St. Louis Rams: Jim Harbaugh

Double Coverage: 49ers at Rams

September, 26, 2013
Colin Kaepernick and James LaurinaitisGetty ImagesThe 49ers' Colin Kaepernick and the Rams' James Laurinaitis will try to help their respective squads avoid a 1-3 start.
No NFL division rivals were more evenly matched than the St. Louis Rams and San Francisco 49ers in 2012. It took almost 10 full quarters to determine a winner after the teams tied in San Francisco and went late into overtime in the meeting in St. Louis.

The Rams and 49ers renew acquaintances in front of a national audience at 8:25 p.m. ET Thursday night at the Edward Jones Dome. ESPN Rams reporter Nick Wagoner and 49ers reporter Bill Williamson kick around some important topics heading into the game in this edition of Double Coverage.

Wagoner: These two teams couldn’t possibly have played a pair of closer games in one season than they did last year. That came as something of a surprise given the way San Francisco was bullying opponents from week to week. Somehow, the Rams seemed to have the 49ers' number last year. How much does that bother 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh & Co. entering this one?

Williamson: I am sure the 49ers are not thrilled to be playing at St. Louis on a short week right now. Times are tough in San Francisco. They are under .500 and have lost two games in a row for the first time under Jim Harbaugh. They are having issues on both sides of the ball, dealing with Aldon Smith going to rehab and experiencing many injuries. To top it all off, the Rams, as you said, had success against the 49ers last year when they were playing at a high level. I think the 49ers are focusing this week on getting themselves fixed and not worrying about their recent past with the Rams. But if the Rams strike first, it could get in the 49ers’ heads.

Wagoner: Well, on the bright side for San Francisco, the Rams are going through some troubles of their own after getting decimated in Dallas last weekend. That the Rams are 1-2 at this point isn’t a huge surprise, but the way the Cowboys manhandled them has caused some to push the panic button already. Playing a division rival at home on short rest should serve as a quick way to snap out of whatever funk it was that plagued them in Dallas. On the flip side of that equation, it also doesn’t provide much time to fix all the problems that have been evident not just against the Cowboys but in the first three weeks as a whole.

You mention the loss of Aldon Smith; how does that affect the Niners on the field and perhaps in the locker room?

Williamson: Moving forward, I think the biggest effect is on the field. The team has had time to allow this to hit them. If anything, it might have been a distraction Sunday against the Colts. Now, they are worried about being without Smith on the field. He has 37 sacks since he came into the league in 2011, the most in the NFL during that span. The 49ers are going to use rookie Corey Lemonier, a third-round pick, and Dan Skuta, mostly a special-teamer, in Smith's absence. The 49ers’ entire defense is going to have to respond well as it begins to play without Smith. Suffice to say, it won’t be easy.

Wagoner: The 49ers playing without Smith bodes well for the Rams given the fact that he’s had so much success against them in previous meetings. Smith had five sacks in four games against the Rams, so his absence is a good thing for an offensive line that gave up six sacks last week in Dallas. Before that game, the Rams had a four-game streak dating to last season of not allowing a sack, but it appeared to be a bit of smoke and mirrors this season given the Rams’ penchant for short passes and not having faced a team with a top pass-rusher. Perhaps more important for the Rams’ offensive line this week will be establishing the line of scrimmage and trying to get the running game going. It’s an area where the Rams have yet to show much life but one they’ll absolutely need against the 49ers.

Speaking of areas that haven’t revved up yet, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick isn't off to the best start. What have you seen from him so far and what type of changes (if any) have the 49ers made schematically since last year?

Williamson: It’s weird, Nick. Kaepernick was brilliant -- basically flawless -- against the Packers in Week 1. But he has really struggled in the past two games as the 49ers have scored a combined 10 points. Frankly, this offense has been incapable of playing winning football the past two weeks. But it’s not all on Kaepernick. The receivers (other than Anquan Boldin) have not gotten open and the offensive line, which has been great in the past, has slid back. Kaepernick seems flustered. He has to rise above it and become the leader. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see more of the read-option (it has been used sparingly this season) against the Rams to give the offense a spark.

Wagoner: That’s an interesting thought given the Rams’ relative success against the read-option last year. The Rams seemed to be on to the basic keys to slowing it down and that played a big part in their win against the 49ers in St. Louis. They had it defended well enough to score a game-changing touchdown on a missed pitch late in that one. One thing that could play in San Francisco’s favor is the knee injury to defensive end William Hayes. It’s unlikely Hayes will play this week and he’s the best the Rams have at setting the edge and blowing up run plays. That’s a big loss for the Rams going into this one.

Final 2013 preseason QB snap counts

August, 30, 2013
Six projected starting quarterbacks played in their teams' final exhibition games of the 2013 preseason. The Seattle Seahawks' Russell Wilson and the San Francisco 49ers' Colin Kaepernick were two of them, and both led touchdown drives before exiting after one series. None of the NFL's projected starters got hurt Thursday night.

The chart shows week-by-week snap counts for quarterbacks I singled out as projected starters heading into preseason. NFC West alums Kevin Kolb and Matt Flynn might not start after all, but I've left them in the chart for context.

St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher has generally played starters in the final preseason game. He did not this time.

"Typically I have, but I guess in the new world that we’re in, it’s hard to," Fisher told reporters after the Rams' game against Baltimore. "What that implies is that I'm pleased with where they are right now, those guys that sat. They worked hard. We got a great workout and it allowed them to fast-forward their minds to Arizona."

Fisher could have been alluding to the run of higher-profile injuries around the league this summer. Last year, the Rams lost rookie defensive tackle Michael Brockers to a high-ankle sprain in the final preseason game.

The Rams emerged from this preseason healthier than their division rivals. That did not stop the 49ers from playing their offensive starters or the Seahawks from playing starters on both sides of the ball Thursday night. The Arizona Cardinals rested most of their starters, though Michael Floyd was one notable exception.

San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh offered no explanation for playing his starting offense one series. Kaepernick hadn't gotten many snaps through the first three games, however. Getting additional reps for Kaepernick and the team's group of emerging receivers made some sense on the surface.

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll went into the final preseason game saying he wanted starters to play because the team values this games as competitive opportunities.

A potential competition for the San Francisco 49ers' No. 2 quarterback job might have dissipated before it really began.

Colt McCoy is the guy behind the No. 1 guy, coach Jim Harbaugh told reporters Sunday night following a 34-14 victory over the Minnesota Vikings at Candlestick Park.

A chronology provides some context:

March 12: The trade sending backup Alex Smith to Kansas City becomes official.

April 2: The 49ers acquire McCoy to be their presumed No. 2 quarterback.

Aug. 8 and 16: McCoy performs unconvincingly in the 49ers' first two exhibition games.

Aug. 22: The 49ers sign free-agent quarterback Seneca Wallace.

Aug. 24: McCoy accepts a reduced salary. The news comes out a day later, at which point McCoy confirms that he accepted the reduction on Saturday night, the 24th.

Aug. 25: McCoy completes 11 of 15 passes for 109 yards and an interception during the 49ers' preseason game against Minnesota. Wallace hardly plays. After the game, Harbaugh tells reporters he "feels real good about Colt as the backup quarterback."

The timeline suggests Wallace's signing helped the 49ers secure a pay reduction from McCoy while providing insurance. That may or may not be the case. We know Colin Kaepernick is the starter and McCoy is the heavy favorite to serve in the No. 2 role, and that Wallace could have some additional time to learn the offense -- perhaps so the 49ers could turn to him later if a need arose.

Teams have until Tuesday to reduce their rosters from the 90-man limit to no more than 75 players. The mandatory reduction to 53-man limits is Saturday.