Wednesday morning, the folks at Turf Show Times put together a look at under-the-radar-players to watch for this Sunday. As we've done through the first half of the season, I contributed my thoughts on 49ers players to watch.
Today, we're back to take a look at why each team will win. This is a bit of a bigger deal than normal because eternal Candlestick Park bragging rights are on the line. Barring something wildly unexpected in the playoffs, this is the last time the 49ers and Rams will square off at Candlestick Park. The winner gets bragging rights for getting the last win between the two at the Stick.
I spoke with Douglas from Turf Show Times, and he provided a look at why the Rams would win. However, he also provided a great introduction I wanted to separate out:
The Rams are playing their final game in Candlestick Park this Sunday. The lore surrounding the Rams - 49ers rivalry is rich and long, starting in 1950. In 1971, the 49ers moved from Kezar Stadium to Candlestick Park. Season after season, the two teams have faced off twice each year. In fact, the only NFL team to play more games in "The Stick" than the Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams is the San Francisco 49ers.
For longtime fans of each team, this Sunday's game holds a private distinction. The winner will be able to say they won the last battle at Candlestick Park. I have no idea how nice their new stadium in Santa Clara will be. It will no doubt be festooned with electronic marvels, and hopefully lack Mark Twain's biting San Francisco cold in summers. The ghosts and karma of players past - that are a part of every famous NFL stadium - may move down the road to the 49ers new home. But moving day will be hard. Tearing the spirit of home away, from one place to the next, leaves scars of a kind. For 49ers fans, it will be memories born on fall Sundays that will never disappear, never fade.
In the game this week, the Rams will be fighting more than the players on the field. But they'll have some help too. When Hugh McElhenny and Y.A. Tittle begin to cheer the 49ers on, Deacon Jones and Tom Fears will take up the call for the Rams. Tom Mack will dig in across from Leo Nomellini, as Bill Walsh and George Allen meet at mid-field to shake hands. No, not all of the names mentioned ever played at Candlestick Park. It was before their time, in an age called Kezar. But what makes the Rams and 49ers games special, is the ghosts...
Why the Rams will win
Th St. Louis Rams have a chore ahead. After last season's tie at Candlestick, both teams have something to prove. The 49ers actually sank into third place in the NFC West for a couple hours this past week before they demolished the Washington Redskins. I can't help but think that inspired a 49ers team that had stumbled a few times in the last couple weeks? The same will hold true on Sunday, so the key for a Rams win will be breaking out on top early. The 49ers are a team in search of stretch drive momentum. Scoring in the first quarter, and holding the 49ers off the scoreboard is the key. But how to do it? Well... I got nothin'...
These two teams match up well in some aspects, especially in the physical, hard hitting category. Both offenses have suspect tools, and a few injuries too. The Rams couldn't run the ball a few weeks ago, but now that they can, they're playing one of the best rushing defenses in the NFL. The 49ers couldn't pass the ball to save their life two weeks ago, yet they've suddenly found such through the air. Good secondaries both, the edge in pass coverage has to go to the 49ers. But the intangible turnover quotient has to go to the Rams. Offensive lines are about equal - sort of, kind of... The Rams' offensive line prefers to run block, while an ailing 49ers line is suffering a bit.
If I were to pick a key to victory for the Rams, it would be how well Robert Quinn and Chris Long get after Colin Kaepernick. If they contain his running abilities - and collapse the pocket - the 49ers lose this game. Whatever happens, enjoy this game. It's the one-time Candlestick Bowl, and the trophy the winner gets to hold, will be held forever...
Why the 49ers will win
I would have to agree that a key in this game will be how the 49ers offense protects Colin Kaepernick from Robert Quinn and Chris Long. The 49ers passing game has struggled for a variety of reasons that seem to differ from game-to-game. Sometimes Kap does not get enough time, sometimes Kap is indecisive, and sometimes the wide receivers have not been able to get open. Of course, sometimes it is a combination of these reasons, but you get the idea.
The 49ers need to make sure they keep Quinn and Long somewhat contained. Joe Staley has done some good work in the past, but it will take a big performance from the entire offensive line. The 49ers will also need to game-plan their way around it. The return of Michael Crabtree, joining Mario Manningham and Anquan Boldin can potentially open up the shorter passing attack, but it's difficult to project what we'll see this week with the reconstituted receiver corps.
On the defensive side of the ball, it comes down to getting pressure on Kellen Clemens and forcing him to make mistakes. The 49ers need to contain the run game, but to take care of business on Sunday, it will be nice to force some turnovers. Clemens has avoided that thus far, but additional pressure should help change that.