Second-to-last week of the season. The St. Louis Rams and the San Francisco 49ers are both, somehow, still in the hunt for the division title and a ticket to the playoffs. Games like this can hinge on the tiniest of factors, a bounce here, a time out there, etc. But the most important 12th man this time of year is the injury report.
Unlike seasons past, the Rams have made it deep into the season without being completely decimated by injuries. Other than a few glaring ones at wide receiver, you can look at every roster spot and still see the guys they started the season with at those positions. So how big of a factor will the injuries be today?
For the Rams, two names on the injury report stand out: DE Chris Long and OT Jason Smith. Long has a bruised thigh, but did manage to practice more through the week. Still, a bruised thigh is likely to impact his game. One thing that's interesting about this matchup is that Troy Smith actually works a little better when he gets pressured and gets out of the pocket. Also working in favor of Long and the rest of the DL, is that LT Joe Staley is done for the season, lost late in the game when these two teams last met. Jason Smith rolled his ankle in practice this week. He should be fine, and the absence of Travis LaBoy for the 49ers helps a little bit too. Still, Smith and his linemates have LOTS to prove today after two weeks of poor pass blocking.
The Rams also have Kenneth Darby back today, wearing a protective flack jacket for his broken ribs. They've missed his pass protection on third downs.
San Francisco is dealing with a much more significant injury report. We mentioned Staley above, but also on the injury report are LBs Patrick Willis and Takeo Spikes. Both will definitely play, but they'll have giant casts on their hands. Last week, they still had the second and third most tackles for the 49ers, so they're still somewhat effective. However, it will be easier for a guy like Steven Jackson to make them miss with those things on their hands. CB Nate Clements is also on the injury report with a knee issue. Clements is a guy that Bradford will probably be targeting anyway, so this could help the Rams passing game.
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