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Tale of the tape: San Francisco 49ers at St. Louis Rams

The NFC West was supposed to be the power conference but the San Francisco 49ers and St. Louis Rams have come off the tracks to start the year. One will right the ship while the other one will continue its slide when they meet on Thursday Night Football. We break down both sides with our betting tale of the tape:

Offense

The Niners offense has stalled to start the season, averaging just 14.7 points – 29th in the NFL. Injuries have depleted their once-potent offense, including a hamstring ailment for TE Vernon Davis. He’s questionable for Thursday but did return to practice this week. The Niners’ rushing attack has lost its teeth, with QB Colin Kaepernick and RB Frank Gore averaging only 101.7 yards on the ground.

The Rams are coming off a 31-7 loss to the Dallas Cowboys in Week 3. St. Louis missed out on plenty of gains due to careless drops by its receiving corps. QB Sam Bradford, who hadn’t been sacked in the first two games, was sacked six times and knocked down numerous others. The rushing attack is limping out for only 57 yards an outing, behind RB Daryl Richardson.

Edge: San Francisco

Defense

St. Louis has been a cupcake on defense, giving up 28.7 points per game – 27th in the NFL. The Rams biggest issue is their passing defense, which is allowing 288 yards through the air. However, they were bulldozed by Dallas RB DeMarco Murray for 175 yards last week. In their last meeting, San Francisco rushed for 148 yards versus the Rams.

The Niners defense is also a broken unit, with Aldon Smith in rehab, Patrick Willis nursing a groin injury and Justin Smith slowed by a bum shoulder. San Francisco budged for 179 yards rushing in a loss to the Colts last weekend and 172 yards in Week 2’s defeat to the Seahawks. The 49ers do ranked eighth versus the pass – 199 yards per game – which is pretty good considering they’ve faced Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson and Andrew Luck.

Edge: San Francisco

Special teams

With two teams struggling to find the end zone, field goals could determine Thursday’s game. San Francisco kicker Phil Dawson is 4 for 5 on FG attempts, missing a 40-plus yarder. St. Louis kicker Greg Zuerlein is a perfect 5 for 5, connecting on his lone 40-plus yard attempt.

The Rams kick returner Benny Cunningham is averaging 23.4 yards per kickoff return but St. Louis is picking up just 3.3 yards per punt return. St. Louis had a return TD burned by penalties last Sunday. The 49ers’ Perrish Cox is picking up 27.3 yards per kick return and Kyle Williams is averaging only 5.5 yards per punt return.

San Francisco punter Andy Lee has been busy, punting 16 times this season for 46.1 yards per punt. Rams punter Johnny Hekker is second in the NFC, averaging 48.8 yards on 14 punts this season.

Edge: Draw

Notable quotable

"Everybody goes through situations like this. A tipped ball, a shoe-string tackle on a third-down scramble by the quarterback where he has 40 yards to run. Their offense is a huge concern of ours because they're so talented and well coached. We're going to have to play real good defense this week." – Rams coach Jeff Fisher.

"We've just got to get back to us, and being one. We'll be fine. We feel we can do whatever we want, like before." – Niners RB Frank Gore after arguing with head coach Jim Harbaugh on his lack of carries.

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