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'Thursday Night Football': Five things to watch

The San Francisco 49ers are coming off back-to-back losses for the first time in the Jim Harbaugh era. Time to panic?

We'd say no. The Niners, even in their current depleted state, still have plenty of time to hit the accelerator on a season that's just three weeks old.

Which brings us to Thursday night. The St. Louis Rams welcome the 49ers to town in a key divisional matchup. Like the 49ers, the Rams are coming off a pair of uglylosses and are attempting to avoid entering October in a 1-3 hole.

The 49ers are the favorites here, but the Rams have the right to be confident. St. Louis finished with a tie and a win in its two matchups with San Francisco last season. If there's a time to catch the Niners, this is it.

Here are five things to watch ahead of tonight's kickoff:

  1. Colin Kaepernick has super-human talent, but he's looked very pedestrian in the past two weeks. Much of this goes back to a suspect supporting cast, particularly at the wide-receiver position. Kaep needs Vernon Davis back, and he might get him. It will be interesting to see Kaepernick's production out of the read-option tonight. He's found very little success on the ground this season, and he's taken some hard hits along the way.
  1. The Rams traded up in the first round to land Tavon Austin, but we've yet to see the dynamic playmaking ability he flashed at West Virginia. Tonight would be an ideal coming out party against a Niners team that struggled to contain Danny Amendola last season. Austin is lining up mostly in the slot, which should set up an interesting matchup with Carlos Rogers. Should be a fun battle to watch.
  1. The Rams had the league's sixth-ranked defense against the run heading into last week's matchup with the Dallas Cowboys, but Chris Long and Co. couldn't stop DeMarco Murray from scorching them for 175 yards. St. Louis must do a much better job containing Frank Gore, who likely will see the ball early and often after he unwisely was fazed out of San Francisco's Week 3 gameplan.
  1. Life without Aldon Smith officially begins for the Niners tonight. Smith has taken an indefinite leave of absence following his troubling DUI arrest last week. According to Pro Football Focus, Smith had 17 QB pressures in just 91 snaps through Week 3. That's a lot of production to replace, and the Niners likely will use some combination of Dan Skuta and Corey Lemonier. Jake Long is breathing easier.
  1. We need to see more out of Sam Bradford. The Rams quarterback was a check-down machine against the Cowboys, and generally has been unable to take advantage of some nice weapons at his disposal. It's time to bring back tight end Jared Cook, who has been off the grid since a monster performance in Week 1. Cook can be a security blanket who has the ability to open up the entire offense. Bradford just needs to find him.

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