St. Louis Rams (5-6) at San Francisco 49ers (7-4)
Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET, at Candlestick Park, San Francisco - TV: FOX
*TV announcers: Kevin Burkhardt, John Lynch, Erin Andrews
*Keys to the game: The 49ers are confident their offense is about to hit its stride after a strong outing at Washington on Monday night and with WR Michael Crabtree expected to return to the field this week. 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick did a good job of burning a Redskins defense that used eight men against the run and dared Kaepernick to beat their poor secondary. The Rams present a far different challenge. They are ranked 18th in total defense, but DEs Chris Long and Robert Quinn have the ability to crash the edges, pin Kaepernick in the pocket and test his quick decision making if St. Louis can handle San Francisco's power ground game. The Rams are finally figuring out how to get the ball to explosive WR Tavon Austin in space, but the rookie will also find the 49ers are loaded with instinctive defenders who aren't out of position often. San Francisco enters the game fourth in pass defense and Rams QB Kellen Clemens is completing just 51.9 percent of his passes, so St. Louis is going to need to get work done on the ground.
*Matchup to watch - Rams WR Tavon Austin vs. 49ers P Andy Lee: The Rams are creative with Austin, setting up middle and sideline returns and using misdirection. Field position is going to be critical for the Rams. Lee has a booming leg, but can outkick his coverage (227 return yards against).
*Player spotlight - 49ers WR Michael Crabtree: Expected to make his season debut after recovering from a torn Achilles, Crabtree is the team's best route-runner and can break tackles after the catch, but his health remains an unknown in a quick return from May surgery.
*Fast facts: The Rams have averaged 31 rushing attempts for 151.9 yards over their past nine games. ... The 49ers are 23-1 under coach Jim Harbaugh when allowing two sacks or less.
WHO WILL WIN AND WHY
We'll find out plenty about Colin Kaepernick this week. The 49ers' quarterback has a full complement of weapons with WR Michael Crabtree in the lineup, but the Rams' defensive line has the ability to penetrate from any position and test Kaepernick's decision-making and accuracy. He passes the test, but mostly because St. Louis' offense still doesn't match up.
*Our pick: 49ers 23-13
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