San Francisco vs. St. Louis: Takeaways from St. Louis' 35-11 Loss to 49ers

Steven Gerwel@Steve_GerFeatured Columnist IVSeptember 27, 2013

San Francisco vs. St. Louis: Takeaways from St. Louis' 35-11 Loss to 49ers

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    The St. Louis Rams (1-3) hosted the San Francisco 49ers (2-2) in what turned out to be a humiliating 35-11 loss for the Rams in prime time. 

    St. Louis suffered lopsided losses to Atlanta and Dallas in back-to-back weeks and desperately needed a big win to get its season back on track, but the Rams were not even competitive for a third week in a row. 

    The Rams ended the game with 18 total rushing yards. Their longest run of the night was for seven measly yards. 

    The passing game was not much better. Sam Bradford was picked off once and completed less than 50 percent of his passes. As a result, the Rams were forced to punt the ball 11 times.

    On defense, the Rams had no answer for the San Francisco run game. The 49ers embarrassed the Rams with 219 rushing yards and three touchdowns on the ground. 

    The Rams will have an extra-long week before taking on a manageable Week 5 opponent in Jacksonville. For now, here are the takeaways from St. Louis' abomination of a game against San Francisco. 

Cortland Finnegan Is a Backup

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    Cortland Finnegan has not made a positive play this season.

    We are four games into the 2013 season, and Finnegan has surrendered a touchdown every week. The veteran leadership he provides no longer outweighs the negatives—he’s a major liability.

    Jeff Fisher is a loyal guy, and we can only assume that’s the only thing keeping Finnegan on the field, but that can’t last forever.

    Second-year player Trumaine Johnson was a third-round pick in 2012 and has had a promising start to his career. He recorded 29 tackles and two picks in limited time last season and has the Rams’ only interception of the 2013 season.

    Is Johnson ready for the starting lineup?

    The St. Louis coaching staff is in the best position to make that call, but it’s hard to believe that Johnson would be more of a liability in coverage than Finnegan at this point.

Run Blocking Has to Improve

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    Running back Daryl Richardson was constantly struggling to cross the line of scrimmage against the 49ers defense, but that has little to do with Richardson and everything to do with the horrendous run blocking.

    The Rams tried to establish the run early in the game, but Richardson ended the game with only 16 yards on 12 carries (1.3 yards per carry).

    On many of those carries, there were absolutely no running lanes available. Veterans Scott Wells and Harvey Dahl have struggled to win their battles up front, making it extremely difficult to move the ball on the ground.

    With absolutely no run game to speak of, opposing defenses have focused on stopping the pass.

    Until the Rams can run the ball like a competent NFL team, the offense will continue to struggle.

Sam Bradford Has to Make Smarter Throws

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    Sam Bradford has had ups and downs this season, but no one can deny that the Rams quarterback has made some questionable decisions in the pocket.

    Against the 49ers, Bradford missed a wide-open Austin Pettis for an easy touchdown. The bad throw forced the Rams to enter halftime down by 11 points instead of seven.

    On top of that, Bradford threw an interception during a key 3rd-and-1 and nearly had another interception that was dropped by Donte Whitner. Bradford, who has traditionally been good at avoiding interceptions, has now been picked off in 10 of his last 12 games, dating back to 2012.

    Bradford has produced decent numbers this season, but a handful of negative plays have spoiled the effort.

    There's time for Bradford to rebound, but this could very well be Bradford's last season as the undisputed starter unless he drastically improves. 

Rams Defense Has to Make More Big Plays

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    Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

    When comparing the current Rams defense to last year’s unit, one of the key differences is the lack of game-changing plays.

    Last year, St. Louis’ defense finished with 17 interceptions. Here in 2013, the Rams are on pace for four total picks for the season.

    The 2012 unit led the NFL with 52 sacks. This year’s team is on pace for 28.

    The Rams have had several fumble recoveries this season, including one against San Francisco, but overall, the unit has failed to step up in key situations.

Rams Still Need to Bring Back Jo-Lonn Dunbar

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    I mentioned it a week ago, and I’ll say it again this week...

    The Rams need to bring back suspended linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar.

    Dunbar was a key member of the defense a year ago. He made big plays and gave the unit attitude. Fisher surprisingly cut him shortly after his four-game suspension was announced, according to NBC Sports.

    It’s time to bring him back. The defense is missing Dunbar like the offense is missing Steven Jackson.

    Dunbar is no miracle worker and cannot immediately cure St. Louis’ defensive woes, but he’ll be able to do something about offenses running it up the gut for 20 yards multiple times a game.

This Team Is Overrated

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    Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

    Between Peter King’s gushing and my personal nine-win prediction for the 2013 season, it’s clear that many people drastically misread this 2013 Rams team.

    The Rams were built to be a defensive force capable of finishing in the top 10. The additions of Jared Cook and Tavon Austin were going to inject some life into the mediocre offense.

    It hasn’t worked out that way—not even close.

    This Rams team has regressed, and that’s putting it lightly. At this point, a .500 record appears to be a pipe dream.

    Just look at the top-10 salaries on the team, according to Spotrac. With highly unproductive players such as Chris Long, Finnegan and Kendall Langford near the top of the list, it’s not hard to understand why the Rams are struggling.

    Interior linemen Dahl and Wells combine for $9.25 million against the cap this year, and neither player can open a run lane to save his life.

    There’s no denying that the roster is loaded with dead weight. The Rams have to find more value moving forward; it’s totally unacceptable for their top-paid players to produce so little.

    One quarter of the 2013 season is complete, and the outlook is grim. The Rams had every opportunity to make a statement against the 49ers on prime time and turn the season around, and they failed miserably.

    Buckle up, St. Louis fans. It could be a long year.

Brian Schottenheimer and Les Snead Have Explaining to Do

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    USA TODAY Sports

    At this point, there’s plenty of blame to go around when it comes to the Rams organization.

    But offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and general manager Les Snead are near the top of the list.

    Schottenheimer's unit has been basically nonexistent in every aspect for a third consecutive week. His offense produced just 15 yards in the third quarter and looked deflated throughout the game.

    Bradford, the receivers, the backs and the offensive line haven’t come close to being on the same page this season, and it’s only logical to dump the blame on Schottenheimer. The group has talent, weapons and potential, but Schottenheimer has been completely incapable of tapping into any of that.

    As for Snead, he was handed an unbelievable bundle of draft picks as part of the RGIII trade. In his two years with St. Louis, he has had four first-round picks and three second-round selections to work with.  

    Janoris Jenkins and Michael Brockers are among those seven draft picks, and while they had promising rookie years, they’ve been absent in 2013.

    Snead also selected running back Isaiah Pead and receiver Brian Quick in the second round last year. Pead did not dress against the 49ers, and Quick has just 15 career receptions.

    Tavon Austin and Alec Ogletree are promising rookies, but neither player has made a real impact this season.

    At this point, despite an unbelievable amount of draft-day ammunition, it’s too difficult to determine if a single Snead selection is a future star.

    On top of that, Snead refused to pursue a running back following the departure of Steven Jackson, which appears to be a tremendous mistake on his part.

    Overall, Schottenheimer and Snead have had plenty to work with, but we have yet to see results.