The first place St. Louis Rams will travel to San Francisco to take on their rival, the 49er's. The 49er's were the preseason favorite to win the NFC West, but have been a major disappointment so far. They lost the first five games of the season, but they are 2-1 in their last three games.
One of the keys to this game will be the San Francisco's quarterback situation. Their starting quarterback Alex Smith was sidelined last week with a shoulder injury, and it is unclear whether or not he will be ready for Sunday. Their back-up quarterback Troy Smith is probably more dangerous than Alex Smith, so it would probably be in the Ram's best interest for Alex Smith to regain his health.
Alex Smith has a 75.0 QB rating, with 1554 yards, nine touchdown passes, and nine interceptions. Though his stats indicate he has been a solid "game management" type quarterback, the 49er's offense has been rather anemic with him as the starter. Take away his solid outing against Oakland, and Alex Smith has been pretty dull all season.
On the other hand, Troy Smith had his first start last week again Denver in London, England. He had a very solid outing, completing 12 out of 19 passes for 196 yards and a touchdown, and he also boasted a 115.2 rating that game; but even though he is known for his mobility, Denver was able to hold him to only two yards rushing on four attempts, so the Rams shouldn't be too intimidated by his speed. So therefore, when comparing the two quarterbacks, it is clear that the Rams should be hoping for Alex Smith, but they should prepare for Troy Smith.
As long as the Rams can contain running-back Frank Gore, then the 49er's offense should not be too intimidating (especially considering tight-end Vernon Davis is questionable for the game). The 49er's offense is averaging more yards per game than the Rams' offense (315 yards per game versus the Rams' 302), but the Rams have managed to put up more points (19.5 ppg versus 16.9). Also keep in mind that the 49er's were blown out by Kansas City and Seattle, so they probably got a lot of junk yards during those games, which probably inflated their average.
As far as defense goes, the 49er's have a talented defensive unit centered around all-pro middle-linebacker Patrick Willis, but the unit has been under-performing, and is ranked in the middle of the pack. The unit is ranked 16th in overall defense, averaging 331 yards per game (St. Louis is ranked 10th, averaging 313 yards per game). The 49er's pass defense is ranked 20th, giving up 231 passing yards per game, and their run defense is ranked 10th, averaging 100 yards per game (Willis is a big reason why their run defense is ranked that high).
Their defensive stats may suggest that the Rams will need to get it done through the air, but that might not be the case. The best running-back that the 49er's have faced all season is Atlanta's Michael Turner, followed by LeSean McCoy and Darren McFadden, so it might be fair to say that their defense has not yet faced a running-back like Steven Jackson, who will be well rested after the bye-week.
The Rams are in first place, but they have yet to win a game on the road. Tampa Bay was a golden opportunity for them to get that first road win, but they just weren't able to hang on. Hopefully they learned a thing or two from that game, and they know how to finish strong in San Francisco. It would be very beneficial towards the Rams' playoff hopes if they can get that first road win before their dreadful three game road trip, which takes them to New Orleans, Denver, and Arizona.
PREDICTION: RAMS- 24 49ERS- 17
Rams Sam Bradford 171/292 1674yds 11td 8int
49ers Alex Smith 143/242 1554yds 9td 9int
49ers Troy Smith 12/19 196yds 1td 0int
Rams Steven Jackson 172car 676yds 3.9avg 2td
49ers Frank Gore 164car 691yds 4.2avg 2td
Rams Danny Amendola 45rec 379yds 2td
Rams Daniel Fells 20rec 188yds 2td
Rams Brandon Gibson 18rec 228yds 1td
49ers Frank Gore 38rec 348yds 2td
49ers Vernon Davis 33rec 434yds 4td
49ers Michael Crabtree 31rec 385yds 3td