by Kent Sterling
Tonight’s game at the Edward Jones Dome between the San Francisco 49ers and St. Louis Rams will be an early and final referendum on the 2013 season for one of those two teams who to this point have underachieved.
The winner will get back to an even money 2-2, and the loser will be looking at the business end of a 1-3 record without a lot of hope for redemption.
Both teams gave miserable efforts last week. It’s rare that NFL teams simply don’t compete on a Sunday, but last week the 49ers lost 27-7 in Candlestick Park against a determined Indianapolis Colts rushing attack. The Rams traveled to Dallas and were humiliated against the Cowboys 31-7.
For the Rams, that game was the first time that the team failed to fight during the 19 games played under Jeff Fisher. The Rams have enjoyed some successful drafts, and were able to sign several big free agents. The feeling inside the halls of the Rams Complex in Earth City, Missouri, was that coming off a 7-8-1 2012 season, they were ready to take another leap forward. Someone should have told James Laurinaitis, Chris Long, and Cortland Finnegan, who have all underperformed through three games.
The 49ers are led by a quarterback who was anointed the next big thing after starting only 10 starts. Colin Kaepernick was said to have all of the tools to be among the best the NFL has ever seen, but over the last two weeks looked less than ordinary against the Seattle Seahawks and the Colts.
Kaepernick’s numbers over those two games are eerily similar. Against the Seahawks, Kaepernick went 13-28 for 127 yards and three picks. Four days ago against the Colts, he completed 13 passes again in 28 attempts with only one pick. His quarterback ratings were 20.1 and 49.9. Yikes! The game in Seattle was thought to be an outlier because of the miserable conditions in Seattle for opposing offenses until the Colts game in SF. Now, Kaepernick needs to rebound, or people will speculate that defenses have caught up with him. The truth is more likely that his receivers are now minus playmakers, and the result a gunslinger without bullets.
The 49ers have 28 players listed on their injury list, and if tight end Vernon Davis can’t go tonight, they will be in the same weaponless boat against the Rams that they found themselves in against the Colts. Aldon Smith is in rehab battling his addiction, Nnamdi Asomugha is out with a knee, Patrick Willis is questionable with a groin, and the 49ers will have to scrap for a win
The Rams health is much better than the 49ers. No one is listed as out or doubtful. WR Chris Givens, OG Chris Williams, DL William Hayes, RB Daryl Richardson, back-up TE Mike McNeil, and RT Rodger Saffold are all questionable. If Saffold can’t suit up, Joe Barksdale has been effective in his stead, and is the likely future right tackle next year.
One thing that even during lackluster losses that couldn’t be said about the Rams last season is that they didn’t compete, but last week, they just did not show up. Prior to last week, running back DeMarco Murray had gone more than a year since running for more than 93 yards in a game. He gashed the Rams for 175 yards – the second highest total of his career. The best day – the best in Cowboys history – came on October 23, 2011 when he ran through holes that were more like rivers of green for 253 yards against the Rams.
Murray has played 26 games, and has run for 1,846 yards. Two of those games have been against the Rams, but have accounted for 428 yards – or 23.2% of his total.
Enough about the unfortunate performances in Dallas. The Rams badly need this game to stay in the hunt for their first winning record since 2003. For that to happen, the running game need to generate what people in football like to call yards. Other than quarterback Sam Bradford, no Rams running averages more than 3.3 yards per carry, and their team average of 3.2 yards per carry ranks 29th of 32.
To this point in his career, Bradford has not been dynamic enough to be carry the offense without a little help from the running game.
Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer has come under fire for not putting the offense in a position to succeed. Rams fans are quickly tiring of watching running backs get destroyed in the flat after easily sniffed out swing passes.
While neither Rams coordinator has distinguished himself thus far in 2013, the problem in Dallas was that they were physically beaten by the Cowboys. If Fisher was successful in getting their attention during a short week, the Rams have a chance against a decimated roster to send the 49ers home 1-3. Otherwise, the Jones Dome will empty early and rightly so.
It’s time for all these high draft picks to play like it. The only plus side for the Rams with a loss is gaining another couple of draft positions. With the Redskins first round pick – they are without a win – and their own, the Rams can grab another two pieces to the puzzle, but fans have seen what that puzzle has looked like before.
The game will depend upon the Rams ability to stop Frank Gore. Without Gore being effective, the 49ers couldn’t score against an ordinary Colts defense at home. If Gore runs as well as the marginally talented Murray did for the Cowboys, fans will head across the street to the casino with plenty of time left on the clock.
Pick: Rams beat the 49ers 23-7. Sounds nutty, but given the injuries, the Rams are a much better team today than the 49ers. There is no way that Fishers hasn’t realigned the mentality of his team, and given what the Rams have learned from the schemes of the Seahawks and Colts, they should be able to keep Kaepernick in the pocket long enough to create problems.