This is my Friday column.
Here are five things you should know about the San Francisco 49ers’ upcoming Sunday loss to the St. Louis Rams.
1. At least it won’t be a blowout
Or it shouldn’t be one. These are the two worst offenses in the NFL. The Niners rank dead last in yards gained — The Rams rank second-to-last.
St. Louis’ quarterback, Nick Foles, is even worse than Colin Kaepernick. Seriously. Foles’ passer rating is 78.8 this season, and Kaepernick’s is 82.8. The Rams will draft a new quarterback next year.
They probably will draft new wide receivers, too. Kenny Britt, the Rams’ leading receiver, has 224 yards on 12 catches this season. He’s averaging two catches per game.
Put your money on San Francisco this Sunday — not to win, but to cover the spread. The Rams are eight-point favorites. They won’t win by more than three.
Final score will be Rams 16, 49ers 13.
2. The difference between these two sorry offenses is their running games
After Week 1, the Niners seemed to have the best running back in the NFC West.
Now, Carlos Hyde seems like no big deal. He has a stress fracture in his left foot, and is averaging only 4.1 yards per carry. He tried to carry the 49ers’ offense and broke down.
Meanwhile, rookie running back Todd Gurley is carrying the Rams’ offense all by himself after missing the first two games of the season. He was recovering from a torn ACL he suffered at the University of Georgia in 2014.
Gurley seems to be gaining confidence in the knee. The past three games, he has rushed 68 times for 433 yards (6.4 yards per carry), and scored four touchdowns.
Part of the reason Gurley has been so effective is little Tavon Austin — the Rams’ fastest receiver. He’s not particularly dangerous downfield, but can run reverses and jet sweeps. Teams must respect his speed, and the Niners’ linebackers aren’t fast enough to catch him.
Sometimes you’ll see Austin run a reverse one direction while Gurley takes the handoff and runs the opposite direction. And sometimes you’ll see opposing defenses chase Austin when Gurley has the ball.
The Niners could do the same thing with Hyde and little Bruce Ellington, but choose not to. Ellington almost never plays, so Hyde gets no help.
3. Another difference between the Niners and Rams is their special teams
Jeff Fisher’s special teams usually play well. Austin, the punt returner, is terrific, and so is the punter, Johnny Hekker.
Let’s focus on Hekker. He’s special. He can punt the heck (or the Hekker) out of the ball (47.3 yards per punt, 10th-best in the NFL this season), and he also can pass.
During his four-season career, he has attempted eight passes and completed six of them for 99 yards and a touchdown. Hekker is a master of the fake punt. He is the Rams’ secret weapon.
The Niners don’t have a secret weapon, but they used to have someone who could punt farther than Hekker. I’m talking about Andy Lee, the guy the Niners traded to the Cleveland Browns this offseason. He’s averaging 48.8 yards per punt — fourth-best in the NFL.
Lee’s replacement — rookie fifth-round pick radley Pinion —– is averaging only 43.5 yards per punt, which ranks 27th in the NFL.
Probably shouldn’t have traded Lee.
4. Colin Kaepernick will get bruised in this game
The Rams have one of the best defensive lines in the NFL, and the Niners’ O-line is terrible. Kaepernick will be running for his life all game.
The Niners right guard, Jordan Devey, is one of the worst starting offensive linemen in the NFL. He has to block Aaron Donald, the league’s premier defensive tackle. Donald is like a young Bryant Young, only better.
Sometimes, you will see Donald blow by Devey and take down Kaepernick before Kaepernick even finishes dropping back.
And when Kaepernick peels himself off the turf, watch to see if any teammates care enough about him to help him up.
5. Kaepernick will NOT get benched in this game
The 49ers’ suits aren’t ready to relegate Kaepernick to the sideline, even though some fans want them to.
If the Niners were to bench Kaepernick at halftime this Sunday, and his backup, Blaine Gabbert, who has a history of failing miserably, were to play even worse, then what?
The Niners couldn’t go back to Kaepernick and expect him to play with confidence, or even to care. He’ll know he’s dead in the water for next season as soon as he gets benched. So, why should he risk injury after that? Better to preserve himself for the next contract, wherever that is. But if the Niners don’t bench him, he’ll keep trying hard, if not well.
The Niners are stuck with Kaepernick at least for a few more weeks.
Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for The Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.