Saturday, December 25, 2010

Rams vs. 49er's: Pre-Game Package

The Rams are coming off back-to-back losses against the New Orleans Saints and the Kansas City Chiefs, and it is very possible that they will be stuck in a "must win" situation for the remainder of the season. Though they are not mathematically eliminated if they lose one of their two remaining games, they need to finish out with wins in order to guarantee a playoff spot.

Anytime a team is in "sudden-death" mode it's not a very ideal situation. Luckily for the Rams, their two remaining games are very winnable. They will play the San Francisco 49er's tomorrow for their 2010 home finale, and they will end the season in Seattle against the Seahawks. Both of those teams have had their struggles, and they are both division rivals of the Rams. Simply put- if they beat their division rivals for these last two games then they'll go to the playoffs; if not, then they won't (and they probably don't deserve to if that is the case).

The Rams lost to the 49er's earlier in the season in San Francisco; it was a 23-20 overtime loss, at a time when the Rams were still struggling to find their first road victory. Since the Rams did lose that game, it is clear  that this game won't be easy, but many things have changed since then.

The biggest difference between week 10 and now is the injuries that the 49er's have accumulated. Star running-back Frank Gore has once again found himself on the injury-reserve list, and all-pro linebacker Patrick Willis will be limited with a hand injury. Their starting offensive-tackle Joe Staley will miss the game with a broken fibula. Back-up running-back Anthony Dixon will either miss the game, or be very limited with an ankle injury. And to top it off, linebacker Takeo Spikes will be limited with a hand injury, and their number two receiver Josh Morgan will also be limited with a shoulder injury.

One advantage that the 49er's still have is their big play receivers- wide-receiver Michael Crabtree and tight-end Vernon Davis. Back in week 10, those two scorched the Rams' secondary for a combined 8 receptions for 140 yards, including one touchdown. Given the sad state of the St. Louis secondary, it is obvious that those two receivers should be the Rams' primary focus on defense.

Another advantage that the 49er's had in week 10, that they will still have this week, is quarterback Troy Smith. It is probably safe to assume that most Rams fans would rather watch the defense face the career bust Alex Smith, rather than the mobile Troy Smith who terrorized the Rams defense in their last match-up with 356 passing yards, including one touchdown pass.

Troy Smith stands at only six feet tall, and his vision is extremely limited inside the pocket (probably the reason why he has never been a consistent starter). His vision greatly improves when he is able to roll outside of the pocket, which is precisely what the Rams allowed him to do in their last match-up. The goal of defensive-ends Chris Long and James Hall should be to contain T.Smith inside the pocket, as well as apply consistent pressure, as he is prone to mistakes.

On offense... you can call it a "rookie wall", you can call it a "slump", but whatever you call it, quarterback Sam Bradford has to snap out of it and make some plays through the air. The Rams have struggled to establish a run all season long (especially during goal-line situations), so their best bet is to get touchdowns through the air. Get Steven Jackson involved as a receiver. Coordinator Pat Shurmur needs to figure out a way. Because after all, the 49er's have the 25th ranked pass defense in the NFL (Rams rank 19th just to give you an idea), so they must take advantage.

The Rams offense has been completely out of sync the past two weeks, and they've had absolutely no rhythm. If they can find that rhythm, contain T.Smith and his top receivers, then the Rams should pull this one off. It shouldn't be too difficult of a task considering that they have home-field advantage, and it took two pretty solid teams to initially disrupt that rhythm.


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