With key injuries including left tackle Jake Long and leading wide receiver Brian Quick both lost for the season, it will be a badly depleted St Louis Rams team that heads to San Francisco this weekend. After the home defeat to the 49ers in week 6 the Rams will be big underdogs to even the score on the road against their divisional rivals, themselves looking to bounce back from a heavy defeat by Denver before their bye. For St Louis to come away with an unlikely win, here are RamblinFan’s pick of three key one-on-one matchups that could be crucial in determining the outcome.
JARED COOK vs PERRISH COX
With the Brian Quick injury, there will be renewed pressure on tight end Jared Cook to make some serious yardage on offence. The horror drop against Dallas aside, Cook has arguably not had a terrible season and with the likelihood of an even greater percentage of passes coming his way could yet exceed his previous season high total in receiving yards of 759 set back in 2011. Having been thrown at 45 times this season, Cook is the 7th most targeted tight end in the league and may well move a few places higher in that list by the end of the season. In his way will be San Francisco’s 4th year cornerback, Perrish Cox. With three interceptions, two fumbles recovered already this season, and with an overall grading of +6.4 (9th in the league) on Pro Football Focus, Cox is undoubtedly a real strength in the 49ers secondary. With a height advantage of 5 inches over Cox, Cook will need to get downfield and replace Quick as the deep threat to make the big plays, particularly if the San Francisco defence is effective against the run and forces St Louis into 3rd and long situations.
COLIN KAEPERNICK vs ROBERT QUINN
The embodiment of the dual threat quarterback, as effective keeping hold of the ball and running as he is through the air, Colin Kaepernick has already carried for 262 yards this season – second among quarterbacks behind only Russell Wilson. Kaepernick had a field day against the Rams three weeks ago, rushing for 37 yards and throwing for 343 yards with 3 touchdowns. The St Louis defence will have to do a vastly improved job of containing Kaepernick if they are to stand any realistic chance of giving Austin Davis a manageable points total to aim at. In week 6, Robert Quinn was still very much in the starting blocks on the season having yet to register a sack. Now with three sacks in the last two games, signs of the 2011 first round draft pick regaining some of the form of last season are beginning to break through. With Quinn currently graded by PFF at +8.5 in pass rushing but -5.5 against the run, this particular battle will likely be decided by how often Kaepernick drops back to pass compared to the number of times he looks to move forward and carry the ball himself. If Quinn can consistently get to Kaepernick it will be a huge boost for St Louis in their quest for a third win of the year.
MARK BARRON vs ANQUAN BOLDIN
The big splash this week was the Rams acquisition of the 2012 number 7 overall draft pick, Mark Barron, from Tampa Bay in exchange for a 4th and 6th round selection next spring. Having been critical of the defensive scheme at his previous franchise, Barron will look to make an immediate impact for the Rams. Before leaving the Buccaneers, Barron had their second highest number of tackles with a total of 49, 8 of those coming against the Rams in week 2. While Barron is relatively unused to the blue and gold, opposing wide receiver Anquan Boldin will be very familiar with the Rams. Boldin spent his first seven seasons in the NFL with the Cardinals, faced St Louis in either the preseason or regular season in each of the three years he spent with the Ravens and renewed the acquaintance upon returning to the NFC West with San Francisco in 2013. It is impossible to watch a 49ers game without hearing at least one commentator referring to Boldin as “tough” – which is exactly what Barron wants to be under Gregg Williams in St Louis. Expect this to be a fierce, physical battle. Boldin currently sits 10th in the league in terms of percentage of catches made when thrown to at 70.9%. Mark Barron will need to reduce that number in order to stop the San Francisco offence in its tracks.