As I enjoy the latest Harry Potter movie “Half-Blood Prince,” I’ve been gathering my thoughts on the Rams and their upcoming game against the San Francisco 49ers. I’ve studied both teams. They seem to mirror each other statistically. Comparing the NFL rankings across the board, the Rams and 49ers are close in comparison, but their records tell a different story.
The Rams offensively rank 27th overall (rushing offense is 17th and passing offense is 24th). Defensively, they rank 10th overall (rushing defense is 8th and passing defense is 16th). The 49ers are close in overall rank offensively at 22nd (rushing 22nd and passing they are tied at 17th). Defensively they rank 16th throughout the NFL (0th in rushing defense and 20th in passing defense).
Both teams are ranked in the lower third of the league offensively, just five to eight slots from each other in the major categories, not only in the NFC (National Football Conference) but the entire league (Total Yards per Game, Yards per Play, Rushing Yards per Game, Rushing Yards per Attempt, Passing Net Yards per Game, Passing Net Yards per Play, Sacks per Pass Play, First Downs per Game).
San Francisco has the edge in Fourth Down Efficiency ranking 4th, why the Rams rank 12th. The most important down in football, is third down – when offenses work to convert, and defenses mount to stop. Third down conversions keep Coaches, owners and football junkies on the edge of their seats. Generally, if a team is efficient on third down, their winning percentage is good. When talking about Third Down Efficiency the Rams have a ranking of 11th in the NFL, while 49ers are 23rd.
I have said since the pre-season, and will say it again – the 49ers have the best defense on paper in the NFC West. A 3-4 defense with a stout front (NT Aubrayo Franklin, LDE Isaac Sopoaga, the former University of Missouri Tiger Justin Smith at RDE and Ray McDonald who brings spark off the bench). San Francisco arguably has the best middle linebacker in all of football in Patrick Willis, surrounded by veteran Takeo Spikes, and the outside linebackers are good coverage players and bring solid pressure off the edge in Manny Lawson, Prays Haralson (don’t fall asleep when Ahmad Brooks is on the field). The leader of the secondary is Nate Clements who aligns at RDC, Shawntae Spencer (LDC) and two young aggressive athletic safeties, Taylor Mays (the rookie from USC) and former Washington Husky Dashon Goldson. This defensive unit has suffered because the offense has not kept their end of the bargain (inconsistency to sustain drives, turnovers and the lack of point production).
With that being said the St. Louis Rams tout the 8th best defense in the NFL. Defensive Coordinator Ken Flajole has dialed up some creative blitz packages, applying pressure to all the gaps and off the edge, throwing the quarterbacks out of rhythm and keeping the offenses off balance. The Rams rank 4th in Passing Net Yards, 8th in Rushing Yards per Game, 8th in Third Down Efficiency and 9th in Sacks per Pass Play.
Rams Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur will work to stay balanced in his strategy in order to have success vs. a potent, laterally fast and aggressive defense by pounding Steven Jackson as a runner and receiver. To win this pivotal divisional match-up, Steve Spagnuolo will need to give the green light to allow the “Big Easy” to take charge and throw the ball. Spags has shown great confidence in rookie quarterback Sam Bradford. In several games this season Bradford has thrown over 40 attempts, not because they needed to throw to win, but because they feel their young gun can deliver when called upon.
The Rams need their first road victory Sunday. This win will distance themselves from the rest of the NFC West. The 49ers are trying to climb out of the deep hole they dug for themselves. The competition will be fierce, with all being fairly equal. The difference maker in this contest will be the “Big Easy” Sam Bradford, while the Rams defense looks for the knockout punch early.