Game breakdown: 49ers/Rams

Taking a look deep inside Sunday's game between the 49ers and St. Louis Rams at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, with snapshot game details, series history, game plans, matchups to watch, NFL rankings for both teams, personnel updates and a look inside both camps before the battle between longtime NFC West rivals during which the Niners can clinch their first division title in nine seasons.


KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:15 p.m. PST
SITE: Candlestick Park in San Francisco
SURFACE: Natural grass
RECORDS: 49ers 9-2, 2-0 in NFC West, 7-1 in NFC, 2-1 vs. AFC North; Rams 2-9, 0-3 in NFC West, 1-8 in NFC, 1-1 vs. NFC North
LAST WEEK: 49ers lost to Baltimore Ravens 16-6; Rams lost to Arizona Cardinals 23-20
NFL RANKINGS: 49ers: No. 26 in total offense, No. 7 in total defense. Rams: No. 27 in total offense, No. 21 in total defense
TV: FOX (Chris Myers, Tim Ryan, Jaime Maggio)

SERIES HISTORY: 123rd regular-season meeting. Rams lead series, 61-59-2. The 49ers have played the Rams more than any other team. The Rams officially eliminated the 49ers from playoff contention on Dec. 26 last year with a 25-17 win in St. Louis. That win snapped a five-game 49ers winning streak in the series.

KEYS TO THE GAME: St. Louis' hand has been forced into more conservative gameplans due to significant shuffling along the offensive line. That even included RB Steven Jackson taking a snap from the Wildcat formation last week. But St. Louis has to open it up more against the league's No. 1 running defense. There's no doubt the Rams want to drag this into low-scoring game deep into the fourth quarter. That also plays into the hands of the 49ers, who want to address offensive line concerns of their own after a poor game in Baltimore. If the ground game is successful in setting up play-action, St. Louis' decent pass rush will be negated and the secondary exposed.

BY THE NUMBERS: 22 -- Number of rushing yards Frank Gore needs to become the 49ers' all-time leading rusher. 45.5 -- Percentage of touchdowns the Rams have scored in situations that began with first-and-goal. That percentage ranks 31st in the NFL. They have scored touchdowns on just 5-of-11 instances.

QUOTES TO NOTE
"It could happen. Doesn't make him a bad person." -- Niners coach Jim Harbaugh when told that LS Brian Jennings accidentally shaved off an eye brow during the bye week.
"I said it to (special teams coordinator) Tom McMahon this morning, had we found a way to win that football game last week and obviously if we don't give up the punt return, not that that was the only reason, but everybody'd be talking about Nick Miller in the punt return. And it wouldn't be as much about the other things. And we know that's the nature of this league, but I thought it was terrific what the other 10 guys did in blocking for him. The coaches put it together and Nick going out there, you know hadn't been playing in a while, and gets in the end zone. So I was happy for him." -- Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo on Nick Miller, who was signed five days before the game and returned his first punt 88 yards for a touchdown.

49ERS GAME PLAN: With Arizona's Beanie Wells going over 200 yards rushing against St. Louis, it would be logical to assume the 49ers would try to get the running game going against this unit. This would also be a perfect game to rest WR Braylon Edwards if the 49ers are going to pour it on with the run.

RAMS GAME PLAN: Somehow, the Rams have to figure out a way to move the ball on the San Francisco defense, which is ranked first in the league against the run. With a reconstituted offensive line that will be starting its second game together, they will try and find a way to get positive results for running back Steven Jackson. When the Rams do pass, they will have to protect quarterback Sam Bradford from a pass rush that hasn't had a large number of sacks (25) but often gets pressure. Defensively, the challenge will be stopping running back Frank Gore. The Rams are last in the league in run defense, allowing 159 yards a game, so the 49ers will look to exploit that.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH
--- Rams LT Adam Goldberg and LG Jacob Bell vs. 49ers DRE Justin Smith: Smith is the right end in the 49ers' 3-4 defense and is third on the team in tackle with 71. He has also added 4.5 sacks and 53 quarterback pressures.
--- Rams RT Harvey Dahl, who was released by the 49ers because he was too slow to play tackle, vs. 49ers LOLB Ahmad Brooks, who is having a career year.
--- Rams RB Steven Jackson, who is the Rams best offensive player vs. 49ers MLB Patrick Willis, who relishes his competition with Jackson.

Inside the camps


RAMS

In what has been a season-long guessing game wondering what the next injury will be that hits the Rams, quarterback Sam Bradford and defensive end Chris Long did not practice late in the week.

Bradford is still not totally recovered from the high ankle sprain he suffered Oct. 16 against Green Bay. He missed two games, but has played in the last four and reported some soreness after Sunday's game against Arizona. He practiced on a limited basis Wednesday.

Said coach Steve Spagnuolo, "When he came in this morning it went backwards a little bit. So in an effort to get it forward, we just kind of shut him down. So we'll see where we are tomorrow and then we'll take it from there."

Long injured his ankle against Seattle on Nov. 20 and played Sunday against the Cardinals. Said Spagnuolo, "That ankle's been bothering him. He did a little bit yesterday, aggravated, it didn't get better, so we're looking for things to get better. And we thought what we could do today is just shut these guys down and see where we're at tomorrow. It is day-to-day and tomorrow's another day, so we'll know more tomorrow."

When pressed whether he can tell now if either will play Sunday, Spagnuolo said, "I'm not going to gauge anything. I don't have a crystal ball and I don't have any magic, so all I can do is go off of them. And I'm being up front with everybody. We'll know tomorrow. Those guys are tough guys and you know they want to play, but we've got to be smart about it."

With Bradford out and no third quarterback on the roster or practice squad, backup A.J. Feeley took every snap in practice including those with the scout team. Feeley estimated he threw 120 passes "competitively."

Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said when he learned Bradford wouldn't practice, "I told A.J. I wouldn't get the chance to coach him much in between periods. A.J. was great. He did a great job today. I put the headset on and I was actually coaching him when he was doing the scout team. I was talking to him in his helmet about the last period on offense just to try to catch up some."

Feeley said he would be looking at the cards that give the next play in the scout period while McDaniels was talking in his ear. When reporters joked that he needed some ice for his arm, the 34-year-old Feeley said, "I'm fine. I feel good. That's what happens when you're young."

49ERS

Everyone from NFL Films analyst Greg Cosell to former 49ers quarterback and ESPN commentator Steve Young are questioning whether the 49ers offense is playoff caliber.

With the 49ers on the verge of securing a playoff berth, many are weighing in on the team's anemic offensive output, particularly in the last three games.

Here's a sampling of the team's futility in the last three games.

--- The 49ers have scored four touchdowns, and only one of those came from a drive of more than 50 yards. They have scored one touchdown on 26 drives originating in their own territory.

--- The team has converted only 13 of 44 third downs (29.5 percent), a lower conversion rate than their season total of 30.6 percent, which ranks 30th in the NFL.

--- Collected three touchdowns (and four field goals) in nine trips to the red zone.

On the last point, offensive coordinator Greg Roman blamed the lockout, saying red-zone offense is the last element of an offense that's installed. Last year, the 49ers were one of the better teams in scoring territory.

"The red zone, shorter field, defense defending width rather than depth, tighter windows, that is the last piece, really, of the puzzle: throwing the ball in the red zone," Roman said. "Guys are working hard. We are definitely improving. Thursday night it didn't show, that's for sure. We will correct that."

Young said the 49ers offense isn't ready for playoff prime time. Obviously, neither 49ers coaches nor Smith are ready to concede that point, and as Roman suggests the 49ers are hoping to get the offense back on track in their last five games before the playoffs.

Personnel news


RAMS

--- P Donnie Jones, who missed practice Wednesday because of a personal matter, practiced on a limited basis because of an ankle injury suffered Sunday.

--- S Darian Stewart (concussion) was limited in practice Thursday. Said coach Steve Spagnuolo, "We're still trying to get through the process of the mild concussion."

--- WR Danario Alexander got through his second straight day of practice and reported no problem with the hamstring issue that had kept him on the sideline for five games. Alexander said it was the first time he's had a hamstring injury.

--- WR Dominique Curry (shoulder) fully participated in practice Thursday after being limited on Wednesday.

--- CB Justin King (ankle) fully participated in practice Thursday after being limited on Wednesday.

49ERS

--- WR Braylon Edwards once again did not suit up for practice Thursday. He's battling knee and shoulder injuries.

--- FB Bruce Miller (concussion) has been cleared to play but was wearing a black non-contact jersey on Thursday.

--- G Adam Snyder (hamstring) engaged in his second day of practice Thursday and said he expects to play against the Rams.

--- S Donte Whitner said the 49ers run defense is the best he has ever seen. The 49ers have not allowed a rushing touchdown this year.

--- WR Brett Swain will likely be active if Braylon Edwards doesn't play. "He just hustles, hustles, hustles. He's very much into precision with his routes. He's smooth. He's got good hands," offensive coordinator Greg Roman said.


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