The San Francisco 49ers (4-3) will undoubtedly look to get back on track as they take on the St. Louis Rams (2-5) for the second time in four weeks. Two teams who always play each other tough, it will be the 49ers defense that will need to have a rebound performance.
A unit that had yet to allow a team to score 30 points this season, that streak came to a halt as the Denver Broncos scored at will as they lit up the scoreboard for 42 points. Now, as the 49ers try to regain their mid-season form it will need to start with their stout front seven.
Led by two Pro Bowl players in 49ers DE Justin Smith and ILB Patrick Willis, it will be up to those two studs to set the tone early. Smith who is having yet another great season especially in run support as he ranks No. 2 by Pro Football Focus among all 3-4 defensive ends will surely look to bring down Rams RB Tre Mason on initial contact. Whether setting the edge with brute force or shedding blocks from the Rams backup tackle, Smith will be looking for a strong performance on Sunday as he helps keep the Rams running game in check.
And while Smith may be doing his part down in the trenches, it’s Willis who will need to clean up the trash. Willis had a poor performance against the Rams two weeks ago as he was graded the second worst player in run support. That will need to change if the 49ers want to keep pace in the NFC West. A vicious tackler that has yet to put a monster hit on a ball-carrier this season, look for that to change as Willis looks to redeem himself this time around as I fully expect him to force a fumble. If Willis can maintain gap integrity while hitting Mason at or near the line of scrimmage that should do wonders for the 49ers defense.
However, while those two players continue to get the hype, it’s another player who is getting the job done as NT Ian Williams picked up where he left off last season as a solid 3-4 nose tackle. Ranked No. 9 by Pro Football Focus among all defensive tackles, Williams continues to be the clog in the middle for DC Vic Fangio’s defense. A solid player that understands how to lower his pads, Williams should create nightmares for the Rams running game all while occupying multiple blockers. A player that is getting stronger with every snap don’t be surprised if Williams holds down the starting spot despite NT Glenn Dorsey’s expected return.
With the 49ers defense looking to bring back that stingy mentality, look for them to do that on Sunday as Fangio dials up a bullet-proof game-plan while making the Rams offense one-dimensional.