Niners game plan

Game plan, matchups to watch and injury impact for Sunday's encounter with the Carolina Panthers:

GAME PLAN: The 49ers have to be able to turn up the heat on Carolina quarterback Jake Delhomme, who is struggling a bit this season after leading the Panthers to the Super Bowl last season. The 49ers have not been able to apply pressure to quarterbacks without sending linebackers into the fray. In fact, the 49ers' best pass rusher this season has been linebacker Jamie Winborn, who leads the team with 4.5 sacks. Winborn, listed at 5-11, 242 pounds, could become the smallest player to ever lead the 49ers in sacks.

The 49ers have recorded 18 sacks in eight games, but the pressure has not been consistent. Because of that, and because of the injuries in the secondary that have forced Jimmy Williams and rookie Shawntae Spencer to take over as the starting cornerbacks, the 49ers have rarely matched up well against the pass. Opposing quarterbacks have torched the 49ers for a 102.4 passer rating. The 49ers have surrendered 14 touchdowns through the air and have intercepted just three passes.

The 49ers figured to be a running team behind running back Kevan Barlow, but they have not been able to get much going. Without the threat of a running attack, the 49ers' play-action passing has not been as successful as they had hoped. Still, quarterback Tim Rattay has done a commendable job -- when he's been healthy. Rattay has completed 64.6 percent of his passes with nine touchdowns and four interceptions. His passer rating is 92.9.

The 49ers hope to be able to pound the running game at the Panthers, who rank 29th in the league in average yards surrendered on the ground. If the 49ers are successful running the ball, Rattay should find his wideouts in single coverage on the outside. The 49ers also plan to move tight end Eric Johnson around, sending him in motion on occasion, to make it more difficult for the Panthers to double-team him.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: 49ers RT Scott Gragg, who appears to be slowing down a bit in his 10th NFL season, vs. Panthers LDE Julius Peppers, who leads the team with four sacks; CBs Jimmy Williams and Shawntae Spencer, who are starting their third straight game together after injuries to Mike Rumph and Ahmed Plummer, vs. WRs Muhsin Muhammad and Keary Colbert, the team's top two receivers, combining for 66 catches for 953 yards and six touchdowns; FB Fred Beasley, a key to the 49ers' inside running attack because of his lead-blocking ability, vs. MLB Dan Morgan, the leading tackler with 65 stops who was inactive for last week's game because of a concussion.

INJURY IMPACT: QB Tim Rattay did not aggravate his right forearm in Sunday's game and will start against the Panthers. Rattay missed the 49ers' Oct. 31 game against the Bears with a right forearm strain. He will likely undergo surgery after the season. CB Ahmed Plummer is out for at least another two to three weeks with a bulging disk in his neck. DE Andrew Williams, who sustained a broken right lower leg in an Aug. 4 practice, is back at practice and might be available for limited duty Sunday against the Panthers. C Jeremy Newberry, who underwent surgery to stabilize his right kneecap on Sept. 21, began doing some running this week but "did something to his back," 49ers coach Dennis Erickson said. Therefore, Newberry will definitely not play this week, and his availability for the Nov. 21 game against the Buccaneers is also in question. CB Shawntae Spencer, who moved into the starting lineup after Mike Rumph's season-ending broken arm, went down in practice Wednesday with a left ankle sprain. The severity of the injury will not be known until later in the week. Williams also is nursing a fractured small toe that did not prevent him from playing in last week's game against Seattle

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