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Starting fast at top of Rams' list against Niners

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams and San Francisco 49ers kick off Sunday at 1 p.m. ET at the Edward Jones Dome. Here are three things to watch from a Rams' perspective in that matchup:

1. Starting fast: The Rams' defense is good enough to keep them in the game for all four quarters against the Niners, but it sure wouldn't hurt if the Rams' offense actually woke up before the second half this week to help take some of the pressure off the defense. Simply put, the Rams' offense has been atrocious in the first quarter of games.

The Rams have scored just once on their opening possession (a 17-yard drive after a fumble recovery on the kickoff against Arizona) and the offense has mustered just 10 points in the first quarter. Worse, the Rams aren't even moving the ball in the opening quarter, averaging a league-low 2.85 yards per play and 30.8 yards. Perhaps most damning, the Rams have mustered only 11 first downs in the first quarter, which lags far behind everyone else in the league. Miami is 31st with 21.

San Francisco is yielding 89.7 yards per game and 5.92 yards per play in the first quarter, both of which ranks in the 20 range in the NFL, meaning there could be an opportunity for the Rams to get on track early in this one.

The Rams found an offensive spark last week when they went to the no huddle in the third quarter. Perhaps it could be used to get them off to a faster start this time around.

2. Slowing the run: In San Francisco's seven games, they've lost by two or more touchdowns in four of them. In the Niners' three other games, they've won two and lost the other by a field goal. While there are plenty of reasons for those varied outcomes, there's one common denominator present in the wins and close game that isn't in the blowout losses: running back Carlos Hyde has been prominently involved.

Hyde was at his best in the season opener against Minnesota, a 20-3 victory in which he had 182 yards of offense and two touchdowns. He had 97 yards and a touchdown in a three-point loss to the New York Giants and 60 yards in a win against Baltimore. In all three games, Hyde had at least 21 carries, so even when he didn't produce much against the Ravens, he was at least a heavy part of the game plan.

Hyde has been dealing with a foot injury and has been ruled out for this week. Reggie Bush is the primary backup who will be asked to get the running game going. The Niners are 31st in the NFL in passing yards per game (ranked only better than the Rams), so slowing Bush and the run game should provide plenty of chances to get after quarterback Colin Kaepernick and force turnovers.

3. Airing it out: It's no secret that running back Todd Gurley has already emerged as the focal point of the Rams' offense and that will continue this week. But the Rams also need to start finding some traction in the passing game. Quarterback Nick Foles and Co. are last in the league in passing yards per game (though they're middle of the road in yards per attempt). That's not a big deal if the running game is rolling, but if it's not, the Rams are in trouble.

Long passing plays would help loosen things up for Gurley and allow the Rams to put together long drives without having to piecemeal them together. The Niners' defense offers a prime opportunity to do just that. San Francisco is 31st in the league in pass defense, allowing 292.7 yards per game, and 31st in net passing yards allowed per attempt at 8.07. They've also given up a whopping 28 pass plays of 20 yards or more (tied for 28th in the NFL) and seven pass plays of 40 yards or more (tied for third-from-last in the league).