- Nick Wagoner, ESPN Staff Writer
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Instead of breaking down a big play and a hidden play this week, we'll just dive right into observations and general thoughts from the game.
It was quite clear from the beginning that the Rams' top goal in this game was to stop Niners running back Frank Gore and San Francisco's ground game. They spent much of the day loading up with the intent to stop Gore. And that's exactly what they did. The Rams' run defense improved greatly from the first meeting and most of it was simply the ability of their front seven to get off blocks and make tackles.
All told, the Rams defense played pretty well in this game but there were two issues that kept them from keeping it a little closer: penalties and the ability of Niners quarterback Colin Kaepernick to extend plays and get the ball down the field.
First, on the penalties, the Rams were unhappy with many of the calls that went against them but in watching it again most of the calls, especially against the defense, seemed legitimate. The exception was the call on linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar for hitting Kaepernick late. You could see why they called it but it was too far in terms of trying to protect him. On the call that went against cornerback Janoris Jenkins, he took a jarring blow from receiver Anquan Boldin and lost his feet. Jenkins grabbed Boldin to prevent a walk-in touchdown and try to keep up. It was the right call but clearly a tough matchup for Jenkins.
Aside from that, Jenkins played pretty well. He had a couple of nice pass breakups, two on back-shoulder throws which he was on top of all the way. He doesn't have the splash plays but Jenkins appears to be improving from week to week.
Tougher day on the other side for Trumaine Johnson, who struggled to keep up with Boldin. Worse, he let his struggles affect him as he picked up an unnecessary roughness penalty and was inconsistent tackling after giving up completions. Michael Crabtree turned him inside out on a double move for a 60-yard gain in the third quarter, also.
Safety T.J. McDonald was better in this one than his first game back from his leg injury, including textbook coverage for a pass breakup on Niners tight end Vernon Davis (not the play you're thinking about). The Rams still had their share of struggles covering Davis. It's not saying anything we didn't already know but the Rams simply need a playmaker on the back end of the defense. The safety play was actually decent in this game but that's been on the high end of what they've had most of this year.
It would probably be easy to look at the Niners' shuffling along the offensive line and think end Robert Quinn would have had yet another big day at the office. With Joe Staley out, Quinn faced covered guard Alex Boone most of the day. Quinn was shut out in the sack department but played better than that zero might indicate. The reason? Kaepernick. Quinn and bookend Chris Long got around the edge multiple times but Kaepernick often stepped up in the pocket to get away from that pressure. Sometimes that led to Kaepernick running or throwing for a positive gain and it also led to three sacks combined from defensive tackles Michael Brockers and Kendall Langford, both of whom pushed the pocket well for the most part.
As a group, this was one of the best games of the year for the Rams' linebackers in terms of defending the run. James Laurinaitis was solid all day once again and Jo-Lonn Dunbar consistently made the correct read and helped bring down Gore at or near the line of scrimmage. Alec Ogletree performed well against the run, even getting off blocks to make tackles a couple of times but actually struggled in coverage a bit. Ogletree slipped in coverage once but also had a play in which he was covering Boldin well, but when Kaepernick scrambled he got caught looking in the backfield and actually ran away from Boldin for an easy completion to set up a field goal.
Another good day for the Rams' special teams in coverage but not much there for the return game. The kick return team had a few opportunities to get something going but couldn't do it and gave the offense poor field position a few times. Punter Johnny Hekker was quite good again.