Radar: Week 4 @ Rams

In the latest installment of Radar series, we take a long look at the 49ers as they prepare for their second division game of the season when they go to St. Louis to play the Rams on Thursday night. Inside we break down problems with the passing game, the play calling and defending the run.

Statistics Through Week 3

Offense:

Points per game: 14.7 (#29 in the NFL) previous week: 18.5 (#24)

Yards per game: 318.3 (#27) previous week: 350.5 (#18)

Passing yards (per game): 216.7 (#23) previous week: 255.5 (#18)

Rushing yards (per game): 101.7 (#19) previous week: 95.0 (#17)

3rd-down conversion rate: 35.7 percent (#19) previous week: 40 percent (#13)

Red zone scoring rate (TDs): 50 percent (#17) previous week: 42.86 percent (#24)

Defense:

Points per game: 28 (#25) previous week: 28.5 (#27)

Yards per game: 337.0 (#12) previous week: 337.5 (#13)

Passing yards (per game): 199 (#8) previous week: 220 (#10)

Rushing yards (per game): 138 (#29) previous week: 117.5 (#24)

3rd-down conversion rate: 36.84 percent (#14) previous week: 34.62 (#11)

Red zone scoring rate (TDs): 71.43 percent (#26) previous week: 70 percent (#23)

Misc.:

Turnover margin: -4 (3 takeaways, 7 giveaways) previous week: -2 (3, 5)

Penalties per game: 9.7 (#31) previous week: 11.5 (#31)

Penalty yards per game: 84.7 (#29) previous week: 103 (#31)

NFC West Standings

Seahawks (3-0)

Rams (1-2)

49ers (1-2)

Cardinals (1-2)

What It Means

The San Francisco 49ers have been outscored 56-10 in their last two weeks against the Colts and Seahawks. And after two relatively injury-free seasons to kick off Jim Harbaugh's tenure, key players are going down left and right.

Losing Michael Crabtree in the offseason was a big blow. He was coming off a breakout season and became one of the offenses key players during the run to the Super Bowl. Anquan Boldin has filled in admirably in his stead, but can't last as the primary target in the long run at this point in his career. But he did manage a team-high five catches for 67 yards in Sunday's loss.

Without Vernon Davis, the passing game took a big hit. Vance McDonald and Garrett Celek combined for just two receptions on four targets. Celek's lone catch didn't come until the game was decided late in the fourth quarter. The receivers not named Boldin struggled to get open. On the rare occasion where they did find room down field, Kaepernick struggled to find them. His longest completion of the game was the 30-yard pass to Celek with 1:14 to play.

Defensively, the absence of Chris Culliver's athleticism and aggression has been noticeable through the first three weeks. Nnamdi Asomugha has held up in coverage for the most part, but has really struggled making tackles in the open field in the running game. It forced the 49ers to use the base package more in running situations, even if the offense has three receivers on the field.

It doesn't look like Asomugha will play Thursday, meaning Tramaine Brock will be in on nickel situations.

Patrick Willis has not practiced this week after sustaining a groin injury late in the third quarter. The Colts took advantage of him being on the sidelines and were able to gash the 49ers with the running game in the fourth quarter, scoring two touchdowns putting the game out of reach.

Willis' absence might not be missed against the run as much in St. Louis. The Rams have averaged just 57 yards on the ground. But tight end Jared Cook is off to a great start with his new team and could provide the 49ers some issues in the passing game. Cook, 6-5, is averaging 15 yards per reception and is second on the team with 13 catches.

Strengths

San Francisco's defense has held up relatively well while facing three tough opponents given the circumstances. The offense's seven turnovers has put the team at a big disadvantage in time of possession in the last two games forcing the defense on the field 60.94 percent of the time. The 49ers have been down 73:08 to 46:52 in TOP against Seattle and Indianapolis combined.

After going up against Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson and Andrew Luck, the team is eighth against the pass, allowing just under 200 yards per contest. But that could be because those teams have run the ball nearly 54 percent of the time against San Francisco's defense, which is the highest percentage in the league. It's early, but it looks like opponents' game plans include trying to beat up the front seven that's seen a high volume of snaps during the last two seasons' deep playoff runs.

"That's just been the nature of games that we've been in," defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. "When they get to be low scoring games you're behind in the fourth quarter, you get a lot of runs. Indianapolis last week came out throwing a lot earlier, then as the game developed they ended up throwing some more."

The running game looked like its old self against the Colts, but the 49ers might have abandoned it too early. Frank Gore averaged 7.5 yards per carry but only received three in the second half. He finished with just 11 after hurting Indy for 54 yards on their touchdown drive in the first quarter.

Areas To Improve

With so many injuries to players in the passing game, it becomes on the team's top concern headed into Week 4. San Francisco does not have the weapons on the outside to be productive if it's going to pass 27 times and only give the running backs 16 carries. The 49ers have to curb the game plan toward the talent on the roster, which they should do Thursday night in St. Louis. That means passing less and getting back to utilizing its physical offensive line and putting the team in more favorable third-down situations.

"I think it's more of a function of staying on the field and getting in a rhythm to call those plays," offensive coordinator Greg Roman said when asked about getting away from the running game in the second half.

"The last two games aside from late in the game when you're in two-minute mode, we've had very few base downs to get into rhythm. We need to do a better job of extending drives, making first and creating opportunities for ourselves to get into a flow, get into rhythm. When we do that, we're pretty good. But right now…we have not been."

Defending the run has been a tall task for the 49ers, especially while in the nickel package. Opposing offenses are averaging 5.9 yards per carry against San Francisco when it has three five defensive backs on the field, per the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. The 49ers had the No. 4 defense against the run in the NFL in 2012 when teams rushed an averaged of 25 times per game. That number is up to 35 this season, which is the second-most in the league.

Looking Ahead

So far, the Rams have been a team that's struggled to run the ball without Steven Jackson and have called running play less than 27 percent of the time. Expect them to try and spread the 49ers defense out and get the ground attack going, particularly if Willis is out with his groin injury.

"I think the Rams philosophically are a run-first team," Fangio said.

Teams traveling for Thursday night games typically have not played well. But the road team has won as recently as last week, when Alex Smith and Chiefs went to Philadelphia and handled the Eagles, 26-16.

"It's tough being that you just played a game, especially the game that we played," Carlos Rogers said.

"They played a game that the Cowboys really dominated them. Both of us have got a chip on our shoulder, sitting here with all the cameras in our room wondering what happened with our team, they just got beat down bad so they're going to come in with a chip on their shoulder. The way it played out last year with a tie game and they beat us, I know in their head they feel they can just come in and beat us. We've got to take our game on the road."

Now Playing
Carson Wentz Addresses Media at Senior Bowl
10:24
Ohio State's Braxton Miller Addresses Media
2:02
Senior Bowl: North Team Highlights
1:54
Senior Bowl: South Team Highlights
2:24
49ers hire Chip Kelly as head coach

Niners Digest Top Stories