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Talking Rams/49ers with RamsHerd.com | December

In anticipation of the 49ers make-or-break game on Sunday against the St. Louis Rams, I thought I'd do a little Q&A with Will Horton from RamsHerd.com. Will's got some insight on the game and keys to the Ram's success on Sunday. 

sam-bradford-rams1. THEREDANDGOLD (TRG): Sam Bradford seems to be the real deal at quarterback. Has he exceeded your expectations or did you have high hopes for him entering the season?
RAMSHERD (RH): Sam Bradford certainly looks and plays the part, and I have to say I have been very surprised by his quick progress. I had the chance to see him practice, and from day one he looked like the best QB on the roster, but by itself that wasn’t saying much considering his competition consisted of AJ Feeley and Keith Null. He has done a great job of making his teammates better as well, helping overlooked guys like Danny Amendola, Brandon Gibson and former Niner Billy Bajema – an undersized blocking tight end – become usable weapons in the passing game.

The big debate among Rams fans, however, is whether the offense is too conservative to maximize his talent, or whether the Rams need a huge upgrade around him before opening things up. I tend to think that Bradford needs to be allowed to throw the entire passing tree, including the deeper routes, but his offensive line’s shaky play of late would seem to dictate a play-it-safe game of screens, bootlegs and slants.

2. TRG: Steven Jackson has held up surprisingly well this season, playing in every game. Considering what a big part he is of the Ram's offense and the amount of carries he has, does he have enough gas if the Rams make the playoffs?
RH: Steven Jackson’s back was a worry at the beginning of the season, I won’t lie. But if anything, he seems to be running faster and with more confidence now than midway through the season, when he dealt with a strained groin and a broken finger. Moreover, as defenses start to key in on stopping Bradford, holes are opening up for Jackson to run through. If we get that far, he could be a real wildcard in the playoffs.

3. TRG: So far this season for the Rams, what do you think has been the biggest pleasant surprise and the biggest disappointment?
RH: I think the biggest pleasant surprise for the Rams has been the emergent play of Chris Long at defensive end. He has always been a high-motor guy, but whether it was just two years of acclimating to the league, or his offseason MMA training (which I believe Patrick Willis takes part in as well), he has become one of the better pass rushers in the league. According to ProFootballFocus, Long leads all NFL Des in quarterback pressures, and his seven sacks so far are a career high.

It’s hard to be truly disappointed when your team is already five wins improved from the previous season, but I’d have to say the biggest disappointment for the Rams this season has been their inability to close out games, particularly early in the year. The last-second loss to Tampa and overtime loss to the Niners (we let you convert a fourth and 18!) have kept the Rams from separating in this clogged division race. That said, we’ve seen how hard it is for a team to “learn how to win” and take that next step forward.

4. TRG: What is the number one key for the Rams to beat the 49ers on Sunday?
RH: Obviously, we have to limit big plays on defense, and penalties overall. The ability of Troy Smith to scramble around in the pocket and take advantage of deep coverage breakdowns killed the Rams, where our base defense against your basic plays produced only 16 yards of total offense. (Graphic:http://ramsherd.com/2010-season/november/infographic-49ers-reliance-on-big-plays.html).

5. TRG: What is your game prediction?
RH: I think points will be at a premium in this one, but am hoping the Rams prevail at home, 17-13.