Friday, November 29, 2013

5 Burning Questions For Week 13

Coming off a nice win in Washington the 49ers face another must win Sunday as the St Louis Rams make their final visit to Candlestick Park.  A lot has changed for both teams since the 49ers 35-11 week 4 victory in St Louis.  What looked like a potential walk over at the beginning of November now looks like a much more difficult task.

Here are 5 burning questions to which the answers will be key to the outcome of the game.

1)  What impact will Michael Crabtree have? - Crabtree is set to make his 2013 debut, only 7 months removed from tearing his Achilles tendon.  It is likely that his role will be more limited than Mario Manningham's was when he returned from his knee injury against Carolina and played 45 of 57 snaps.

I would expect Crabtree to take over the snaps that last week went to Jon Baldwin and Kassim Osgood.  That would put his percentage of snaps in the range of 30-40%.  However they use him, it will be good to see #15 running around on the field again.

2)  Can the 49ers get the run game going? - The 49ers run game has been almost entirely shut down over the last 2 weeks, having been held to only 2.7 yards per carry.  As I mentioned in my post earlier this week there are a number of ways to explain the low output, but that doesn't change the fact that the 49ers have to get it straightened out.

The Rams run defense has been very solid over the last 4 weeks allowing only 3.8 yards per carry, and those numbers are inflated a bit by a the 198 yards they gave up against Tennessee on a short week.  Taking that performance out they have given up only 2.6 yards per carry in 3 of their last 4.

3)  Can the 49ers defense contain Zac Stacy and Tavon Austin? - When the 49ers last saw St Louis the Rams running game was struggling to find it's footing, averaging only 3.2 yards per carry in the first three games of the season.  In that first matchup the 49ers made it even worse by holding the Rams to only 18 yards on 19 carries.

Following that week 4 game, the Rams made a change at running back and going with rookie Zac Stacy.  That change has made a world of difference for their running game, and over the last 7 weeks the Rams have averaged 4.9 yards per carry.

Another rookie has been making a big impression of late for the Rams.  Tavon Austin has begun making the type of big plays that many envisioned when he was selected in the first round.  Over the last 2 games Austin has made only 4 catches, but 3 of them have been for over 30 yards.

4)  Can the 49ers offense repeat? - The 49ers offense finally made some plays last week in their win over the Redskins.  That's the good news.

The bad new is that they were able to manage only 304 yards of total offense and threw for 228 yards against a defense that had given up and average of 391 yards of total offense and 293 yards threw the air over the previous four weeks.

The 49ers pass offense also benefited greatly by focusing it's attention on throwing at Josh Wilson.  Wilson came into the game as Washington's worst CB, and the 49ers went after him with 11 of their 24 targets and completed 10 of those for 149 yards and 1 touchdown.

In looking at the matchups against the Rams the defensive back to pick on should be second year player Janoris Jenkins.  Jenkins comes into the game having given up a passer rating of 119.8 this season

5)  Can the offensive line hold up in pass protection? - The Rams have one of the best defensive fronts in the NFL led by Robert Quinn.  So far this season Quinn has managed to rack up 13 sacks and 67 total QB pressures according to ProFootballFocus.  On the other end of the line is Chris Long who has 8 sacks of his own to go along with 43 QB pressures.  Both rank in the top 10 in the league in pass rush productivity.

Fortunately for the 49ers left tackle Joe Staley has been one of the best in the business this season, and finished with a 1.6 grade in the first meeting earlier this season.  The concern will be on the other side of the line where Anthony Davis has struggled in protection in recent weeks.

Look for the 49ers to move Kaepernick around in the pocket a bit more than usual this week to help slow down the pass rush.  In the first meeting they moved Kaepernick on 7 of his 27 drops.

Prediction Time:

49ers 23  Rams 17

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