The St. Louis Rams (3-3) will be wearing their familiar blue and yellow “Greatest Show on Turf” throwback jerseys at noon Sunday when they take on traditional NFC West rival San Francisco (2-5) (TV: Fox Channel 2; Radio: WXOS-FM 101.1)
Here are five things to watch:
1. Will Rams rookie running back Todd Gurley continue his instant dominance against NFL defenses?
The 49ers rank 20th in the NFL against the run and Gurley seems to be getting a little better each game. Despite making only three starts and one other game with limited carries Gurley ranks 12th in the NFL with 442 yards on 74 carries, an average of six yards per carry. He has a 45-yard run in each of his last three games and six carries of 20 yards or more. Gurley has 433 yards in his last three starts, but will see considerable attention from the 49ers defense. Expect another 100-yard day from Gurley, who is creating more excitement each week.
2. Which team’s struggling passing attack will perform better on Sunday?
Good question since this game showcases the NFL’s two worst passing offenses. The 49ers are 31st at 185.4 yards per game, while the Rams are last at 177.7 yards per game. Rams quarterback Nick Foles has only one 200-yard passing game all season and that came in the season-opening overtime win against Seattle. He’s been sacked 11 times and also has been the victim of dropped passes by receivers, but Foles needs to be better against a 49ers defense without injured safety Antoine Bethea.
3. Is 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick falling out of favor in only his third year as a starter?
Sure, he got the 49ers to an NFC title and Super Bowl appearance only two years ago, making only his 10th career start in the Super Bowl. Kaepernick’s combination of size, speed and ability to strike fear into defenses with his mobility seemed to have him on the path to stardom. That hasn’t materialized despite moments of brilliance and an 18-7 record in his first 25 starts. He’s completed 124-of-202 passes for 1,453 yards and six TDs this season with five interceptions. Kaepernick is also the team’s second-leading rusher with 228 yards. This week several stories from San Francisco and other media reports detailed a possible rift between Kaepernick and his teammates. Stay tuned, especially since the 49ers backup quarterback is former Mizzou star and Jacksonville first-round pick Blaine Gabbert, a Parkway West High graduate from St. Louis.
4. Will the Rams’ defense feast on another offense Sunday at the Edward Jones Dome?
That could be the case since a Rams’ pass rush led by Robert Quinn and Aaron Donald (a combined 8.5 of the team’s 23 sacks) will be facing a struggling San Francisco offensive line that has allowed 25 sacks. Kaepernick was sacked six times in a loss to the Seahawks last week that saw him throw for only 81 yards. The Rams’ defensive balance starts with a fierce pass rush up front and aggressive defensive scheme that includes exotic blitzes from linebackers and defensive backs. Linebacker Mark Barron cranked out a career-high 19 tackles against the Browns last week and has been more than a capable fill-in for injured Alec Ogletree. Not to be overlooked is the performance of stingy cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins, Trumaine Johnsona and Lamarcus Joyner, who have taken their games to a more aggressive level in recent weeks. Safeties T.J. McDonald and Rodney McLeod have been heat-seeking, turnover-causing machines.
5. Is this the week the Rams finally put together a more complete offensive effort?
Leaning heavily on the running of Gurley and the all-out aggression on defense has been a successful formula during a 2-1 stretch against Arizona, Green Bay and Cleveland. This should be another winnable game, but the Rams need to find a way to get more production from Foles and a passing game that still has legitimate weapons in Tavon Austin, Kenny Britt and embattled tight end Jared Cook. A no-huddle offense in the third quarter last week produced a spark against the Browns that carried through the end of the game. Maybe the Rams will go to that more, but getting Foles more comfortable in the pocket and more in sync with his receivers would go a long way toward providing a bit more offensive balance. Another thing to watch is kicker Greg Zuerlein. He’s 8-for-13 overall but has missed five of his last seven field goal tries. While Zuerlein has been a bit inconsistent, four of those misses were from 50 yards or longer (one was blocked) and he was wide on a pair of 63-yard attempts.