Sunday afternoon the San Francisco 49ers will face the St Louis Rams for the second time in 2014. The 49ers defeated the Rams In the last meeting between the two teams only three weeks ago the 49ers came out on the winning end of a 31-17 score. The 49ers are coming off their bye week and bring with them a 4-3 record, tied for second in the NFC West with the Seattle Seahawks. With the bye many of the players that had been battling through injuries are in much better condition and ready to finish off the first half of their schedule. In addition, the 49ers have not lost a home game against a division opponent since October 26, 2008.
The Rams come in on the complete opposite of the injury spectrum. They will limp into Levi's Stadium with a 2-5 record and a roster which has been depleted by injuries over the two weeks since they last faced San Francisco. In an effort to bolster the roster the Rams made a trade earlier this week with Tampa Bay to acquire Mark Barron. The former first round safety was on the wrong end of one of the more memorable 49ers plays from a year ago.
With that as a backdrop here are 5 burning questions to which the answers will be key to the outcome of the game.
1) Next man up! - With Daniel Kilgore lost for the season as the result of a broken leg suffered against Denver, Marcus Martin is set to take over at center. When the 49ers selected Martin in the third round of the draft this year many thought he would be able to wrest the starting job away from Kilgore. However and injury prior to training camp, followed by a knee injury in preseason never allowed the battle to materialize.
Martin will face a stiff test Sunday in fellow rookie Aaron Donald. According to ProFootballFocus, Donald ranks second in run stop percentage and ninth in pass rush productivity among defensive tackle's.
2) Who will be on the Rams offensive line? - The Rams offensive line has been depleted by injuries, losing left tackle Jake Long for the season and center Scott Wells and right guard Roger Saffold both missing practice time this week.
This is a week in which Justin Smith and Ray McDonald should dominate. With Long out, the Rams have been forced to move Greg Robinson to left tackle which means Mike Person is in line to get the start. Person is a name that should sound familiar to 49ers fans, he was selected by the team in the seventh round of the 2011 draft.
If Saffold is unable to go on Sunday the Rams will turn to Davin Joseph at right guard. The former Buccaneer started the first four games of 2014, posting an overall grade of -8.3. Joseph posted a positive grade only once in 2013, and it happened to be week 15 against the 49ers.
3) Can the 49ers back seven do a better job against the Rams tight ends? - In the first matchup Rams quarterback Austin Davis targeted his tight ends 13 times, resulting in 96 of his 236 passing yards and one touchdown. With Brian Quick lost for the season, look for Davis to once again focus on getting the ball to Jared Cook and Lance Kendricks.
4) Will Vernon Davis turn it around? - 2014 has been an injury-filled season so far for Vernon Davis. He injured his ankle late against Chicago causing him to miss the Arizona game the following week. When he came back against Philadelphia he was injured again, this time it was his back and he would miss the Kansas City game.
Davis came back against St Louis in week six, and had a very poor game which saw him record two drops and knock a would-be touchdown away from Vance McDonald. The following week against Denver wasn't much better as Davis dropped a pass from Colin Kaepernick that hit him between the numbers.
With an extra week to rest his back, there is no better time than the present for Davis to get things rolling.
5) Can the 49ers stay focused? - Facing a team that has only 2 wins and a number of injuries could be a dangerous thing when faced with travelling to go against a division leader in New Orleans next week.
49ers 34 Rams 10