It's this time of year that I relish most. Temperatures drop into comforts zones after a scalding summer, and depending on where you live, fall foliage brilliantly announces... Forget all that rubbish! This is the time of year when one of the greatest NFL rivalries of all time happens. The Rams and 49ers football games are a huge game for their fans and players alike. While the NFC West has pretenders to this kind of rivalry, they'll never - ever - have the storied history these two teams have shared, and added to twice a year since October 1,1950.
I'm an Editor and writer for Turf Show Times, the SBNation site for all things St. Louis Rams. You may have read my pregame post last year here at Niner Nation. I've loved/hated this match up every year since my 8th birthday, and it's never disappointed me. Each team has seen their tide, oft times dominating the other for the better part of different decades. Last year, the Rams - 49ers game featured two team going in opposite directions. The Rams were dismally headed toward the second pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, while the 49ers screamed their way into the playoffs riding a dominant defense.
While the Rams have turned a corner as a team in 2012, they still have a mountain of work to do. The four first round picks in the next two NFL Drafts should help, but that's really a topic for another day. The defense for the Rams has improved drastically since the last meeting between these two teams. Currently ranked #14 in the NFL in total defense, the Rams have quite a few players who've made their mark in 2012. The free agent acquisitions of Cortland Finnegan and Jo-Lon Dunbar have paid huge dividends. Rookie 2012 second round draft pick Janoris Jenkins has had a few hiccups, but he's shown the talent to be a Top 5 corner back in the next few years. The Rams defensive line has improved with free agent Kendall Langford and rookie first round pick Michael Brockers. Chris Long and Robert Quinn have become one of the best defensive end duos in the NFL. In my opinion, they'll face the best offensive line in the NFL on Sunday.
It may be just me, but I think this game will come down to the Rams defensive front four and the 49ers offensive line. Long and Quinn have struggled against top shelf offensive linemen. They don't have pass rushing help on the inside from Brockers and Langford. The Rams really have no outside linebacker help in the pass rush, so Long and Quinn are double teamed or at least chipped on every play.
The Rams offensive line is going to have the challenge of the year against not only your defensive front three, but the best inside linebacker duo in the NFL. It's a poorly kept secret at best that the Rams left guard position is beyond weak, and I'd bet any amount of money Willis and Bowman will be attacking this point often on Sunday.
On offense, the Rams are lacking in several areas. I've mentioned the offensive line, so Sam Bradford's time in the pocket is an issue. The Rams running attack suffers from blocking too, but with the addition of rookie seventh round pick Daryl Richardson, they have more big play potential than many teams think. The wide receiver corps is thin, but it's improving. Chris Given's streak of five straight games with a 50+ yard catch will most likely end against a stunningly talented 49ers secondary. If Danny Amendola returns from injury this week, he'll create a problem in the 6 to 10 yard range, but I'm not all that sure Jeff Fisher wants to send an "on the mend" receiver into the land of your linebacker giants. Brando Gibson has shown flashes, but again, I'm not sure he matches up well this Sunday.
I have little doubt this will be a Frank Gore "show or no show" day. If he gets going, the Rams will be in deep trouble. They let the Patriots rack up 152 rushing yards, most of which came in key moments.
I'd like to see a raise of hands by all those who think I've painted a rather bleak picture of the Rams chances against the 49er this Sunday? Let's see...One, two, three...496, 498... OK, put you hands down, and you at the back of the room, stop laughing! The thing is, the Rams chances of winning are very good. Why? Because not only do the Rams improve each week at virtually every position (except safety), you as 49ers fans have a perfect storm headed your way.
You see, this game is quite simply the biggest trap game of the year for the 49ers, and against a historic rival makes it potentially worse. The Rams have key players coming back this week, while the rookie cadre has had two weeks to learn from their mistakes. Fisher knows about this rivalry from his time as a Rams assistant coach long ago. He'll feed the lore of this match up to the youngest team in the NFL, many of whom remember their college rivalries quite vividly. They spent a week with each other in London, becoming a close knit unit. Yes, the Rams are rightfully an underdog, but this isn't the team the 49ers played last season.
I'll be dropping in from time to time to ask and answer questions leading up to the game. There will be a few stalwart fellows from TST dropping by too to help out. Should any of them forget they're a guest here, please let me know.
By the way...If I could ask a favor? I have a short story in a HUGE contest at America's Next Author. I have the only sports related story out of thousands of submissions. Could you drop in and give my story a quick review? I'd be beyond grateful for your help. Go here.