49ers-Rams Preview: Troy Smith/Offensive Line versus Rams Pass Rush

One of the particularly positive qualities 49ers QB Troy Smith exhibited two Sundays ago against the Denver Broncos was escapability. The Broncos would collapse the pocket and start to get a hand on Troy and he would escape from the pressure, buy some time, and get a relatively clean pass off. It seems like in similar situations Alex would either make a bad pass as he was being taken down or he would just go down with the sack. Taking a sack isn't the worst thing in the world, but if you can escape from it as Troy would do it can benefit the offense immensely.

I bring this all up because the 49ers will face a fairly decent pass rush from the St. Louis Rams. The Rams have 23 sacks, which is good for ninth in the NFL. Football Outsiders ranks their pass rush tenth in the league in adjusted sack rate. Adjusted sack rate takes sacks and intentional grounding penalties per pass attempt adjusted for down, distance, and opponent. The Rams have received sacks from numerous players, but the two guys to keep a close eye on are James Hall and Chris Long. The two defensive ends have combined for 11 sacks and will be a handful for Joe Staley and Anthony Davis.

I took a look at the box scores and game logs for the Rams eight games thus far and I did notice one particularly interesting fact. Of the team's 23 sacks, 22 of them came while the team was tied or ahead. The one sack that occurred while they were trailing came in the first quarter against the Rams when they were down 3-0, so it might as well have been tied. For comparison's sake, 6 of the 49ers 17 sacks came while the team was trailing.

It makes sense that a team would have fewer sacks while trailing than while tied or leading. If a team is trailing the opposition is likely trying to impose their running game and chew up some clock, providing fewer sack opportunities. However, to have only one sack while trailing (and even that wasn't trailing by all that much) seems pretty incredible. Taking an early lead is always a welcome development, and one has to wonder if that will sufficiently help to negate the Rams pass rush.

I actually don't see a ton of sacks happening in this game because I remain convinced it will be a grind 'em out ground battle featuring Frank Gore and Steven Jackson, with the QBs playing more in game manager roles. I've been plenty wrong before so feel free to mock me on Monday when I'm wrong. If the game does open up, the Rams pass rush should be interesting to watch.

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