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San Francisco 49ers vs. St. Louis Rams Game Preview and Prediction

Frank Gore

Frank Gore

Three is the magic number for tonight’s NFC West tilt between San Francisco and St. Louis on ESPN’s “Monday Night Football.” The 49ers (3-2) are trying to extend their winning streak to three games, while the Rams (1-3) are hoping to avoid their third straight loss.

San Francisco has held the upper hand in this matchup recently, going 4-1-1 against St. Louis over the past three seasons. The 49ers swept both games last season, including a 35-11 victory in the Edward Jones Dome in Week 4.

San Francisco 49ers at St. Louis Rams

Kickoff: 8:30 p.m. ET

TV Channel: ESPN

Spread: San Francisco -3.5

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Three Things to Watch

[inline_team_schedule team-id=32 date=20140904 sport=nfl upcoming=1 limit=8][/inline_team_schedule]

1. San Francisco’s Type of Game

Going back to his time at Stanford, one of the identities of Jim Harbaugh’s teams has been an effective running game. After deviating some from that game plan earlier this season, the 49ers have gone back to running teams into the ground. For the season, San Francisco is third in the NFL in rushing at 145 yards per game, but the damage has been much greater during its current two-game winning streak. In home victories over Philadelphia and Kansas City, Harbaugh’s team has racked up a total of 389 yards on 82 carries (4.7 ypc). St. Louis meanwhile, has struggled against the run to this point. The Rams are tied for 29th in rushing defense (152.5 ypg), allowing 4.9 yards per carry. Expect to see a lot of handoffs when the 49ers have the ball tonight.

[inline_team_schedule team-id=34 date=20140904 sport=nfl upcoming=1 limit=8][/inline_team_schedule]

2. Is Jeff Fisher’s Team “Ram Tough?”

After getting blown out at home by Minnesota in the season opener, St. Louis bounced back with a win in Tampa Bay on a late field goal. The Rams kept things going by jumping out to a 21-0 lead with a little more than six minutes remaining in the first half against the Cowboys in Week 3. From there, however, things took a dramatic turn in the opposite direction. Dallas scored the next 20 points and tacked on two more touchdowns (in less than 20 seconds) in the fourth quarter to pull out a 34-31 come-from-behind win. Then last week, Philadelphia built a 34-7 lead late in the third quarter before St. Louis scored 21 unanswered points. The Rams had the ball with less than two minutes left and drove to the Eagles’ 48-yard-line, but their comeback attempt stalled there, as Philadelphia held on to win 34-28. Jeff Fisher’s team has dealt with its share of adversity, starting when quarterback Sam Bradford re-tore his surgically repaired ACL in the preseason, and these past two weeks have been no different. The Rams’ schedule only gets more difficult from here – Seattle, at Kansas City, at San Francisco, at Arizona, Denver and at San Diego – so they really could use something positive to build on, starting tonight.

3. QB Experiment: Familiar Foe vs. the New Kid on the Block

Colin Kaepernick is just 26 years old yet tonight represents his sixth start against St. Louis compared to Austin Davis, who will be making just the fourth start of his career. Kaepernick has played well against the Rams, going 3-1-1with a 97.1 passer rating and 182 yards rushing (7.6 ypc) in those games. Davis likewise has accounted for himself well, completing 67.5 percent of his passes for six touchdowns and just two interceptions in his three starts. Kaepernick has gotten a ton of support from his running game, but he’s also still prone to making mistakes. Four of his five turnovers came in a Week 2 home loss to Chicago. Davis has been more of a focal point of the offense since the Rams’ running game hasn’t been as productive. Even though their roles may be different, how effectively each quarterback executes their respective game plan will help determine the outcome of this game. Kaepernick has faced the Rams before and vice versa, while this will be Davis’ first up close and personal look at the 49ers, and vice versa. Will this QB familiarity or a lack thereof be a factor tonight?

Final Analysis

Despite an early rough patch and constant attention paid to Jim Harbaugh’s seemingly tenuous future in San Francisco, the 49ers have been able to maintain their focus on the field and enter tonight’s game playing their best football of the season. St. Louis is on its third starting quarterback and this Rams teams has been on quite the roller-coaster ride over the course of their past three games. In recent seasons, NFC West matchups have typically been tightly contested, physical affairs, regardless of the participants’ records. I expect this one will follow a similar script, but I think St. Louis has too much stacked against it, including history. San Francisco is 45-25 in its history on Monday night, the most wins by any team. Make it 46-25 after tonight. 

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Prediction: San Francisco 23, St. Louis 17