Now, the St. Louis Rams (5-6) are all but eliminated from the playoffs, so we should expect an easy 49ers win, right? Wrong!
The St. Louis Rams would love nothing more than to end the 49ers' hopes of making the playoffs, especially after the beatdown they received in Week 4 against Colin Kaepernick and Co.
Before Week 4, these two teams had some extremely close battles in the past two seasons, with one actually ending in a tie. Believe me, the Rams think they're the better team.
Reality paints a slightly different picture, however.
Regardless, we should still have a great match on our hands. Even better, we may see some breakout performances in Week 13 by quite a few 49ers players.
Mario Manningham has looked solid in the past three weeks, especially for someone coming off a major injury the previous year.
Some might chalk this up to the dearth of talent at the receiver position. This is a good point.
Outside of Anquan Boldin, the 49ers have struggled to get other receivers involved in the offense. However, I think the addition of Manningham will pay big dividends in the near future for Kaepernick and this 49ers offense.
Manningham finished with just 45 receiving yards on four catches in the 49ers' beatdown of the Washington Redskins in Week 12.
Now, those aren't flashy numbers, but if you watched the game, my eye-test told me far more than the statistics alone. If you watched closely, Manningham found ways to get separation, especially at the line of scrimmage.
The 49ers receivers, including Boldin, have had major issues all season with creating separation at the LOS. On a few slant plays and out routes, Kaepernick was easily able to find Manningham for crucial conversions.
With the St. Louis Rams on deck, Manningham could find the sledding easier this Sunday afternoon. Having Anquan Boldin on one side, and the potential return of Michael Crabtree pending, Manningham could quietly post up some solid numbers against this Rams secondary.
Look for Manningham to have a big day this Sunday.
The last time the 49ers faced the Rams, Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter combined for over 200 yards rushing in a 35-11 win. Expect more success on the ground for the 49ers.
The Rams' biggest weakness for the past two seasons lies in their shaky run defense, despite their better-than-average ranking this year. Against the run, the Rams are ranked 13th, one spot behind the 49ers.
Regardless, this shouldn't stop the 49ers from pounding the Rams on the ground early and often. Gore should have himself quite a game, but don't be surprised if Hunter steals the show.
If this game becomes a blowout, expect even bigger numbers for the young Hunter.
Heck, don't be surprised if the 49ers start involving LaMichael James and Anthony Dixon in the backfield this Sunday. The matchup is just that juicy.
When the 49ers traded for Jon Baldwin, many expected the former first-round pick would be acclimated into the offense by midseason. I guess not.
While Baldwin has somewhat disappointed, I won't give up on him. The same way I didn't give up on A.J. Jenkins before he was traded to the Kansas City Chiefs.
I may end up being wrong on both players, but the talent level is too hard to ignore, especially for a physical specimen like Baldwin.
Now, Baldwin did show some life in Week 11 against the New Orleans Saints. He ran a nice route and was in position to score a touchdown, but he couldn't make the play.
Like Manningham, Baldwin should have some opportunities this week against a subpar Rams secondary. Again, with the return of Crabtree, someone is going to get lost in the shuffle.
I don't expect Baldwin to eclipse the 100-yard mark, but with that big 6'4'' body, he may make an impact in the red zone this Sunday.
With the 49ers having a significant advantage on the ground, I can see Kaepernick starting right where he left off. If so, it could mean a big day for Baldwin and the other 49ers receivers not named Boldin.
Like many 49ers fans, we've been waiting for Vance McDonald to step up and have a big game. That could all change this Sunday afternoon.
In the 49ers' blowout win over the Redskins in Week 12, McDonald didn't make much of an impact outside of a nice 23-yard reception. However, in that one play, the former Rice University standout exhibited the qualities that made him a second-round selection.
His versatility in lining up inline and in the slot makes him a dangerous weapon in this 49ers offense. With Crabtree returning, the 49ers will likely start using more 12 personnel (one back, two tight ends) against opposing defenses.
This means McDonald will likely see more playing time alongside Vernon Davis. Think about this for a second.
When Crabtree returns, the defense will have to focus on three 49ers receivers. Of course, I mean Boldin, Davis and Crabtree.
We saw a glimpse of this against the Redskins Monday night. Davis was attracting a ton of attention across the middle of the field, leaving Redskins defenders to completely ignore McDonald.
We could see more of this Sunday afternoon.
At the University of Oregon, James was one of the most explosive players in the nation. In the past two games for the 49ers, we're beginning to see that level of explosiveness James exhibited while at Oregon.
With such a crowed backfield, James can get overshadowed. I'm sure many remember his play during the postseason last year after filling in for the then-injured Hunter.
No one questions his ability; rather, many of our questions are directed at this 49ers coaching staff. The most important question is why was James not used as a punt/kick returner earlier in the season?
When James finally became healthy, the return job should have instantly went to him. Instead, 49ers fans were forced to watch the lifeless play Kyle Williams, hoping under their breath that he wouldn't fumble.
Williams wasn't bad, but he wasn't good either. On the other hand, James has already proved his worth as a returner, dating back to last season as proof.
Regardless, Williams was cut, and the job was handed to James. And it couldn't come at a better time for the 49ers.
As we saw against the Washington Redskins, James is a sensational talent when it comes to making guys miss, especially in space.
"We've got a return game, and it was good to remind that to everyone and ourselves," Harbaugh said, via Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News.
Simply put, James is a field changer on special teams. More importantly, his play as a returner gives the rest of the team that extra spark.
Watch out for James this week. We may very well see a return touchdown or two.