- Nick Wagoner, ESPN Staff Writer
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Containing Kaepernick: While San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick was running wild on most of the NFL last season, the Rams seemed to have the key to slowing him down and keeping the read-option in check.
Part of Kaepernick’s success last year came from his ability to throw well down the field but the Rams neutralized that by blitzing early and often. In the Rams’ win against the Niners, they blitzed on 60 percent of Kaepernick’s dropbacks.
Kaepernick had career lows in average pass length (5.8 yards) and average time in the pocket (2.5 seconds) in that game, certainly a product of the Rams dialing up the pressure.
That success provided a blueprint for teams around the league and the result has been a rough start for Kaepernick for the past two games. Teams aren’t loading up the run box as much as they used to and Kaepernick is struggling to get the ball down the field.
Still, it’s important for the Rams to keep Kaepernick corralled. He did have some running success against the Rams last year, most of which came on broken plays and non-designed runs.
“Colin forces you to be really sound in your assignments and where you’re supposed to be,” Rams defensive end Chris Long said. “Any play, as you’ve seen last year, he can break it big. So he keeps you honest and he keeps you on your toes.”
Grinding it out: It’s been common practice for teams to abandon the run early when playing San Francisco. It’s also been common practice for those teams to lose.
A big key to the Rams’ success against the Niners last year was their ability to do just enough in the run game to keep churning out yards and keep San Francisco honest. They only averaged 3.8 yards per carry but kept the chains moving enough to run it 64 times.
“I think you look at both games last year against them, we ran the ball pretty well,” offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said. “We were able to get some chunk runs early in the game, kind of help us with field position and that sets up a lot. It’s never an easy task against them.”
So far this year, that hasn’t exactly been the case. The Niners run defense isn’t as dominant as its been and they’re likely to be without middle linebacker Patrick Willis.
Through three games, San Francisco is ranked 29th against the run, allowing a stunning 139.67 yards per game on the ground.
On the other side, the Rams have struggled just as much to get their running game in gear. Starter Daryl Richardson, Isaiah Pead and the rest of the Rams backs have yet to get untracked as the Rams sit 29th in the league in rushing offense.
The Colts hammered away at the 49ers with 40 carries for 184 rushing yards in a win last week. The Rams don’t need to match that production but a reasonable facsimile of it would go a long way toward a victory.
Third down blues: The Rams have struggled to get off the field on third down defensively all season but their issues converting on third downs has been a bit more of a slow burn.
With three weeks under their belt, the Rams are 30th in converting third downs offensively with a success rate of 29.3 percent. On defense, they’re allowing opponents to convert 50 percent of the time, tied for worst in the league.
The Niners are middle of the pack in both categories but the Rams have to find a way to be better this week.
“Really the key is third down,” Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. “When you’re playing a good offensive team like we faced yesterday, where our offense is struggling, the defense is going to have to get turnovers or get the ball back and we didn’t do that … So, that will be our focus this week as we get ready for the 49ers.”