Rams-49ers Matchup No. 1: Tavon Austin vs. Carlos Rogers
Tavon Austin has scores of 98 (punt return), 57 and 81 (receptions) and 65 (rush) yards over the past two weeks. (USATSI)
Editor's note: This is the final part in a series that spotlights three 49ers-Rams matchups to watch Sunday, 1:05 p.m., at Candlestick Park
[MATCHUP NO. 3: Long vs. A. Smith]
[MATCHUP NO. 2: Quinn vs. Staley]
49ers CB Carlos Rogers vs. Rams WR Tavon Austin
Tale of the tape
Rogers (22): 6 foot, 192 pounds, ninth season, Auburn
Austin (11): 5 foot 8, 176 pounds, rookie, West Virginia
When the 49ers faced the St. Louis Rams in Week 4, cornerback Carlos Rogers clearly won the battle against much-hyped rookie Tavon Austin.
Austin is the kind of small, quick, speedy slot receiver that was expected to thrive against the taller veteran -- especially on artificial surface. But Rogers put the clamps on Austin, who caught just two passes for 6 yards. The 49ers snapped a two-game losing streak with a 35-11 victory.
But the Austin who will show up Sunday to face the 49ers is a different player. In recent weeks, the Rams have gotten the kind of big-play production out of Austin that they envisioned when they traded up eight spots to select him with the No. 8 overall pick.
Austin visited the 49ers prior to the draft, and there were rumblings of the 49ers’ interest to trade up to land a player who could give their offense a missing element of big-play ability from the slot position as well as handle punt-return duties.
“I really liked him a lot,” 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. “I had a very good visit here with him. Really liked watching his tape and talking football with him. He was very football-aware and there was a good football conversation. Got me fired up talking football.”
[RELATED: Austin thought 49ers might draft him]
Now, Austin play has fueled the surging Rams, who have overcome a slow start and the loss of quarterback Sam Bradford to play some good football.
In the Rams’ past two games -- upset victories over Indianapolis and Chicago -- Austin has a 98-yard punt return, touchdown receptions of 57 and 81 yards from quarterback Kellen Clemens, and 65-yard touchdown run. Austin lined up in the slot against the Bears, took a pitch, reversed field and used his blinding speed to score just 90 seconds into the game.
Rogers said he fully expects the Rams to find a way -- any way -- to get the ball into Austin’s hands a lot more than just the two touches he had in the first meeting against the 49ers.
“In special teams, in the slot, reverses, some of their gadget plays, they recognize his quickness, his speed, and try to find any advantage to get him on a nickel guy or anybody they think they can take advantage of,” Rogers said.
Austin runs 81.9 percent of his pass routes from the slot position, according to Pro Football Focus. Rogers is the 49ers defender who moves inside to cover slot receivers. He has lined up in that position for 291 snaps, and the opposing quarterback has compiled a lowly 69.8 passer rating when targeting him.
“He’s definitely a great player,” Austin said of Rogers. “I’ll try to use my quickness and set him up and put him in different positions so I can make a play. It’s all about the opportunities. When the opportunity comes, I have to take advantage of it.”