CBS Sports’ John Breech.

For a defense that hasn’t exactly been able to get to the quarterback—tied for 18th in the NFL with seven sacks—losing their best asset is a big blow for the 49ers.

To exploit that, Jeff Fisher needs to find a way to get his limping rushing game going. The Niners are uncharacteristically giving up 138.7 yards per game on the ground—29th in the NFL.