For the second week in a row, the St. Louis Rams defense refused its opponent anything but a couple of field goals. The stingy unit has allowed just touchdowns at home all season despite losing key players.
Unless you’re a Rams fan, or you love a good defensive unit or a potentially great running back, you probably couldn’t sit through the entire Rams versus 49ers game (as I did…stop laughing) because most of it was rather painful to watch. Not only did San Francisco fail to do much while St. Louis appeared comfortable with not doing more, but both teams apparently agreed in advance that the officials would fill in the multitude of blanks along the way. The 49ers committed penalties 13 to the Rams’ 12, setting both back 93 each, but watching the game it felt like much more.
Still, in between zebra calls there was a game being played, and it started rather lifeless until the curtains of the Todd Gurley Show parted — much like San Francisco’s O-line — and the talented rookie-of-the-year nominee soon found himself with only one man to beat; a lighter, thinner defensive back who looked to have the angle at his advantage, but only briefly. Jack-of-all-trades Tavon Austin added two touchdowns of his own, and the defense did the rest. Colin Kaepernick will get harassed again this week by NFL analysts and bloggers alike with his 20/41 for only 162 yards and 0 TDs stat line, and a sad 22.2 QBR, but the plain truth is that a loss like this one can not rest completely on the quarterback’s shoulders. Outside of one nearly-sustained drive and a few good plays, the 49ers had little answer for the Rams defensive front four, who were not quite at 100%, yet so deep that it was possible to rush Kaepernick with only the four down linemen for a good portion of the game as linebackers were freed to roam about in cover. Why the 49ers mostly abandoned Colin’s ability to scramble after it appeared to be somewhat effective on the game’s first series is a mystery. Without starting DE Chris Long and Robert Quinn at “questionable” up to game time, the Rams linemen still added three more sacks to their total (26) to keep them among the league’s best. Collectively, ‘frisco was held to just 38 yards on 21 carries (28 belonging to Kaepernick) for a 1.8 average.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Like the Cleveland Browns the previous week, the San Francisco 49ers simply ran into…yes, THAT wall again! You would think that in film study during the week or in practice, someone in the 49er camp — a coach, a trainer, veteran player, the water boy — might have uttered something like, “…and don’t keep running straight out of bounds, curve a little.” Because no one did, Reggie Bush (who actually managed to pull up but slipped on the concrete) is now out for what it likely the season with ACL damage, and the 49ers are now working out retreads like ex-Texan Ben Tate.
Scoring summary per quarter:
FIRST QUARTER: Highlighted by the nimble running of QB Colin Kaepernick, the 49ers drove determinedly but fell short of the red zone and settled for a 54-yard field goal by Phil Dawson. The teams took turns punting and during a ‘frisco return, Reggie Bush was shoved out of bounds by the Rams’ Benny Cunningham. It wasn’t until Bush appeared injured that tempers flared; 49ers receiver Anquan Boldin shoved a Rams player and an assistant coach involved himself on the field, drawing a penalty. The penalty pushed the ‘niners back towards their own goal line. The sharky St. Louis D-line must’ve smelled blood in the water as they stuffed each attempt to run the ball out, causing them to lose ground until a third down play was abruptly stopped behind the goal line for a safety. Score: Rams 2, 49ers 3
SECOND QUARTER: The second quarter started like the first ended (with a string of boring possessions that led to punts by both teams) until Rams rookie back Todd Gurley exploded up the middle of the San Francisco line, broke free and outran the secondary for a 71-yard touchdown run. The two-point conversion attempt was successful. The 49ers found themselves pinned back in their own territory again and punted. The Rams failed to do much with the good field position and settle for a Greg Zuerlein 50-yard field goal. The 49ers answered with the help of a 33-yard pass connection from Colin to receiver Quinton Patton and a late-hit penalty, kicking a 26-yard field goal inside the two-minute warning. However, the Rams took it 80 yards on 7 plays in the next 95 seconds to score on a Tavon Austin 2-yard sweep run to the right. Halftime Score: Rams 20, 49ers 6
THIRD QUARTER: Consisting of mostly punts, the quarter was uneventful outside of one miscue by the Rams; RB Benny Cunningham had the ball knocked from his grasp and Ahmad Brooks picked it up to run it the distance for a called touchdown. However, Ahmad Brooks had pulled Cunningham to the ground by face mask to aid his path to the ball as it bounced freely. Because the ball was in no one’s possession at the point of foul, the touchdown was not allowed. Score: Rams 20, 49ers 6
FOURTH QUARTER: Five minutes into the final quarter, Tavon Austin caught a sideways pass from Nick Foles and broke through traffic to turn a simple play into a 66-yard score. Before and afterwards, the good play of the Rams, and their inability to score continued as the 49ers failed to score another point in the second half. Final Score: Score: Rams 27, 49ers 6
Todd Gurley ran for 133 yards on 20 carries and 1 TD for a 6.7 yards-per-carry average, only two points less than QB Foles’ pass completion average of 8.3. Gurley’s 6.1 season average per carry leads the NFL list of all qualifying backs (70+ attempts) …it should be noted that he was taken out of the game mid-third quarter. Tavon Austin’s open-field ability was the only other real standout offensively. The defense is what carries this team, however, and sustains the team’s game plan to stick with the ground game having not to play from far behind. Worth mentioning again, strong safety Mark Barron is much more effective in his new role at hybrid linebacker (10 more tackles). He’s done an excellent job filling the whole left when Alec Ogletree got injured.
The 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman led all defensive players with 13 total tackles to his credit. Following injuries to both Reggie Bush and his back-up Mike Davis (after losing Carlos Hyde during the week), coach Tomsula had to field questions of why he waived Australian rugby star-turned-NFL running back Jarryd Hayne on Saturday.
The St. Louis Rams (now 4W-3L) remain sandwiched in second between Seattle and Arizona as both escaped losses in the second half of their games. The two teams have a division clash after their week 9 bye, and the Rams have an opportunity to pick up a game-and-a-half on one of them if they win weeks 9 and 10. The chance won’t come easy as next week they face the 5-2 Minnesota Vikings, who are sporting a 3-game winning streak, have their own 1-2 punch now in Adrian Peterson and Stephon Diggs, and smell an opportunity of their own after the Green Bay’s loss to Denver.