Seven things to watch when the Rams play the San Francisco 49ers at 3:25 p.m. Sunday (KTVI Channel 2):
No truth to the rumor that RB Frank Gore met the Rams at the airport Friday night, but he does love to see them. In 11 career games against St. Louis, the three-time Pro Bowler has four 100-yard rushing games and has scored 11 touchdowns — tied for his best TD total against any team. A physical runner on a physical team, Gore always seems to get yards after contact. His 5.5 yards per carry this season is on pace for a career high. “He finishes runs off,” Rams assistant head coach Dave McGinnis said.
MORE THAN GORE
Gore isn’t doing it by himself on the league’s top-ranked rushing offense (168.5 yards per game). Second-year man Kendall Hunter has emerged as an effective change-of-pace back with 301 rushing yards this season (to Gore’s 656). Even backup QB Colin Kaepernick gets in the act with a package of plays that has seen him average 8.5 yards per rushing attempt on 13 carries. The ‘Niners do more scheme-wise in the running game than just about anyone in the league, and do it behind a big, physical offensive line.
The 49ers haven’t been throwing much lately to TE Vernon Davis, but after watching what Rob Gronkowski did to the Rams’ defense in London, don’t be surprised if they switch gears Sunday. Davis is averaging 15 yards a catch — a big number for a tight end. Only four receivers in the NFL, be they tight ends, wideouts, or running backs, have more TD catches than Davis’ 30 since the start of the ’09 season. “He’s got freakish speed for somebody that size, plus the quarterback trusts him,” McGinnis said.
ALEX THE EFFICIENT
In a scheme that usually takes a cautious approach, Alex Smith isn’t the type of QB that makes his receivers look better. The best way to hang with the 49ers is to get them in third-and-long situations — or better yet — get them playing from behind. If not, well, best of luck. Smith generally doesn’t do anything stupid. He’s as smart and efficient as they come. Within that system he’s posting numbers this season that a lot of QBs would love, including a 69.4 completion percentage and a 102.1 passer rating.
Although their careers at Mizzou were a decade apart, outside LB Aldon Smith and DT Justin Smith find themselves lining up side-by-side on the right side of San Francisco’s defensive front. Justin Smith, 33, has not missed a start in more than 10 NFL seasons and has made back-to-back Pro Bowls with a style that features brute strength and non-stop effort. Aldon Smith, 23, had 14 sacks last season, the second-best total for a rookie in NFL history. He’s on a similar pace this year with 7½ sacks.
The Rams have given up a modest four TDs in the third quarter all season, but they’ve fallen into a bad rut during their current three-game losing streak. Miami (10 plays, 62 yards), Green Bay (12 plays, 80 yards), and New England (six plays, 80 yards) have all taken the second-half kickoff and marched on long TD drives. Guess what? San Francisco has scored 34 points on its opening possession of the third quarter, tied for first in the NFL this season. Maybe the Rams should defer if they win the coin toss.
STUCK AT THE ‘STICK
Since the move to St. Louis in 1995, the Rams have won only five of 17 times at Candlestick Park. More often than not, it has been a house of horrors. Over the past four seasons, the Rams have been outscored 119 to 36 in four losses there, and that includes a 23-20 OT loss in 2010. Last season, the 49ers won 26-0, victimizing the Rams’ secondary for touchdown passes of 56 and 52 yards, and limiting the Rams’ offense to 157 yards — the sixth-lowest total in any game for the “St. Louis” Rams.