|Week||Date||Opponent||LY: Record||LY: Points||3Y: Record||3Y: Points|
|4||Oct 4||at San Francisco 49ers||7-9||339/381||19-29||956/1157|
|Rams games vs opponent, last three seasons:|
|Week 2, 2006: Lost 13-20 @ San Francisco Week 12, 2006: Won 20-17 at home Week 2, 2007: Lost 17-16 at home Week 11, 2007: Lost 13-9 @ San Francisco Week 11, 2008: Lost 35-16 @ San Francisco Week 16, 2008: Lost 17-16 at home|
The 49ers come into this game, having already played Arizona and Seattle in weeks 1 and 2, and having traveled to Minnesota in game 3. Especially following that Vikings game, they will be physically beat up, likely sporting a bruised 1-2 record, and looking for a soft, easy opponent to push around the home field. They won't get one. At least he has his own golden dome... On offense, the Niners have been among the worst in the game for the past several years, until Mike Martz came in to town. While writing for TurfShowTimes, I ran a comparison of first-year offensive coordinators in 2008, and the much-maligned Martz actually scored among the highest in the league. He generated the most additional yards of offense (+67.1), and second-most points (+8.1). He used a lot of three- and four-wide receiver sets, leading to a mild bloom from receivers Josh Morgan and Bryant Johnson, and nothing less than a renaissance from Isaac Bruce. Expect the Jimmy Raye "ball control" Niners to be pleasingly predictable by comparison -- hand off to Gore, hand off to Gore, incomplete pass, punt. Laurinaitis and Witherspoon should shine in this game, swarming to the point of attack and manning up on Gore, and forcing QB HillSmith into a series of long third-down opportunities. Thanks to the (well-earned) reputation of Mike Singletary as a physical player, and the emergence of fourth-year middle linebacker Patrick Willis as a tackling beast, the 49ers could almost be seen as an emerging shutdown defense. But this masks over the fact that they've consistently allowed gobs of points per season. Their run defense is about league average, but their pass defense is porous. This is in large part because they have only one player -- Justin Smith -- with the ability to get to the quarterback, and in a constantly-shifting 3-4/4-3 defense, they couldn't figure out where to line him up. In last year's games, the Niners had to get creative with linebacker rushes to get to Bulger -- sacking him seven times in nearly 90 dropbacks. With a much stouter Jason Brown at center, and blocking back Mike Karney in to protect, the Rams should be able to give Bulger a much better chance against this weak pass-rushing unit. And that's where this game may turn: in the mental battle between Bulger, his receivers, Pat Shurmur's schemes, and perhaps the smartest corner in the division: Nate Clements. With Walt Harris gone for the season, Clements becomes the primary enforcer in the defensive backfield. Avery's young legs and speed versus Clements' technique and experience should make for a truly entertaining series of aerial jousts ... with lots of openings underneath. I'm not saying it will be a cakewalk, and it will depend on Steven Jackson breaking off a significant run or two -- and prevention of turnovers by Bulger -- but I see the Rams winning this game and making a statement in the NFC West. Final: 20-13, Rams.