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49ers vs. Rams: How Is St. Louis Winning?

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The St. Louis Rams are currently sitting atop the NFC West at 4-4 with an eye towards a potential playoff berth. While they're far from dominating, in a division like the NFC West, dominance is hardly needed. However, as we await the arrival of the St. Louis Rams in San Francisco this weekend, I find myself wondering how they're doing it. They've won four games with a squad that statistically is not all that impressive.

Tre9er will be around later this week with some more specific thoughts on Sam Bradford, among others. In the meantime I thought we could take a more general look at the Rams. They rank 27th on offense in traditional counting stats, and 28th according to Football Outsiders. On defense they rank 10th in traditional counting stats and 14th according to Football Outsiders.

A quick look at their schedule reveals victories at home against the Washington Redskins, Seattle Seahawks, San Diego Chargers, and Carolina Panthers. They've lost at home to the Arizona Cardinals and on the road to the Oakland Raiders, Detroit Lions, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Even their wins and losses don't tell us much about them. We can't really call them out for any "bad" losses considering some of the teams the 49ers have lost to, but for the purposes of previewing the team, my mind is filled with a big, fat HUH?! when I think about the 2010 St. Louis Rams.

I want to focus in on their relatively weak offense in this first post. Obviously the team is scoring enough points to get the job done. However, it's not an offense that would instill a lot of fear in the opposition. RB Steven Jackson is always scary, but this is an offense the 49ers defense should be able to handle. Of course, this isn't the first time I've said that this season.

Individually, the Rams are getting some solid performances across the board, although not spectacular. QB Sam Bradford is putting together rather solid numbers for a rookie as he is averaging 196.5 passing yards per game and has an 11/8 TD/INT ratio. He's sailing along with a 75.9 QB rating and a 58.6 % completion rate. Football Outsiders ranks him 26th among QBs, but generally folks are impressed with the rookie. I know a few people around here would say he has a certain IT factor, whatever IT actually is. As I mentioned, Tre9er will have more on Bradford this week.

His most frequent target thus far has been second year WR Danny Amendola, who has 45 receptions for 379 yards and two touchdowns. That's not exactly a huge per catch average, but 8.4 yards per completion is a solid enough number when factoring in the context of needing ten yards per play. The most impressive stat is that eight different players have had touchdown receptions, which is twice as many as the 49ers.

Steven Jackson remains a work horse for the team. He's putting up huge totals in spite of a relatively low yards per rush because the team is really working him, much like the 49ers have done with Gore. Jackson has eight more carries than Gore while averaging 3.9 yards per carry (Gore's at 4.2). This appears to be an offense predicated on pounding the ball with Jackson and putting Bradford in a position to make as few mistakes as possible.

I suppose this isn't exactly the most shocking bit of news any of us has heard. The 49ers have a fairly veteran defense and their goal on Sunday will likely involve stacking the box to set up third and long situations. After the Broncos game, Coach Mike Singletary mentioned in the post-game press conference that the plan was to shut down the running game and force the Broncos to beat the 49ers through the air. This opened up some big plays (see the flea-flickers) and the 49ers certainly benefited from some timely penalties.

I would say expect to see much of the same, only it will be a test as to whether Sam Bradford can make the 49ers pay on the back end. The Rams offense hasn't won games by out-running opponents like a track meet. Rather it's much like the 49ers have hoped to do. It's entirely possible Sunday's game will come down to which running back can break the will of the opposing defense first. I sense the kind of game Mike Singletary loves, even with the legs of Troy Smith on deck. Look for two of the premier running backs in the NFL, Frank Gore and Steven Jackson, to duke it out for 60 minutes.