Setting the Stage:
Cards beat Dallas, Sunday, holding Murray to under 100 rushing yards. A ferocious pass-rush, shanked Niner punt and a some weird calls by the officials were instrumental in handing the Rams an upset over the Niners. (Sometimes you need to get lucky, but you also have to work hard enough to put yourself in a position where the breaks are put to good use. To quote the late Branch Rickey: "Luck is the residue of design").
Opponents' Last Game:
St. Louis stunned the Niners 13 -10, sacking Colin Kapernick 8 times and forcing him to fumble at the Ram goal line on the final play of the game.
Niners received. TB on the KO. They moved to the Ram 16 where, on the 9th play of the drive, they settled for a 34-yard Dawson FG. Niners 3 - Rams 0.
KO was returned to the Ram 25. Rams were held to 3 & out. Punt was returned by Ellington to the Niner 23. One play after Kaepernick hit Boldin for +13, Hayes sacked Kaepernick for a 7-yard loss. (Two plays later, the SF QB was forced to scramble and picked up only 2-yards). Lee's punt went out of bounds at the Ram 25. The Rams then reeled off 12 plays, reaching the Niner 19 where they had to settle for a 37-yard Zuerlein FG. Rams 3 - Niners 3.
KO was returned to the SF 20. Gore circled left end for 11-yards to end the quarter.
First Quarter Score: Rams 3 - Niners 3.
Niners made it to their own 27 before punting. Punt was returned to the Ram 25. On the first play of the Ram possession, Davis' pass for Austin was intercepted by Bethea. Niner ball at the Ram 35. Three plays later, Kaepernick hit Boldin at the 11-yard line and Q ran it in for a 27-yard TD. Niners 10 - Rams 3.
KO was returned by Cunningham to the Ram 32. The Rams managed to move to their own 44 in 5 plays before Davis' pass for Britt was picked off by Cox and returned to the Niner 39. On the subsequent Niner possession, the Rams sacked Kaepernick twice (once by unnamed defender/once by Quinn). Lee's punt went into the end zone. 4:17 left till half-time. SF held StL to 3 & out. Punt from the Ram 13 was downed at the Niner 41. On the second play of the NIner possession, Quinn sacked Kaepernick for minus-14 yards. The Niner QB fumbled, and it was recovered by StL (Sims). Ram ball at the Niner 36 with 1:59 on the clock.On the 3rd play from scrimmage, Davis hit Britt at the 16 and the Ram receiver ran it in for a 21-yard TD to tie it all up. Rams 10 - Niners 10.
1:04 till halftime. Ellington returned the kickoff to the Niner 32. Kaepernick managed to move his team to the Ram 34 in five plays where (after being sacked by Sims) SF attempted a 55-yard FG. Dawson's attempt was no good and Tavon Austin (who appeared to be drifting back and forth across the goal line moved across the goal line) was downed for what some thought was a safety, but the ruling (that it wasn't a safety) was upheld, and the quarter ended.
First Half Score: Rams 10 - Niners 10.
Rams received - KO was returned to the Ram 26. A holding penalty disrupted their drive. Hekker's punt from the Ram 46 went into the end zone. A holding call nullified a 14-yard run up the middle by Gore. Niners reached their own 35 but had to punt (which was returned by Austin to the Ram 18). Rams got no farther than their own 32, and Hekker's punt was fair caught at the Niner 24. Niners reached the Ram 41 in 9 plays before Lee punted into the end zone. Mason ran 5-yards to the StL 25, and the quarter ended with the game all tied up.
Third Quarter Score: Rams 10 - Niners 10.
StL moved to the Niner 48 before Hekker's punt (with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Ellington tacked on) put the ball on the Niner 6. Two more penalties on the Niners, a sack (by Brockers) for minus-4 and a pair of off-setting penalties kept the Niners bottled up and forced Lee to punt (actually twice - the first was nullified by penalty) from the Niner 6-yard line. His 23-yard shanked punt went out of bounds at the Niner 29 and set up the Rams' winning score. Although the Niners held the Rams to 3 & out, Zuerlein connected from 39-yards to give StL the lead. Rams 13 - Niners 10.
5:25 left to play. KO was returned to the Niner 21. Rams held SF to 3 & out. Punt went out of bounds at the Ram 39. Rams were held to 3 & out. Heller's punt was fair caught at the Niner 12. SF drove to the Ram one-yard line in 9 plays (actually 13 - there were penalties on four more plays - 1 againet the Niners/3 against the Rams). On 3rd down, with :09 left on the clock and a yard to go, Kaepernick was said to have fumbled and the ball recovered in the end zone by Laurinaitis. (Fumble was challenged but the ruling was upheld). Th-h-at's all folks! :02 left. Davis took a final knee. Game over.
Final Score Rams 13 - Niners 10
An example of how a team can be outmatched stat-wise and still find a way to win. (Note - Season stats give you a snap shot of what a team has been doing best, worst and most frequently. Game stats give you an idea of what the team is doing "lately"). St. Louis's game stats does not exactly suggest "an offensive juggernaut". In fact, in all but two categories, the Rams lagged the Niners; the 1 revealing exception being St. Louis' 8 sacks. Two other key game-changing factors aren't covered in the stats: (1) the fumble call at the goal line on the second-to-last play and Lee's shanked 23-yard punt with 7:45 left in the 4Q.
Davis completed 13 of 24 passes for 105 yards, a TD and two interceptions.
No domination by any Ram receiver. Cunningham led all Ram receivers in catches with 3. Britt had StL's only TD.
Mason was the leading Ram rusher gaining 65 yards on 19 carries (3.4 ypc).
The StL run-to-pass ratio was Runs: 21/Passes: 41.
Ram Turnover Ratio was 0 with Kaepernick losing 2 fumbles to Laurinaitis and Sims. (No fumbles were coughed up by StL). Davis threw two picks (Kaepernic was interception-free).
Rams sacked Kaepernick eight times for minus-54-yards (Quinn twice and Laurinaitis, Brockers, Donald, Sims and Hayes were each credited with one sack). The one remaining other sack was unaccounted-for. . (Davis was sacked just once).
Laurinaitis, McLeod and Gaines were tied for the lead in Ram tackles with 6 apiece.
St. Lous gained 91 rushing yards (vs. 80 by San Francisco).
Rams gained 102 net passing yards (vs. 183 for the Niners).
Each team was penalized 9 times.
Niners won Time of Possession 27:34 to 32:26.t.
What the Season Stats Do (or Don't) Tell Us
(Note - Published team statistics may not reflect a team's most recent game or two).
The Rams' ratio of first downs thru the air (vs. first downs via the ground) is higher than for their opponents.
They run a bit less than their opponents and lag in rushing yards by about 20%.
They lag their competors in TD's scored - 17 to 26.
They're minus-3 in turnovers.
The Rams trail their opponents in Rushing TD's and Defensive TD's.
Stacy is the leading ball carrier with 257 in 66 carries (4.5 YPC) followed closely by Mason (222 yards on 49 carries - 4.5 YPC). Cunningham also gets a lot of carries (44 for 173 and 3.9 YPC).
Receiving appears to be "by committee" with top three Ram receivers being their TE Cook (20 receptions - 11.8 YPR), Quick - who;s now on IR (25 - 15.0 YPR) and RB Cunningham (20 - 15.6). Five other Ram receivers have between 12 and 18 catches.
Leading TD receivers are their second TE Kendricks with 4 and the injured Quick with 3.
Zuerlein has made 10 of 13 attempts (missing one inside the 40 and two outside the 50.
Hekker pretty closely matches his opponents in both distance and directional punting.
The Rams lead their oppontents in Time of Possession: 33:50 (vs. 27:55).
Bailey is 15 for 16 in FG's (missing just one from outside the 50).
Tavon Austin is the premier Ram kickoff returner with 16 returns. His 6.8 YPR average is merely "ordinary" but we know how dangerous he can be. (Note - KO averages may be inflated a bit by the infamous 70-yard "Okie-Doke" return by Steadman Bailey).
Cunningham is the main man returning punts. His 29.9 YPR average closely matches the figure for Ram opponents.
Laurinaitls leads the Rams with 50 tackles, followed by TJ McDonald (49) and Ogletree (46)
Quinn is the sackmeister of a high-powered group of StL pass rushers who, until the 8-sack game vs. the Niners, were underperforming (14 sacks vs. 24 by their competition). Quinn has 5 sacks, followed by Donald with 3.0 and Sims with 2.0. .
Ram pass defenders have picked off only 3 passes (vs. 8 by their opponents).
Ram depth chart terminology suggests they use a base offense that has 2 TE's, 2 WR's and one RB. On defense, it looks like they line up in a base 4-3 with the DL, LB's and CB's lined up "left-right" and their FS and SS deep.
WR....81 Britt.............13 Givens............10 D Williams
TE......89 Cook...........46 Harkey
LT 79 G Robinson 73 Person.............70 B Washington
LG 76 Saffold.
C 63 S Wells.........61 Barnes
RG 69 Joseph
RT 72 Barksdale
WR 11 Austin..........12 Bailey
QB....09 Davis............14 Hill
RB 30 Stacy............36 Cunningham....27 Mason......42 Watts
88 Kendricks......82 Bayer
DE 95 Kelly...........96 K,Martin
NT 92 D. Williams 66 Ta'amu
DT 98 Rucker 72 Stinson
SLB 57 Okafor........53 Keiser
ILB 50 Foote..........54 Demens
ILB 51 Minter..........97 Alexander 56 Carson
WLB 94 Acho...........59 Benard
LCB 21 Peterson.....28 Bethel
RCB 31 Cromartie....25 Powers
SS 22 Jefferson.....36 Bucannon
FS 32 Mathieu.......26 R. Johnson
Matchup: Ram Passing Attack vs. Cardinal Pass Defense
Judging by the stats vs. SF, it seemed as if they're not asking Davis to do too much (PFF has him throwing 236 unbatted passes and completing 164 for 1,782 yards, 11 TD's and 7 interceptions. The Ram QB threw short 27 times, short-intermediate 131 times, intermediate-deep 42 times and deep 35 times, spreading the ball around to Britt, Austin, Cooks, Kendricks, Cunningham (3 of whom are non-WR's) and other Ram receivers. Davis has only been hit, hurried or sacked 7 times in 225 snaps. This plus the emphasis on his "short game" suggests that Cardinal pass rushers will have their work cut out for them. Should Fisher decide to open up the passing game, there are pass blocking vulnerabilities on the offensive line at RT (Barksdale), at C (Wells) at RG (Joseph) and, to a lesser degree, at LT (G Robinson).
Look for Cardinal corners to clamp down on Britt, Austin and other Ram WR while our front seven occupies itself with StL running backs and our safeties focus on bottling up the two Ram TE''s.
Key Matchups: Cromartie vs. Britt. Peterson vs. Austin. Jefferson, Mathieu and R Johnson vs. Cook and Kendrick. A variety of individual pass rushers on stunts and blitzes vs. StL offensive line.
Matchup: Ram Rushing Attack vs. Cardinal Run Defense
Statistically, the Ram running game is averaging in the neighborhood of 4.6 yards a pop. Each RB has unique strengths and weaknesses. Stacy and Mason have been effective running to the outside-left. Stacy, Mason and Cunningham have been effective running off RT. Cunningham averages 6.3 yards running off RG. Mason averages 5.7 yards on plays where he runs off left guard.
The Cards enjoy being "who they are"; namely, physical on defense - effective vs. the run. Look for Fisher to offer an early challenge to Cardinal run-stoppers (& for the Cards to meet that challenge).
Key Matchups: D. Williams, Kelly, Foote, Minter vs. the inside-run with Acho and Okafor protecting the outside perimeters vs. Ram pulling guards to contain Stacy, Mason, Cunningham.
WR1 11 Fitzgerald....19 Ginn...............13 John Brown
LT 68 Veldheer......79 Sowell
LG 62 Larsen..., ....61 Cooper
C 63 Sendlein......62 Larsen
RG 74 Fanaika.......78 Watford
RT 70 Massie........79 Sowell
TE 87 Niklas..........85 Fells
WR2 15 M. Floyd.....13 Jaron Brown
QB 03 Palmer........05 Stanton.........06 Thomas
RB 38 Ellington.....(30 Taylor).............39 Hughes....xx Grice
TE 89 Carlson.......84 Housler
LDE....95 Hayes.........93 Westbrooks
LDT.....99 Donald.......98 Langford
RDT.....90 Brockers....92 Carrington
RDE....94 Quinn.........97 Sims
RLB....58 Dunbar.......54 Herring........59 Toomer
MLB.. 55 Laurinaitis...53 Bates...........51 McFadden
LCB 22 T Johnson...33 Gaines
RCB..21 Jenkins.......47 Roberson
FS 23 McLeod.......20 Joyner..........26 Barron
SS.....25 McDonald...38 C Davis......31 Alexander
Matchup: Cardinal Passing Attack vs. Ram Pass Defense
In general, it will be Palmer trying to stay safe and upright and getting the ball away quickly before Quinn, Sims and other Ram pass rushers (who nailed Kaepernick 8 times last Sunday) can get to him. Everyone knows about Quinn and Sims, but the Rams' secret weapon (2nd to Quinn with 24 sacks-hits and hurries) is their other bookend, Hayes. On top of all that, their top rookie DT (Donald) is quickly emerging as a beast inside.
Look for Fisher to have his DB's jam Cardinal receivers in order to disrupt the rhythm of their quick routes. In turn, look for Coach Arians to run a lot of bunch-formations to keep his receivers from being jammed or manhandled at the LOS. We may also try to tire out the two Ram DE's by running Ellington straight at them or springing him loose on sweeps and screens to attack the perimeter. With so many defensive options to worry about, this might be the week when Arians makes Carlson a bigger part of the Cardinal defense in order to occupy Ram safeties/linebackers.
Veldheer and Massey may need help in their effort to contain Quinn and Hayes.
Key Matchup: Fitz, Floyd and Brown vs. jams at the LOS to get freer before Ram pass rushers can reach Palmer.
Matchup: Cardinal Running Attack vs. Ram Run Defense
One way to control opposing pass rushers is to run right at them (to tire them out). Another is to run enough play action to keep opposing pass rushers "honest." This will figure to be tough-sledding this week due to the emergence of Donald on the inside to help out Laurinaitis behind him and Hayes and Quinn on the outside. Running the ball could be quite a challenge this week.
Key Matchup: Ellington vs. Quinn, Hayes and Ram OLB's. We may see a lot of Grice inside vs. Donald, Laurinaitis and McDonald.
P 06 Hekker
K 04 Zuerlein
H 06 Hekker
LS 44 McQuaide
KR 11 T Austin
PR 36 Cunningham
K 07 Catanzaro
P 02 Butler
H 02 Butler
LS 82 Leach
KR 19 Ginn 12 John Brown
PR 19 Ginn 21 Peterson 12 John Brown
Matchup: Ram Special Teams vs. Cardinal Special Teams
Ram special teamers are highly rated overall by PFF but statistically don't seem any better or worse than opposing special teamers. Of course the presence of Tavon Austin (either returning kicks or serving as a decoy) could change all that. The FG block by Bethel last Sunday was overdue. At the very least, the Rams have to pay attention to the threat Bethel (& Calais Campbell) present. Then there's Ted Ginn. (Just when you think he's fading into the sunset, he steps up and does something that helps win you a football game).
Key matchups: Ginn vs. Ram coverage teams. Bethel off the edge vs. Ram blockers. Cardinal coverage teamers vs. Austin.
That Steadman Bailey kickoff return off a trick special teams play tells you all you need to know about Jeff Fisher's creativity (and willingness to use it). Injury-wise, his team has suffered as much (if not more) adversity as has the Cardinals; yet he has them playing hard for 60-minutes. The narrow win over the Niners validates that effort by rewarding StL with a "W." And forget about their overall won & loss record. This is a very good football team competing in a tough division. Take them lightly at your peril.
The more subtle (but every bit as important) task of keeping our players focused on the "the next game up" (& then the next one and the next one) doesn't get any easier with each additional victory. Thus far, Coach Arians, our veteran leaders and an experienced coaching staff who's "seen it all" has kept everyone's eyes on the ball.
The Rams are too good for Sunday's contest to be considered a "trap game." Stay focused. Play sound Cardinal football. Focus on the next task; the next play; the next set of downs; the next possession; the next quarter; the next half; the next game; the next team. (Beat "Team #9) !!!!