This Sunday’s tilt between the NFC West-leading San Francisco 49ers and the NFC West cellar-dwellers, the St. Louis Rams, figures to be a major mismatch. San Francisco has a more potent offense, arguably the NFL’s best defense, and they are playing at home against a Rams squad that has yet to win on the road this season. But there are a few X-factors which could change the look of the game and perhaps make it more competitive than some think.
The biggest plus for the Rams is that it appears they will be welcoming wide receiver Danny Amendola back from his shoulder injury. Sam Bradford will surely be glad to see his team’s leader in receptions, yardage and receiving touchdowns return, as his paper-thin personnel has not afforded him many options in Amendola’s absence. And despite his pedestrian numbers so far this season, a healthy Stephen Jackson is always good to have on your side, so the 49ers’ front seven will have to keep a close eye on him.
For the 49ers, their biggest challenge could very well be not overlooking the Rams. They have given up the fewest points in the NFL and are playing a Rams team whose offense ranks in the bottom five. Mario Manningham and Frank Gore should be ready to go despite shoulder and hand problems, respectively, so all of their offensive and defensive threats will be present and accounted for. The 49ers are in tip-top shape and should be primed for a big win.
On paper, it would seem the only way for the Rams to win is if the 49ers come out of the gate rusty from the bye week and start beating themselves. Stopping Gore will be paramount if the Rams hope to stay in this game, as their run defense ranks 13th in the NFL in yards allowed per game, while the 49ers’ rushing attack ranks 1st in the league. With Alex Smith continuing to produce steady, if pedestrian, numbers, and with Randy Moss starting to come around now as a deep threat for the 49ers, the Rams will have to shut down Gore, make the 49ers’ offense one-dimensional and pressure Smith into making some bad throws, otherwise this one could get ugly in a hurry.