Beating the Rams: Five Keys

The 49ers have a critical division showdown against the surging St. Louis Rams Sunday. Having outscored their opponents 80-29 over the last two games, the 5-6 Rams come to San Francisco hoping to steal a game and climb back into the playoff race. Inside we offer five keys to the 49ers getting a second-straight victory.

Containing Quinn

Defensive end Robert Quinn is having an outstanding season leading the NFC with 13 sacks. The 23-year-old has three in his last two games and 2.5 in his career against San Francisco in five games.

"He's a good player and he's having a really good season," 49ers left tackle Joe Staley said this week. "I've gone against him a bunch of times. I'm familiar with him and the athleticism that he has and the way he plays the game. Particularly this year, he's having a really good year."

Colin Kaepernick is the least precise passer in the NFL under pressure, throwing accurate passes just 50 percent of his attempts according to Pro Football Focus. That means San Francisco must prevent Quinn from getting to his blind side and disrupting the passing game. Fortunately for them, Staley continues to play at an All-Pro level in his seventh season.

Quinn is one of the league's rare pass rushers that can break a game for his team. The Rams figure to stack the box to account for the run, meaning the passing game will be vital toward getting a much-needed win for the 7-4 49ers. In order to make big plays down the field, they must stop Quinn from getting to the quarterback.

Get the Running Game Going

The 49ers have been a top-five running team for almost the entire season, but that hasn't been the case since Week 9's bye week. In their three games since, San Francisco is averaging just 87 yards on the ground. In the eight games prior that number was up to 153.

Frank Gore's touches have dropped from 23 carries per game over the season's first half to 14 since.

Gore had at least 19 carries in four of five wins during the team's five-game winning streak earlier in the season. His best game was against these Rams in Week 4, when he managed 153 of the team's 219 rushing yards.

For the 49ers to combat St. Louis' tough front seven, they must be able to run the ball to aid the struggling passing game.

Stop that Stacy

Running back Zac Stacy has been cleared to play after suffering a concussion last week, which is big news for the Rams. Stacy averaged 7.25 yards per carry against the Bears before leaving the game Sunday and has averaged well over 4.0 yards per attempt for his rookie season.

With starting quarterback Sam Bradford on the shelf for the season with a torn ACL, the Rams have averaged 189.5 rushing yards in Kellen Clemens' four starts since Bradford went down.

By his standards, Clemens is having the best season of his eight-year career. But the if the 49ers had their choice, they would prefer to put the game in his hands by taking away the run. Clemens completed just 10 of 22 passes last week and has completed more than 50 percent of his passes in just two of his five games this year.

Get Crabtree Comfortable

In all likelihood, San Francisco will not need Michael Crabtree to make big plays to come away with a win. Instead, the important thing is to get Crabtree comfortable and in rhythm back on the field.

The 49ers will need Crabtree going forward, particularly next week against Seattle's vaunted defense. Expect his playing to be similar to Aldon Smith's in Week 10 when he returned from his leave of absence when he played just 12 snaps. San Francisco rotates their receivers frequently, making it likely Crabtree gets 15-25 snaps for the day.

After all, there is little precedent for receivers coming back this early after a complete rupture of the Achilles. Crabtree wasn't the fastest receiver prior to the injury anyway, and it will be important for him to get his confidence back while running his precise routes where he excels.

Expect Kaepernick to continue to lean on Anquan Boldin, Mario Manningham (who wasn't available in their previous match up) and Vernon Davis through the air. Boldin had one of his best games of the season in Week 4's 35-11 drubbing when he caught 5 balls for 90 yards and a score while gashing St. Louis' secondary.

Let the OLBs Cook

While Aldon Smith has been an electric pass rusher since coming into the league in 2011, Ahmad Brooks hasn't gotten much attention for his play until this season - especially after his controversial hit on Drew Brees. Brooks tied J.J. Watt for the league lead in sacks in November with five. He did it playing in just three games.

But the two talented outside pass rushers combined for four sacks last week in Washington. Smith appears to be back to his usual self after taking a couple games to get into playing shape. He was explosive with both bull rushes and speed techniques against Washington for the first time since Week 2.

The Rams boast two talented tackles in Jake Long and Rodger Saffold who provide tough match ups for Smith and Brooks. When San Francisco's defense is playing its best, they are putting heat on the passer and force offenses into long downs. If they can combine for at couple sacks and QB hits on Clemens Sunday, it could be a long day for St. Louis' passing game.

*Statistics from Pro Football Focus were used in this report*


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