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.
Overall it was obviously a tough day for the Rams offense. The Niners defense is clearly far ahead of the group that they had in the teams' first meeting in September. Aldon Smith bending the edge and Patrick Willis' presence in the middle has that group playing like an elite one once again. The Rams missed a number of opportunities to hit some big plays, though.
Quarterback Kellen Clemens had perhaps his worst game since he became the starter. Clemens had a rough week in practice last week and it appeared some of that carried over against the Niners. He overthrew receivers multiple times, often as the result of trying to move around the pocket and get the ball downfield. The Niners appeared to be content to force Clemens to stand in the pocket and deliver accurate passes into coverage. He wasn't up to the task.
Of course, Clemens' completion percentage likely would've been more in line with his usual output were it not for some drops. I may be a little generous but I had the Rams down for four drops, though two more could have been chalked up rather easily. Tight end Jared Cook had two glaring ones at the beginning and almost had a third before he controlled it.
Receiver Chris Givens had a particularly rough day. He had the drop on the deep ball where Carlos Rogers fell down which was particularly costly, but that wasn't all. In the second quarter, Clemens threw a pass short of Givens but it appeared that he still could have made the catch but didn't come up with it. Later, Givens and Clemens were out of sync on a comeback route down the left sideline. Givens just isn't smooth coming out of his breaks on intermediate routes yet and while the pass wasn't exactly on the money, a better break might have at least given him a chance.
Not much running room for back Zac Stacy in this one, which isn't a surprise given the Niners' defense. But from watching, it was a bit puzzling why Benny Cunningham didn't get more than the two carries he got. He gained 13 yards on one carry. Stacy had some more room in the second half and it seemed Cunningham's little extra burst would have given the Rams a chance at some bigger gains. Have to say this about Stacy, though: he finds a way to gain positive yards on nearly every carry. The Niners had him dead to rights a few times and he still managed to wiggle out and fall forward.
Want to see what makes the Smiths (Aldon and Justin) so dangerous? Watch the sack Ray McDonald gets on Clemens on the Rams' second play from scrimmage. Clemens takes a seven-step drop as Aldon Smith bends the edge against left tackle Jake Long. Long does well enough to keep Smith from getting right to Clemens but when Clemens steps up in the pocket, there's not much space because Justin Smith is using brute force to push left guard Chris Williams back. Clemens ran into Williams and fell down as McDonald cleaned up for the sack. But that's the combination of power (Justin) and speed (Aldon) that makes the Niners so hard to block.
Speaking of which, the Rams offensive line had a better day than the offense's final production might indicate. The Niners sacked Clemens three times but mostly kept Clemens clean. San Francisco did get pressure but there were still opportunities to get the ball out. And the run blocking was better in the second half. Given the musical chairs the Rams played with injuries to center Scott Wells and Long, it was a pretty solid performance overall. Rodger Saffold played well again in his third game at right guard. He's clearly a natural there.
Tim Barnes, getting his first extended playing time on offense in place of Wells, actually fared quite well. He had a hiccup in the form of a delay of game penalty but that was the only noticeable communication issue the Rams had after Barnes came in.
Tavon Austin played almost 50 snaps in this game, many times outside the hashes opposite Givens. The Rams used Austin in a role similar to Danny Amendola last year on multiple occasions, running the underneath routes and moving the chains with short gains for first downs. But the Niners found ways to take away the deep ball that Austin has been hitting on lately.
Stedman Bailey played about two dozen snaps at receiver and continues to get more involved. He runs pretty crisp routes and has strong hands that allow him to play bigger than his size. He should continue to get involved as the year goes on.