Time to pick on Rams

It's one of the basics of football. "If you don't win the turnover battle, it's going to be a hard day for you," 49ers cornerback Ahmed Plummer said. The Niners are losing that battle this season without putting up much of a fight.

The NFC's leader in turnover differential last season, the Niners rank last in the league in that department this season with a minus-7 takeaway/giveaway ratio. The team that ranked third in the NFC in interceptions (23) and third in fumbles recovered (14) last year has just one of each so far this season.

Since the Niners are second in the NFL with nine turnovers, their lack of producing picks and fumbles on defense has put them at a distinct advantage during an 0-3 start that could have been 2-1 if they'd been able to come up with the big-play turnover even half as many times their opponents have.

"It's not like were just finding that out now," said strong safety Tony Parrish, the NFL's leader with nine interceptions last year. "We already know it. You can't turn the ball over consistently and win. The game's hard enough. Why make it harder on yourself? And that's what we've done."

What the Niners haven't done is returned the favor. Linebacker Jeff Ulbrich's interception in the season opener accounts for the Niners' only pick. Derek Smith's fumble recovery the next week in New Orleans accounts for the only other turnover produced by the San Francisco defense.

"It's always a combination of things," Parrish said. "Interceptions and turnovers are really a product of a team effort. Hey, we've only played three games. I just haven't had opportunities."

But opportunities should be forthcoming Sunday when the Niners play the St. Louis Rams. Pass-happy St. Louis coach Mike Martz called for passes on 54 of St. Louis' 69 offensive plays last week in the Rams' overtime loss to New Orleans.

St. Louis receivers Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt rank 1-2 in the NFL in receptions. The Niners' secondary needs to pick on the Rams this week and get a few receptions of their own in the form of interceptions.

The secondary accounted for 20 of San Francisco's 23 interceptions last year, with cornerbacks Plummer (4) and Mike Rumph (3) also getting into the act. Rumph will return to the starting lineup this week after missing the past two games, which should help put the beleaguered secondary in position to make more plays on the ball.

"We have to be able to step up and get some turnovers," Plummer said. "We have to let it come to us, but we have to help our team in that way. We've gotten our hands on some balls. It's just a matter of the ball bouncing the right way. You can't really put a finger on why it hasn't happened for us yet. We have to keep working on it, and hopefully the ball will start bouncing our way and we'll get some.

"We're a young team, and for us not to do that, that's makes it very hard for us. We have to be better at that."

The Rams should offer a prime opportunity this week for them to get better fast.

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