We're back for another week of "Why each team will win this game." Yesterday, Douglas put together our co-look at the under-the-radar players on each team. Today, I'm putting together our look at why the 49ers and Rams will win Thursday's game. I imagine a fairly low scoring game given the short week and struggles for both teams, so make sure and bet the under!
Why the 49ers will win:
The 49ers offense has been scuffling the last two weeks. They went into Sunday's game against the Colts facing a run defense they should have been able to dominate. And for one half of football they did. The 49ers trailed 10-7 at the half, but they were having great success agains the run. And then they stopped running. Nobody can figure out why, which leaves us guessing at reasons.
The 49ers offense can win this game for the 49ers if they stay committed to the run. After seeing DeMarco Murray dominate the Rams, the 49ers have to go to their tried and true running game. It would be great to see Colin Kaepernick go out there and throw for 300 yards and three touchdowns, but the 49ers need to just go back to basics. In a short week, while dealing with injuries, the 49ers need to just grind this one out and get out of St. Louis with a W.
A significant reason for the 49ers troubles has been spending too much time on the field. The 49ers offense has struggled to gain any sort of consistency, and the 49ers defense finds itself spending 60 percent or more of the time on the field. Bad penalties (bad in terms of both stupidity and bad calls) have contributed to this problem, but getting better execution from the offense will help improve this.
That being said, the 49ers defense faces a stiff test this week because they will be without Patrick Willis and Aldon Smith. The 49ers defense will contribute to victory if their backups provide solid production. Michael Wilhoite will start in place of Willis. He is not as athletic as Willis, but in the preseason he looked solid in his place (Willis was out all preseason with a broken hand). He struggled against the Colts, but he has the talent to handle the ILB role.
The loss of Aldon is a bigger concern for now. Dan Skuta has been moved into the starting lineup in place of Smith, but expect to see some Corey Lemonier mixed in as well. The 49ers drafted Lemonier in the third round of this year's draft. He looked strong as a pass rusher this past preseason, but has been limited to special teams work the first three weeks of the regular season.
The 49ers need Skuta and Lemonier to show they can at least attempt to fill the void left by Aldon Smith. You don't replace his historic level of production, but against a Rams team with a sack-able QB like Sam Bradford, the 49ers need to be knocking him down frequently. Personally, I prefer it be Lemonier, simply so I can continue using my new favorite GIF (Lemonier's name is pronounced lemon-yay):
Why the Rams will win:
The Rams will be facing a Patrick Willis-Aldon Smith-less defense. While I still believe the 49ers depth at virtually every position bodes well for them, the loss of these two key components can't be understated. If St. Louis is going to win, they need to be able to run the ball. Their offense has been devoid of anything close to a balanced attack this season. Daryl Richardson may not be playing, so it will be up to a group of running backs who have NEVER scored an NFL touchdown. Come to think of it, even with Richardson they haven't scored a TD. But there's always hope, right?
If by chance the run game is a "no go", then it will be up to the Rams offensive line to keep pressure off of Sam Bradford. He may be a tad gun-shy after being sacked 6 TIMES by Dallas on Sunday. The key for Bradford will be veering away from his tendency to "read down" his progressions list too fast out of sheer terror. Chris Givens is going to need to play lights out, and he's without a doubt the most talent wide receiver the Rams have on their roster. The secret's out about Jared Cook, so I don't see a defense like the 49ers have not being able to shut him down. Tavon Austin may very well be a hyper-speed version of Danny Amendola, and if so, the 49ers could be in trouble. Stop groaning! You know 'ol Danny Boy gave your secondary problems, so look for Jeff Fisher to flash Austin out short to try and break free longer passing routes for the receiver to his outside.
The Rams once vaunted defense is "vaunt-less" at the moment. While I still believe their front four is among the best in the NFL, Dallas showed everyone dings in their armor. It will be up to Tim Walton and Jeff Fisher to skew things back their way, and create stunts to free up Robert Quinn and Chris Long. Alec Ogletree will more than likely be shadowing Colin Kaepernick to a certain extent, and this rookie can hit.
Where the Rams have had a surprising issue is with a "kinder, gentler" Cortland Finnegan. He's been off his game since the season began, and no one knows why. According to Dez Bryant - the talented Dallas receiver - Finnegan isn't trash talking or playing in his usual aggressive style. Against a big receiver like Anquan Boldin - especially in the red zone - this could be troubling at best. He needs to step up against the 49ers Thursday night.
The win comes the St. Louis Rams' way if James Laurinaitis is able to keep Frank Gore from reaching the second level of the defense. JL55 needs to contain Gore at, or near, the line of scrimmage. If the Rams can make the 49ers' offense one dimensional - pass oriented - this young team has a chance for what would have to be considered a huge upset Thursday night.