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Friday, November 29, 2013
Double Coverage: Rams at 49ers

By Bill Williamson and Nick Wagoner

Clemens-Kaepernick
Kellen Clemens and Colin Kaepernick both know limiting mistakes will be key on Sunday.
 The San Francisco 49ers had their way with the St. Louis Rams in Week 4, winning 35-11 on the road.

However, the 49ers aren’t looking back at that game as much as they are recalling their 2012 series with St. Louis. The Rams beat the 49ers in St. Louis and the two teams tied in San Francisco last season.

ESPN.com St. Louis Rams reporter Nick Wagoner and 49ers reporter Bill Williamson discuss what to expect in this meeting.

Wagoner: After destroying the Rams the first time out, the Niners seemed to get on a roll but have had some struggles, too. By this point in the season, do you have a good feel for who this team is?

Williamson: I really don’t see the 49ers as just a difficult-to-read team. They are a strong team. I know a lot was made of their recent two-game skid. But the 49ers lost to Carolina and New Orleans by a total of four points. The 49ers literally were one play away from winning both of those games. Yes, the 49ers are 7-4 and they are not perfect, but this is still an upper-level team. Nick, do you get the sense the Rams are confident going into this game?

Wagoner: They have plenty of reasons to be after blowout wins against legitimate, albeit injured, playoff contenders in Indianapolis and Chicago. The Rams' first meeting with the Niners was something of a wake-up call for them and they have mostly been trending in a positive direction since despite some close losses along the way. They have discovered an offensive identity and the defense has been playing better. Although the Niners blew them out in the first meeting, the Rams also have fond memories of how they competed with them last year. I would expect them to go in believing fully they can win this game.

Receiver Michael Crabtree appears to be heading toward a return. Do you expect to see him on Sunday? How much has his absence hurt the team?

Williamson: He is now active. Of course, the big question is if he will play Sunday. 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh has indicated Crabtree will play. I truly don’t expect him to play much. He is still working his way back from a torn Achilles he suffered in May. He is not 100 percent. He should improve steadily, but it may be a mistake to think Crabtree will be ready to make a huge impact Sunday. But there is no doubt the 49ers miss him and need him back. Nick, do you think the Rams are preparing for a big dose of Crabtree?

Wagoner: I think the Rams' primary concern as it pertains to Crabtree right now is making sure they have the healthy and productive bodies they need in the secondary. Cornerback Trumaine Johnson is dealing with a concussion and they recently placed Cortland Finnegan on injured reserve with an eye injury. The Rams have struggled with elite receivers this year so if Crabtree didn't play much, that would be a good thing for them, especially given the success Anquan Boldin had in the first meeting. The Rams are also working with rookie safety T.J. McDonald to knock the rust off after he returned from a broken leg suffered in the first game between the teams. The Rams have lots of questions in the secondary right now so every little bit helps.

Falling in line with that, how do you evaluate Colin Kaepernick's second season as a starter? Are the issues he's had common growing pains or are they things that will be difficult for him to improve as he moves forward?

Williamson: There’s no doubt Kaepernick has struggled some this season. But I think a lot of it has been a lack of receiving weapons. Kaepernick will be fine once he gets a full complement of receivers. He can make every throw and he plays well within the 49ers’ system. The coaches are pleased and see limitless potential. But he does have to improve in reading defenses and working on his progressions. But, overall, he’s far from a liability. Nick, the Rams’ defense has been good; do you think it can cause Kaepernick into making enough mistakes for St. Louis to stay in this game?

Wagoner: Well, that's precisely what they are going to have to do to stay in the game. The defense has played much better in recent weeks, I believe in no small part as a response to the loss of quarterback Sam Bradford, but also a more aggressive approach to defense in general. The defensive line is the strength of this team and it has been on fire here lately. Robert Quinn might be the best defensive player in the league and Chris Long is playing well opposite him. The key, though, will be for the good version of the Rams' unpredictable run defense to show up. They have been up and down but when they are good and they force opponents into third-and-long, the defensive line feasts. To me, it all starts there, then they can do their thing against Kaepernick.