The 49ers return to the Edward Jones Dome on Thursday night for a NFC West game against the St. Louis Rams. Both teams are coming off two-game losing streaks and are in need of a win to keep pace in the division. The Rams were the only team in the West that the 49ers did not beat in 2012. Both games went to overtime, one ended in a tie and the other was a 16-13 home win for St. Louis. This week’s nationally televised game on the NFL Network is full of quality matchups.
We rank the top 10 storylines to track in this 49ers-Rams battle.
10. Return Game
San Francisco’s longest kick return of the year is a 30-yard gain. Cornerback
9. Road Warriors
The 49ers are 0-1 on the road this season, but playing away from Candlestick Park has been a strength of the team in the Jim Harbaugh era. San Francisco is 11-6 on the road under Harbaugh, 6-3 in primetime games and 8-4-1 in divisional games. The Rams are 1-0 at home, besting the Arizona Cardinals, 27-24, in Week 1. First quarter success is a key to beating St. Louis. The Rams have been outscored 24-0 in the first quarter in 2013.
8. New Weapons
The Rams upgraded the play-makers around their franchise quarterback, Sam Bradford. St. Louis signed tight end Jared Cook away from the Tennessee Titans and selected slot receiver Tavon Austin with the No. 8overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. Austin has led the Rams with 26 targets and 18 receptions. The rookie is tied withCook and third-year wideout Austin Pettis with two touchdown grabs. Cook leads St. Louis with 195 receiving yards. The 49ers will need to limit the production of both players.
7. Reserve Linebackers
San Francisco’s defensive depth will be tested in Week 4. Without the services of All-Pro outside linebacker
6. Penalty Box
The 49ers have given free first downs to opponents throughout the 2013 season. It’s an issue the team has addressed this week. The team’s 29 penalties are the second-most of 32 NFL teams. The key to the 49ers defense has always been to stop the run and put the offense in third-and-long situations. Whenever the unit has had success on base downs, penalties on third-down situations have enabled opponents to continue drives, eat up clock and keep the 49ers defense on the field for too long. In order to snap the first two-game losing streak in Harbaugh’s NFL coaching career, the 49ers need to keep the yellow flags off the turf in St. Louis.
5. Offensive Precision
Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman referenced it this week – precision is the buzz word for the 49ers offense. While first- and second-down execution is key, the key down is third down. If the 49ers continue to convert 35.7 percent of third downs, the chances of winning decrease in a major way. San Francisco converted 9-of-18 third downs in a Week 1 win over Green Bay. Since Kickoff Weekend, the 49ers have converted 6-of-24 third downs. Moving the chains and establishing offensive rhythm is paramount this week. Fresh sets of downs will allow the 49ers to go deeper into the offensive game plan and creatively use all of the play-makers on the roster.
4. Game-time Decisions
The health of two of San Francisco’s star players –
3. Nickel Back
2. Gore Watch
1. Kap's Swagger
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- GALLERY: 49ers-Rams Matchups on Throwback Thursday
- READ: Cornerback Brown Talks New-look Rams
- READ: Ex-teammates Dahl, Finnegan Put Offseason in Past
- LISTEN: Cortland Finnegan on Covering 49ers WRs