At 1:25pm PST, Candlestick Park will host the first matchup of the 2012 season between the St. Louis Rams and the San Francisco 49ers. For the 49ers, this game might not have the same feel compared to going up against another one of their NFC West counterparts like the much improved Seattle Seahawks. That may be because the 49ers have owned the Rams recently. Since 2008, San Francisco is 7-1 versus St. Louis. Grabbing a victory Sunday would seem like just another day at the office for Coach Harbaugh & Co. For Jeff Fisher’s Rams, it’s yet another week of proving to the rest of the NFL that they aren’t the same top 15 draft picking team we’ve all been accustomed to seeing for the past few years.
No matter what each team’s mindset is coming into Sunday, rest assure that this will be a very physical game, the kind that us fans have the privilege of watching just about every NFC West game.
Change, Change, Change.
Everyone knows of the 49ers’ head coaching and offensive coordinator troubles since drafting quarterback Alex Smith in 2005. After keeping Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman for a second consecutive season, for the first time, Smith didn’t have to feed his playbook into a shredder at the beginning of the season. They’ve made solid improvements on the offensive side of the ball. They boast the best rushing attack in the NFL with running backs Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter. They’re currently ranked 19th in third-down conversion. They ranked 31st last season. All of a sudden the team that could only complete one pass to a receiver in the NFC Championship game against the New York Giants last year just got a little more scary. It’s amazing to see what a little continuity can do.
Are You Following Me?
The St. Louis Rams look like they’re going down a road similar to the one San Francisco had been on for the past few years. Their defense has gotten younger and better, but unfortunately has an offense that can’t improve at the same pace. Outside of two games trying to defeat Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady, the Rams have averaged 18.5 points allowed per game, good for 5th in the league. The addition of feisty cornerback Cortland Finnegan has given the defense a grittier attitude. Their defense is much overlooked and still pretty raw, though linebacker James Laurinaitis’ blood contains what Bobby Boucher and Coach Klein like to refer to as “tackling fuel.” What really makes St. Louis seem like they’re following in San Fran’s footsteps is the progress of quarterback Sam Bradford. Drafted in 2010, the injury prone Bradford hasn’t turned into the franchise quarterback the Rams organization hoped for. A pregame conversation with Alex Smith might involve the topic of rising from being labeled a “bust.” He still has time to prove critics wrong but the window is slowly closing. Cue Sammy Cahn’s “High Hopes” for Rams fans.
Look for Alex Smith to try to continue with his efficiency and for the NFL’s best rushing attack to go right at St. Louis’ formidable front seven. To be successful, Smith’s offensive line will have to do a good job of keeping relentless defensive ends Robert Quinn and Chris Long away from him. The 49ers aren’t expected to lose and can’t afford to lose. At 3-5, you can expect St. Louis to put up one hell of a fight and “treat this like their Super Bowl.” However, it might not be enough to defeat Jim Harbaugh’s talented bunch. Vegas odds have STL+11. If I was a betting man, I’d say don’t touch this game. 49ers continue their dominance. Final score could read Rams 16 – 49ers 27.
Next week, the 198….I mean the 2012 Chicago Bears travel to San Francisco to battle for NFC supremacy on Monday Night Football. Try to wipe the drool off.