- Nick Wagoner, ESPN Staff Writer
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EARTH CITY, Mo. – Thursday’s game between the St. Louis Rams and San Francisco 49ers has plenty of intriguing matchups. Here are three to keep an eye on when the teams kick it off at 8:25 p.m. ET at the Edward Jones Dome.
Rams front seven vs. 49ers running back Frank Gore
Gore was none too pleased at getting just 11 carries last week against Indianapolis despite his 7.5-yards-per-attempt average. He let San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh know about it, too.
The fact the 49ers lost and didn’t use Gore as much as normal would likely be enough to get him heavily involved this week, but if San Francisco needed any more motivation to go to Gore, the Rams provided it last week.
Dallas running back DeMarco Murray gashed St. Louis for 175 yards on 26 carries in the Cowboys’ 31-7 victory.
Add all of those factors up, and the Rams expect to see Gore early and often.
“After the show we put on Sunday, I’d run the ball too,” Rams end Chris Long said. “We have to fix those things. If you have a subpar performance, there’s nothing you can ask more than to have a great running team like San Francisco to see where we’re at. They’re going to come in and try to run the football, they always do, that’s how they’re built and it’s up to us to be up to the task.”
Gore had long been a thorn in the Rams' side, but they have slowed him down over the teams’ four meetings the past two seasons. Last year, the Rams limited Gore to 3.5 yards per carry on his 44 attempts.
Those struggles have been applicable to the 49ers as a whole this season as their usual potent running game has dipped from 5.1 yards per rush last year to 4.0 in the first three games of 2013.
It was tough sledding last week for Long against Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Ware, and it won’t get any easier this week against Smith.
In one sense, Long and the Rams offensive line catch a break by missing out on Aldon Smith, but Justin Smith (no relation) is the guy who has made a habit of wrecking defensive game plans.
“He’s definitely the one that runs that defense, especially up front,” Long said. “He’s a guy that never stops until the whistle has blown. He’s running guys down, he’s pushing guys back, he’s making all the tackles and really is the heart and soul of that defensive line. We’ve got to slow him down.”
Justin Smith won’t be the exclusive responsibility of Long, who will also have to deal with the players replacing Aldon Smith, such as rookie Corey Lemonier. Still, Long will have to do his part along with left guard Chris Williams to keep Justin Smith from blowing things up, especially if the Rams are to get their running game up to speed.
It wasn’t until the first meeting between the teams last season that then-rookie Brockers felt like he was at full strength coming off a high-ankle sprain. He made up for lost time with eight tackles in two meetings against San Francisco and was instrumental in helping slow Gore and the 49ers run game.
Iupati is considered on the toughest guards in the league, and in a game full of physical matchups, this one might be the most brutal. Iupati has been battling a shoulder injury and has struggled in the first three games of the season.
Brockers played well in the opener against Arizona and was mostly fine against Atlanta before a rough Week 3 outing in Dallas. If indeed San Francisco looks to get back to the ground game with Gore, this matchup will go a long way in determining its success.