Here is my Tuesday column on the upcoming 49ers-Rams game.
You don’t have to look hard to find reasons to pick the 49ers to beat the Rams Thursday night in St. Louis.
Here’s one: The Rams stink.
Last Sunday they got destroyed by the Cowboys, a .500 team the past two seasons. And the Rams showed no emotion while they got stomped. It was like they expected it and didn’t object to it.
The Rams’ head coach, Jeff Fisher, is overrated. This is his 18th season as an NFL head coach and he’s reached the playoffs just six times.
Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer is no good. His offense is disjointed and his running game is a mixed mess.
And the quarterback, Sam Bradford, still has too many holes in his game and tends to throw the pick that kills his team.
Given all of that, I still can’t pick the 49ers to win.
The 49ers stink, too. They may not stink all season but they stink right now. They’ve been outscored 56-10 the past two games.
And they have to play this Thursday night game on the road, and road teams lose Thursday night games roughly 65 percent of the time in the NFL.
And key 49ers have gone down. Aldon Smith won’t play against the Rams. Patrick Willis and Vernon Davis and Nnamdi Asomugha probably will not play, either. Last season, the 49ers scored 13 points in St. Louis and they had receivers Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker and Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham. Now, the 49ers have Anquan Boldin and that’s about it.
Oh, the 49ers have running back Frank Gore, too. He did run well against the Colts last Sunday, not out of the Pistol formations but out of the traditional I-formations the 49ers ran when Alex Smith was their quarterback and Colin Kaepernick first took over.
Is it reasonable to assume Gore will have a big game against the Rams?
Because when Gore played in St. Louis last season he got shut down.
He started off well, three carries for 34 yards. And then the Rams made an adjustment and then Gore rushed 20 more times for 24 yards. All but one of those carries came from traditional I-formation with Kaepernick under center.
Fisher, overrated as he may be, seems to know just how to stop Greg Roman’s running game.
But can the Rams’ stop the 49ers’ passing game?
The 49ers’ passing game has flamed out. It is completely inept. Kaepernick has played terribly and his only receiving weapon is Boldin. Kaepernick has a 108.7 passer rating throwing to Boldin and a 19.5 passer rating throwing to anyone else.
So the question is can the Rams stop Boldin?
And the answer is yes. Boldin mostly will face Rams’ cornerback Cortland Finnegan and the last time those two faced each other, Week 2 of the 2011 season, Boldin caught just three passes for 46 yards and Finnegan broke up a career-high four passes.
The Niners’ offense is in trouble.
What about the defense?
It’s in trouble, too.
No Aldon Smith could mean no pass rush. Since the start of the 2012 season, Aldon Smith has accounted for more than half of the 49ers’ sacks – 51 percent to be exact.
Pass rush is key to stopping Sam Bradford. He’s horrible when facing pressure but he’s good when he has time to throw.
He should have time to throw on Thursday night and he should have open receivers, too. His rookie slot receiver, Tavon Austin, is one of the quickest players in the NFL. Carlos Rogers consistently has struggled against quick receivers like Austin and Danny Amendola and Victor Cruz and Randall Cobb and Percy Harvin. The 49ers gave up 21 catches in two games last season to the Rams’ slot receivers, Amendola and Chris Givens. You can be sure the Rams will test Rogers on Thursday.
Also, Tramaine Brock probably will play left cornerback in the 49ers’ Nickel defense in place of Nnamdi Asomugha who injured his knee against the Colts. Brock is not so good, so the Rams will exploit him until he shows he’s decent.
So, the 49ers’ pass rush and coverage are compromised, but the defense still can stop the run, right?
Yes and no.
The 49ers’ base defense can stop the run. It’s giving up just 2.5 yards per carry.
But the 49ers’ base defense won’t play much on Thursday night. The Rams mostly use three-wide-receiver formations, meaning the 49ers will have to use their Nickel defense most of the time. And their Nickel defense has given up 5.6 yards per carry this season, and that was with Patrick Willis and Aldon Smith, two of the team’s best run defenders. Willis suffered a groin pull and is unlikely to play.
As bad as the Rams’ running game as been this season, the Rams should have more than enough room to get it going against the 49ers’ porous and banged up Nickel defense.
Final score: Rams 20, 49ers 13.
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.