I usually try to look for something unique to discuss in the preview. However, the game plan this week is so obvious; I am just going to go with it. In fact, if you look back a few weeks, you might see a very similar preview. Nothing set forth below will guarantee a Rams win, but I believe the numbers support the argument that you have to do this to have a chance to win.
1. 35+ RUNS
San Francisco has the second best defense in the NFL. They are 4th against the run allowing a measly 91.1 yards a game. They are 2nd against the pass allowing a paltry 187 yards a game. Looking at those stats might cause you to conclude that you can’t have success against the 49ers by focusing on the pass or the run. However, those stats do not tell the full story.
The 49ers have lost two games this year. In the first loss, the Vikings ran the ball 41 times for 137 yards. Adrian Peterson had 25 rushes for 86 yards with a long of 20. If you take away the 20 yard run, AP averaged 2.75 yards a carry. Typically, if you are averaging less than 3 yards a carry, you stop running. The Vikings went with their strength and kept running.
In the 49ers second loss, the Giants ran the ball 37 times for 149 yards. Ahmad Bradshaw, in particular, had 27 rushes for 116 yards with a long of 23. David Wilson ran seven times for 35 yards.
The Rams tied the 49ers in the prior game rushing 36 times. Not surprisingly, Bradford also had one of his best yardage games completing 26 of 39 for 275 yards. The play action was deadly because the run had to be respected.
As noted in the earlier article, the 49ers have won 3 games by 20 or more points. In those 3 games, the teams ran the ball 9 times (Cardinals), 17 times (Jets) and 19 times (Bills).
There is a chicken and egg story here. Did the teams that beat the 49ers have success in the run because they were winning or did those teams win because they focused on the run? I believe it is the latter. San Francisco is a strong physical defense. You have two choices against them. You either take a beating or try to take the battle to them. Literally this means you attack their strength by encouraging violent collisions. In fact, you initiate violent collisions.
I want the Rams to use Steven Jackson as a battering Ram. Send him up the middle, send him left and send him right. If he can gain positive yards on most of those carries, he will inflict punishment on the D-lineman and linebackers. More importantly, Patrick Willis will be occupied. We can bring in Richardson and Pead from time to time to continue the attack and occasionally try to gain the edge and break one. In the past, this battering Ram strategy has allowed Jackson to have success in the 2nd half. Patience is the key.
This does not mean that Sam Bradford is minimized in the game. In fact, he becomes even more important because sustained drives will only occur if Bradford can complete 3rd down passes for 1st downs.
2. SPECIAL TEAMS AND TURNOVERS
Given the rather boring game offensive game plan above, (which is focused more on inflicting punishment than gaining yards), I think the Rams need something special from their special teams to win this game. I also think we need a 2 to 1 advantage in turnovers. Addendum, I would also advise the Rams to not fumble a kickoff return.
3. CONTAINMENT OVER PRESSURE
I would love 5 sacks in this game, but honestly containment is far more important. If the Rams keep Kaepernick in the pocket, they will force him to throw. If they force him to throw, they will force him to read. Reads could lead to turnovers. The problem with the Rams pass rush this year is that it has been dependent on the ends or the blitz. Pressure from the ends tends to leave lanes for running quarterbacks to escape. Pressure from blitzes generally rules out having a spy for a running quarterback. In this game, I would far prefer to have a spy than a blitz.
To be clear, I am not suggesting that Kaepernick is only a running quarterback. He has shown an ability to use his arm also. I am simply trying to limit his tools. I am also gravely concerned with the Rams general philosophy on defense against a QB that can run. The linebacker retreat, which we do on almost every long down, leaves a tremendous amount of room for a running quarterback. Take a look at the last drive in the prior 49er game to see what I am talking about.
4. Deep Threats
Sam Bradford’s job in this game is going to be take advantage of his few opportunities. When the run fails, he is going to need to complete passes to move the chains, so we can try to run some more. More importantly, once the 49ers are all about stopping the run, Sam has to take some shots deep on play action. Assuming Givens can avoid a suspension, I would suspect we will see multiple deep throws to him.