SANTA CLARA, Calif. - One of the criticisms of the Rams in recent seasons has been their inability to draft and develop receivers.
Much of that criticism was pointed at wideout Brian Quick, who was taken with the first pick in the second round in 2012 and had just 29 receptions in his first two seasons. But that criticism might be taking a sharp turn given Quick's play over his last two games.
Quick combined for three touchdown catches in losses to the Eagles and Cowboys, setting a new career high after having two in each of his first two seasons. His yardage is also up significantly, averaging 80.5 per game after posting 18.9 in 2013.
"To me, he’s just playing with a lot more confidence and knowledge of the game," 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. "More aggressiveness, going to get the ball, feeling comfortable knowing the routes he’s running. Being in the same system now since he’s been there. I see a damn good receiver."
The Rams invested seven draft picks in receivers since 2010 and await their first 700-yard season since Torry Holt in 2008. Last year, tight end Jared Cook led the team with 671 yards and five touchdowns.
Of course, the main problem in St. Louis has been the Rams' quarterback situation. For the second straight season former No.1-overall pick Sam Bradford suffered a torn ACL ending his year prematurely. Last year it happened in Week 7, this year in the preseason.
But being forced to play with reserve QB Austin Davis hasn't prevented Quick taking steps toward realizing his potential St. Louis saw when drafting him. Davis has excelled at throwing the ball down field, compiling a 122 passer rating on passes longer than 10 yards. Quick has been a recipient of 12 of those 26 completions.
But it isn't just Quick who stands out to Fangio in St. Louis passing game.
"The whole receiving corps is very impressive and a versatile group," he said. "They’ve got two really fast guys in (Chris) Givens and (Tavon) Austin. And then you’ve got Quick and (Kenny) Britt, who are size guys. They’ve got good receiving tight ends. It’s a good receiving group.”
Even with Davis, who came into the season as third on the QB depth chart, the Rams have the league's sixth-ranked passing attack, averaging 284 yards per game.
"He understands the offense, this is his third year in the system now," Rams coach Jeff Fisher said on a conference call this week. "This is his first opportunity this year to play with the supporting cast. He's trusting them, they're making plays for him, and he's got a good feel for what he's doing. He's got some mobility, he can extend plays, move around the pocket, you need to be able to do that these days."
The last time the 49ers faced a backup quarterback, the Cardinals Drew Stanton burned them in a loss Week 3 with a pair of third-quarter touchdown passes.
Facing a backup quarterback can be a disadvantage for a defense without a strong sample of game tape to pull information from.
"Fortunately, he’s played the last three games for them. And he came in the first game, too, at some point," Fangio said. "So, really we’ve got as much tape on him as we would have if the other guy had still been the quarterback."
San Francisco has strung together a pair of strong defensive efforts since that game against the Eagles and Chiefs, allowing just one touchdown pass - a bubble screen to Kansas City tight end Travis Kelce (De'Anthony Thomas' touchdown in the third quarter last week has since been ruled a rushing touchdown).
Quick has done the majority of his damage in the middle of the field, where he could line up against rookie nickel corner Jimmie Ward. At 6'4", quick shares a similar stature to Brandon Marshall, who beat Ward for three touchdown's in Week 2's loss to the Bears.
But Ward has shown incremental improvement since that game, his second in the NFL.
"(Ward) took ownership of those plays. They were tough plays," Fangio said. "He’s not the first guy that’s given up a play to that guy in particular, especially in that part of the field. And he learned from it and moved on."
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