The name of the game on Monday night for the San Francisco 49ers defense (3-2) will be to stop St. Louis Rams (1-3) RB Zac Stacy. A very underrated running back who has the build of a bruising fullback, Stacy is a tough player to bring down between the tackles. And while he has yet to reach the century mark this season, it will be the 49ers front seven that will need to keep him at bay.
A stout seven at that as the 49ers already went up against top tier running backs in RB DeMarco Murray, RB Matt Forte, RB LeSean McCoy, and RB Jamaal Charles, the 49ers defense should be able to bottle up Stacy early and often, and it all starts up front.
Led by starting DE Justin Smith and DE Ray McDonald, those two on the outside have done a tremendous job in run support while setting the edge. In fact, Smith currently ranks No. 2 by Pro Football Focus as the second best in run support for all 3-4 defensive ends with a whopping 8.8 grade, combine that with McDonald ranking No. 6 with a 4.8 grade and you can see where the strength of the 49ers run defense lies. If both Smith and McDonald can set the edge all while exploding off the snap to make tackles near the line of scrimmage that should create huge problems for a struggling Rams offense. However, the defensive line isn’t the only ones getting the job done as their swarming linebackers behind them have created havoc in the run game.
Starting with the heart and soul of the defense, it continues to be ILB Patrick Willis who game-in-and-game-out sets the tone in run support. Whether running sideline-to-sideline to bring down ball carriers or hitting the A-gap with fury, Willis continues to shine despite playing without two All-Pros. And while Willis leads the team with a team-high 31 tackles, his presence alone needs to be accounted for on every snap, making it easier for his teammates to make plays as team’s solely focus their attention on No. 52.
Two players who have benefited from that are OLB Dan Skuta and OLB Aaron Lynch. Both of those players not only provide stability in run support but Lynch in particular is looking stronger in the pass-rush. A tribute to him for grasping the playbook in OLB Aldon Smith’s absence, Lynch is looking good evident by ranking second on the team in run support according to Pro Football Focus. A pure athlete with the athleticism and wingspan to match, Lynch should hold his own on Monday Night, as he helps bring down Stacy on initial contact.
None of this is good news for Stacy however, and with the Rams offensive line unable to generate a consistent push up front outside of Rams RT Joe Barksdale, the 49ers defense should have their way on Monday night. A true test to see how they fare on the road, as four of their next five games will be in opposing stadiums, we will see how the 49ers defense holds up as they were once considered road warriors last season.
A division game where the Rams always play the 49ers tough, look for Stacy to have a frustrating day, as I fully expect the 49ers front seven to hold him to a stat line similar to 14 carries for 53 yards.