NFL Preview - St. Louis (3-5) at San Francisco (6-2)|
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - In the NFL, there is no difference between winning and
winning ugly. A win's a win as they say at this level.
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith has pretty much thumbed his nose at
anyone who has criticized him for not putting up astronomical numbers like
Drew Brees, Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers. A 6-2 record and a first-place tag in
the NFC West is more than proof.
Smith will try to build off one his most efficient performances Sunday versus
the division-rival St. Louis Rams at Candlestick Park. He had plenty of time
to think about his latest game because the 49ers just had their bye week.
Before the 49ers took some much-needed time off they shut down the NFC West-
rival Arizona Cardinals by a 24-3 score on Oct. 29. In the Monday night
affair, Smith was nearly flawless and completed 18 of his 19 pass attempts for
232 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. His only flaw was an
incompletion to Delanie Walker and head coach Jim Harbaugh tried to get the
league to change it to no avail.
Smith, who registered a 157.1 passer rating and set an NFL record for the most
passes in a game without more than one incompletion or interception, was named
NFC Offensive Player of the Week for the first time in his career. His 94.7
completion percentage was the highest single-game mark in NFL history (minimum
15 attempts), but Smith knows there's a lot of work to be done.
"We all know what we're capable of a team it's a matter of consistently doing
it week in and week out," Smith told Pro Football Talk Live. "It's not just
showing up on gamedays, I think this team understands that. There's a ton of
work left ahead of us, a long season."
Known as a game manager who avoids turnovers and plays mistake-free football,
Smith has 12 touchdown passes to five interceptions. He only has three 300-
yard passing games in his career, but owns 19 wins since the start of 2011.
San Francisco's defense gets its fair share of attention, and deservedly so.
The unit held the Cardinals to just seven yards rushing and 265 yards overall.
The stingy effort enabled the 49ers to win for the second straight week and
for the fourth time in five games.
The Rams had high hopes for a productive season after a 3-2 start, but those
aspirations have gone by the wayside with three straight losses. Like the
49ers, the Rams also are coming off their bye week.
St. Louis linebacker James Laurinaitis gave his perspective on how the 3-5
Rams can turn things around in the second half.
"I think it's important: how do we respond to this? How do we come back on
Wednesday and Thursday and practice hard and really try to focus and focus on
the little things and details that make us better?" Laurinaitis said. "Because
this thing doesn't get easier for us."
Laurinaitis, the Rams' leading tackler with 74, is second in the league in
stops behind Arizona's Daryl Washington. Laurinaitis said it's important for
the players to look themselves in the mirror and evaluate how they're playing
up to this point. It can't be that good with a 3-5 record brought on by a
season-high three-game slide. Leading by example and going the extra mile may
sound cliche, but it's what helps team succeed.
"We've got guys across the board that are going to work their butts off and we
hope the young guys take notice and do the same," Laurinaitis said.
Rams head coach Jeff Fisher is on the same page. Fisher had a chance to look
over film and knows there's a lot of work to do in all phases of the game.
Getting the ball in the red zone, forcing takeaways and limiting turnovers are
on the top of Fisher's agenda. St. Louis has just one takeaway in the past
four games and recorded eight through the first four.
Before the Rams headed to their bye they suffered a 45-loss to the New England
Patriots in London. The defense could neither stop the run or the pass, as the
Patriots racked up 473 yards of offense, including 152 rushing. Sam Bradford
had a touchdown pass and an interception for St. Louis, which is riding its
longest losing streak since ending 2011 on a seven-game slide.
The Rams lost both meetings with the 49ers last season and are just 3-11 in
the past 14 meetings between the NFC West inhabitants. In two career games
against the 'Niners, Bradford has thrown for 543 yards with two touchdowns and
no interceptions. Smith has faced the Rams eight times, posting 1,467 yards,
six TD passes and two picks.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Rams running back Steven Jackson is having a down season as evidenced by his
403 rushing yards -- 24th in the NFL -- and one touchdown. It doesn't appear
he'll have much success against a San Francisco defense that is ranked fifth
in the league in rushing yards allowed (87.4), second in total yards (271.4)
and first in points (12.9).
Jackson had just 23 yards on seven carries against New England and hasn't
reached the 100-yard mark in rushing since last Dec. 24 at Pittsburgh. He has
taken a back seat to rookie running back Daryl Richardson, but is supportive
in what makes the team better.
"It's a huge adjustment, but I think the more you embrace change, it makes
things for transition work a little easier," Jackson said. "That's why I try
to do my best, is just be a veteran that I know I can be. Go out there, take
advantage of the opportunity that is given to me, run hard, and show the young
guys behind me how to be a professional on and off the field."
Rams other rookie running back Isaiah Pead has been patiently waiting to show
what he can do.
"We drafted Isaiah because of those run skills and he's got them," Fisher said
after the Pats loss. "But again, it's hard to get everybody the carries, but
we'll try to keep him involved. We had him involved in a couple packages going
into that game, so he got in the ballgame."
The Rams could get offensive lineman Rodger Saffold back but Wayne Hunter and
Joe Barksdale have been filling in admirably. Center Scott Wells also is
trying to get back on the field to help the running game and protect Bradford
in the pocket. Robert Turner is snapping balls now until Wells is ready to
return. Leading wide receiver Danny Amendola is close to returning as well,
and has been sidelined with a shoulder injury.
Can Smith keep up his proficient ways in what should be a breeze for the 49ers
this week? The St. Louis defense has some weapons in Laurinaitis and defensive
ends Chris Long and Robert Quinn, who leads the team with seven sacks.
Smith is second in the NFL with a 69.4 completion percentage and fourth in
rating (102.1). He has been sacked 22 times -- sixth most in the league -- and
his 1,659 passing yards are 27th. But Smith doesn't have to do it all himself.
He has the No. 1 rushing offense on his side and arguably the best defense in
the league. Watch for the 49ers to get Frank Gore going early on Sunday. Gore
has 656 rushing yards -- eighth in the NFL -- and four touchdowns on 119
San Francisco needs to get tight end Vernon Davis more involved since he has
just five catches in his last two games and hasn't scored since a loss at
Minnesota in Week 3. Davis has been targeted often by opposing defenses, but
that has only opened more doors for Michael Crabtree and others.
49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman said he is doing everything he can to
get Davis more involved. Roman added that besides catching passes, Davis has
other responsibilities in the run game and pass protection.
"I just wait for my opportunities," Davis said. "I know what I can do. I know
the ability that I have and the things I can do in this game, but I don't talk
about it. The coaches know. I just let them call the shots and I just sit back
and play my role and try to be a team guy."
Some teams thrive after the bye week and other not so much. The 49ers have won
their last two games after the off week and will complete the trifecta Sunday
with a dominating home win because of an efficient ground attack and their
suffocating defense. Patrick Willis and Navorro Bowman are two of the best
interior linebackers in the league and will have no trouble stopping Jackson
or St. Louis' rookie running backs. Bradford will get his stats, but not the
most important one when the clock strikes zero.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: 49ers 26, Rams 13
11/08 14:25:18 ET