Week 8: Top 10 49ers, Rams to watch
49ers lock horns with Rams
The St. Louis Rams (3-3) have an opportunity to run the table in the NFC West through the first go-round of division games. All they need is a victory over Jim Tomsula’s last-place 49ers, who are winless in three road games this season. The game features the two lowest-ranked offenses in the league. Also, the 49ers have been struggling on defense, ranking 31st. Here are 10 players to watch.
10) P Bradley Pinion, 49ers
Field position could be one of the keys to the game with two offenses that are struggling to sustain drives. Pinion, a fifth-round draft pick, has taken over for Andy Lee this season and has yet to show much consistency. The 49ers need him to have a solid game in the dome. Rams punter Johnny Hekker ranks ninth with a 42.1 net average, while Pinion is 20th at 39.9.
9) DE Robert Quinn, Rams
Quinn is one of the top pass-rushers in the game, and the 49ers have experienced a lot of difficulty providing protection for quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Quinn mostly lines up mostly over left tackle Joe Staley, and that should make for a good one-on-one battle. Quinn has recorded double-digit sack totals in each of the past three seasons, and he enters this game with four on the season.
8) S Jaquiski Tartt, 49ers
The second-round draft pick takes over for veteran Antoine Bethea, who is out for the season after undergoing surgery on a torn pectoral tendon. Tartt has good size and has the ability to move into the box to help in run support against Todd Gurley. In his first NFL start, Tartt will lean on third-year player Eric Reid to get him in the proper alignments.
7) DT Aaron Donald, Rams
The second-year player is already one of the top defensive tackles in the league, exhibiting his rare combination of size, strength and quickness. Donald has 4.5 sacks through six games, and he could be a huge issue for a 49ers offensive line that has struggled. Donald figures to line up over center Marcus Martin and right guards Jordan Devey and Andrew Tiller for most of the game.
6) TE Vernon Davis, 49ers
Davis, who missed two games with a knee issue, went four weeks without a catch. But he bounced back last week to lead the 49ers with four receptions for 61 yards against Seattle. Davis' future with the 49ers could be in some question. The trade deadline is Tuesday, and it’s possible the 49ers could deal him if they find some demand.
5) QB Nick Foles, Rams
The trade that brought Foles from Philadelphia for quarterback Sam Bradford has not been particularly advantageous for either team. Foles is coming just 58.5 percent of his pass attempts with six touchdowns and five interceptions. He ranks 27th in the NFL with a 78.8 passer rating. But he should have some opportunities against the 49ers’ leaky pass defense.
4) WR Torrey Smith, 49ers
Smith did not catch a pass against the Seahawks, but he said he was regularly open against the coverage of Richard Sherman. On Sunday, the 49ers have to find a way to get Smith involved in the offense, especially with Anquan Boldin hobbled by a tight hamstring. The 49ers need Smith to be a threat with the deep ball to help open up the offense for everyone else.
3) RB Reggie Bush, 49ers
Carlos Hyde did not travel to St. Louis for the game due to the stress fracture in his foot, so that means that the 49ers need a lot more from Bush than just to remain healthy. The 49ers have two unproven rookies (Mike Davis and Jarryd Hayne) behind him on the depth chart, so it’s time for Bush to bring some pop to a 49ers’ offense that is in desperate need of a spark.
2) RB Todd Gurley, Rams
After missing the first two games of the season due to ACL surgery he underwent in his final season at Georgia, Gurley has blasted onto the NFL scene. He might already be the biggest weapon on the Rams’ offense. Gurley has gained 442 yards and two touchdowns on 74 attempts. The 49ers must keep him well below his 6.0-yard average and force Foles into third-and-long situations.
1) QB Colin Kaepernick, 49ers
It’s a week-to-week thing with Kaepernick, who is coming off a rough outing against the Seahawks after two good games against the New York Giants and Baltimore. Pass protection is a key, of course. But Kaepernick also has to be decisive and get the ball out of his hands to avoid the pressure he is certain to feel from the Rams’ pass rush. He might have to do more on his own, including running the ball, without the presence of Hyde.