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Week 4: Rams-49ers matchup analysis

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San Francisco 49ers (1-2) at St. Louis Rams (1-2)

Thursday, 8:25 p.m. ET, at Edward Jones Dome, St. Louis - TV: NFL Network

*TV announcers: Brad Nessler, Mike Mayock, Alex Flanagan

*Keys to the game: The 49ers' offense has rapidly devolved from the one being heralded as unstoppable following a Week 1 victory over Green Bay to a disjointed unit incapable of moving the ball consistently. QB Colin Kaepernick isn't running much read-option, and the passing game has sputtered through a combination of his struggles and the inability of receivers to gain separation. RB Frank Gore wants more touches, and he should get them as the 49ers look to assert their physicality on the road against a Rams defense that gave up 175 yards to DeMarco Murray last week. St. Louis boasts a strong defensive line and San Francisco needs to keep the front seven off balance. The Rams' upgraded offensive protected QB Sam Bradford through the first two games, but he was sacked six times b Dallas. He has fleet-footed options downfield, but little time to find them due to a ground game averaging 3.2 yards per carry and 57 yards per game. Look for TE Jared Cook to get back involved in the underneath passing game to help move the chains.

*Matchup to watch - 49ers OLB Dan Skuta vs. Rams LT Jake Long: Skuta was the first name inserted on the depth chart to start in place of Aldon Smith, who is out indefinitely seeking treatment for an undisclosed issue. The 49ers can't replace Smith's fearsome presence as a pass rusher, and they won't attempt to with just one person. Corey Lemonier will see increased snaps and Ahmad Brooks could move from the left side to the right side if the 49ers see matchups they want to exploit. However, Brooks' better bet is working against hobbled RT Rodger Saffold (knee), if Saffold can go this week.

*Player spotlight - 49ers ILB Michael Wilhoite: If Patrick Willis is sidelined by a groin injury, Wilhoite will likely make his first NFL start.

*Fast facts: Gore has 142 rushing yards through three games. Oakland QB Terrelle Pryor has 198. ... The Rams have 27 yards on 21 plays while being outscored 24-0 in the first quarter of their past two games.

WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

Few rally the troops better than San Francisco head coach Jim Harbaugh. He'll circle the wagon against the 49ers' critics, have his team focused and look for more liberal use of the read-option to help QB Colin Kaepernick get his groove back.

*Our pick: 49ers 34-23
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