EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams and San Francisco 49ers kick off Sunday at 4:25 p.m. ET from Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California. Here are three things to watch in this matchup as the Rams attempt to get to 8-8 for the first time since 2006.
1. Who runs it?: Based on recent performance, the Rams have an unfavorable matchup in the running game this week as the Niners have yielded an average of just 155 rushing yards combined in the last two games, and 2.42 yards per carry in that time frame. But in the two weeks before that, they gave up a combined 400 rushing yards and they rank No. 28 overall against the run. The Rams had a lot of success on the ground in the first meeting as running back Todd Gurley went for 133 yards and a touchdown in that game.
But the Rams almost certainly won't have the benefit of Gurley's services this time around as he did not practice all week because of a foot injury. The Rams officially listed Gurley as doubtful on the injury report and they're expected to play it safe with him against the Niners. The Rams promoted rookie Malcolm Brown from the practice squad on Thursday.
If Gurley can't go, it leaves primary running duties to Tre Mason and Benny Cunningham, with Mason expected to start. In three career games against the 49ers, Mason has rushed for 151 yards on 39 carries, an average of 3.87 yards per attempt. Cunningham has 120 all purpose yards and a touchdown in five career games against San Francisco.
2. Getting after Gabbert: Niners quarterback Blaine Gabbert is a St. Louis native and spent many a Sunday afternoon watching the Rams growing up. Now it's his job to try to beat them as he make his first start as a Niner against his hometown team. Gabbert had a rough outing against the Rams back when he was with the Jaguars, but he's played better in his stint as San Francisco's starter during the past six weeks.
In seven starts this year, Gabbert has nine touchdowns and six interceptions, but all of those interceptions came in three games. He's managed to be free of turnovers in his other four starts. The Rams have enjoyed a takeaway advantage in their three-game winning streak, including a plus-three margin last week against Seattle. If they can force Gabbert into some miscues this week, it would go a long way toward reaching their first four-game winning streak since 2003.
3. Adding to the aerial attack: With Gurley likely out, it leaves the possibility that the Rams' running game will go the way of San Francisco's past two opponents, which is to say that it could be tough sledding for the Rams on the ground. That, plus the fact that the 49ers rank 25th in the league in passing yards allowed per game (263.2) and 31st in passing yards allowed per attempt (7.73), could mean the Rams will need more from quarterback Case Keenum and the aerial attack on Sunday.
Keenum has been solid during the past three weeks, particularly when it comes to mitigating turnovers (only one interception) and taking advantage when opportunities arise (7.44 yards per attempt). But of those three games, Keenum only really had to help carry the load against Tampa Bay. That was his best performance as he went 14-of-17 for 234 yards with two touchdowns.
It's unlikely the Rams will ask Keenum to throw it 35-40 times in this one, but they might need production similar to what he did against the Buccaneers in order to finish with another win.