By Rick Venturi

For the past three years, I’ve enjoyed writing this column as much as anything I’ve done. It has allowed me to “stay in the game”, study teams and schemes, and to literally “coach” my readers on the nuances of the NFL game. I’ve never dumbed it down - because I have too much respect for NFL fans in St. Louis and throughout the country.

This will be my last column for a while, as my hip replacement can wait no longer. The good news is that I’ll be like new soon, and though I won’t be a part of your daily morning radio, I hope to be a significant part of 101’s football coverage for years to come. The Coach simply needs to get well, spend more time with the grandchildren in Indianapolis, and hang out on the beach in Florida in those cold winter months. 44 years of hard work give me some liberty here. Three years ago I promised you preparation, insights, and passion, and I hope I’ve delivered.

This past Sunday, the Rams finally put some demons to rest. They won on the road, got a bunch of turnovers, and, finally, finished off a team in the fourth quarter. After a poor first half, Fisher regrouped the troops, and aided with Arizona coach Whisenhunt’s decision to go with rookie quarterback Ryan Lindley, the Rams got the gifts they needed to get a win. The Rams ended up with a fine total 2nd half performance and a long sought road victory.

On the positive side, Amendola gutted it out, and got the Rams a big play, and an emotional lift. Givens continues to establish himself as a big play guy. I was glad to see Kendricks make a “big time” play, and I did think Bradford did a solid job. He continues to throw the deep ball better. Jackson continues to run possessed and validates the two back system.

The best story for many in 2012 has been the development of the offensive line. They had a superb performance again, and the return of Wells was visible. If there is an assistant coach of the year award - it should go to offensive line coach Paul Boudreaux for transforming a liability into a real strength. I haven’t seen a transition as great as this one in a long time. These guys have blocked the hell out of the ***** and Cards, two really good defenses.

On the defensive side of it, after another unaggressive first half the Rams, led by rookie corner Janoris Jenkins, turned rookie Lindley in to a turnover machine. I certainly commend Jenkins for two game changing plays, but the game was certainly gift wrapped. I’m not sure where the defense is at this point, as it continues to exhibit a containing, bend but don’t break philosophy. I would like to see Jenkins become a consistent player, and I would like to see Brockers show improvement as a rusher as this season winds down.

The 49er’s haven’t changed dramatically on offense, but with Kaepernick at quarterback, the Rams face a much tougher tactical problem. Smith has played well, and was good enough to get them to the Super Bowl (he didn’t drop the kick), but Kaepernick brings the college 12th man concept to the game. The ability to roll out, scramble to extend plays, and run predetermined zone reads and powers make him a very versatile guy to defend.

The first thing you must do, however, is stop the running of Frank Gore. This is a team reminiscent of the old Lombardi’s Packers and Shula’s Czonka Dolphins. Frank runs low to the ground and you must get those pads down to stop him. Kaepernick will really excel if the run is going, since he can then work the perimeter bootleg and play action game with little stress.

Be alert for more variation in formations and wrinkles in the running game. Adapt and don’t let them gain strategic advantages. The loss of Hunter does hurt them a bit, in that he was a decent change to give Frank a blow. Your front must get penetration and your safeties must be heavily involved. More than in any other game, the Rams’ linebackers must do a good job of fitting properly and be impact tacklers.

With Kaepernick in the game, the edges of your defense must be held flawlessly. I think you have to play split safety concepts against a college quarterback, and your safeties must be able to tackle on the zone read play. With Kaepernick, you can’t allow him to make loose plays. Force him be a pocket passer for 60 minutes. Make him read coverages and make him play in tight quarters. I’m not saying he can’t win in the pocket consistently, but this is the toughest thing for a rookie. They want to run around and make athletic plays.

The Niners are an excellent offensive team with very few liabilities, but if you analyze them in sure passing downs (3rd down or playing from behind), the worst part of their game is on display. Their fine offensive line is built to road grade, but they are average in pass protection in the interior, where they can be beaten with movement. I would also bring 5 rushers a lot, with the idea of holding the edge on Kaepernick, and yet stunt inside on Boone, Goodwin, and Iupati. What you must do is fill each running lane and eliminate any escape route for the quarterback.

In the pass receiving department, though I respect Crabtree’s improvement and Manningham’s increased use in the slot, the number one threat will always be tight end Vernon Davis. Particularly when he’s displaced from the box, or if he’s isolated on the weak side, you must have a plan. Right behind Vernon, is H back Delaney Walker, who becomes a bigger threat because of Davis’ presence. In some ways, this team is Patriot like in that the two toughest match ups are the two tight ends.

If there was ever a game to establish the lead – it’s this one!

The 49er defense, as always, poses a huge challenge for the Rams’ offense. The interesting thing is - the Niners played stifling defense before the Rams’ game and they repeated it last week against the Saints, actually scoring two defensive touchdowns. Their signature is their front 7 and their two aggressive run playing safeties. Sapoaga, Justin Smith, and Mc Donald are an impressive inside three, while Willis and Bowman give them Pro Bowl linebackers.

Aldon Smith is an emerging star as a rusher on the right, who recently recorded 5 ˝ sacks in one game. Brooks is becoming an impact guy on their left side, as well as being a blitz threat from everywhere in SUB packages. Safeties Whitmer and Goldson are real physical guys who will blow up everything in front of them.

The Rams actually were not intimidated by the 49er front, and ran it right at them. I’ve always felt if you split them, you could hit quick inside. Also like most 34 teams, nose wham plays are effective. If you spread them and get Aldon and Brooks in space – block their safeties - the perimeter game can be effective. Again, bubble screens to Givens and Amendola should be thought of as toss sweeps. I would, however, expect them to learn from game one and expect the 34 to look more like a double sink look to stuff the inside game. Expect them to go to more “under” in order to match Turner with Justin Smith.

If you effectively keep them honest with the run you can expose the biggest weakness in the 9er scheme. They love to fill hard with their backers, but they like a lot of “off”, top down, zone coverage in the back end. When you do that, you create a “dead” spot behind the backers and under the safeties. That second level passing game will be there with boots, play action and rolls. One thing the Rams receivers must do - is on crossing routes, catch it, secure it, and get north and south, because they count on breaking on the ball and blowing things up. Kendricks could be huge in the seams and the over routes, if used properly.

I will give the 9ers credit for their talent in their inside “nine”, but they have proven to be only adequate at corner. Amendola wore Rogers out in the slot, and I’d be surprised if they don’t bracket him this time. Also corners Brown and Culliver can be turned around and beaten on the outside quadrant of the field – particularly when they don’t get much safety help. This occurs on more “vanilla” schemes on first down.

On third down, make protection the key. Move Bradford to his right away from the Smith brothers, and screen left to take advantage of their aggressiveness. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio will get real creative with the third down rush concepts, while also employing more “choke off” combination coverages. The Smith brothers can be trouble on the Rams’ left side. Aldon’s superior quickness (devastating inside move), and Justin’s 60 minute tenacity can be problematic. I also think Richardson will need help at times on Brooks.

The Rams must continue to improve on special teams, and get some field position. Even though Ginn, Jr. is struggling with ball security, he is capable of explosive returns. The Rams should go into the game with confidence established from playing toe to toe with the Niners 20 days ago. However, expect them to adjust schematically and physically. Don’t fall into the trap of believing game one tactics will necessarily work as well Sunday. The important thing is to anticipate the adjustments, and be prepared to strike. The road to victory may very well take a completely different turn.