Niners game plan

The 49ers have shown signs of a better running game in recent weeks after the signing of veteran free agent Steve Bush, a 275-pound tight end. Starting tight end Eric Johnson is one of the best receivers in the league at his position, but he is considered a liability in the run game for his inability to block defensive ends.

"(Bush) gives us a bigger guy who can block an end," 49ers coach Dennis Erickson. "Eric can catch balls and zone block. Aaron (Walker) can do that, but he'll get better as time goes on. Bush is 275 and can block seven-technique and block the end and allow us to do some of the pulling stuff we've wanted to do."

The 49ers will have to get some production out of the run game in order to allow quarterback Ken Dorsey to get the ball down the field to some of his wideouts. The 49ers will again turn to Kevan Barlow to be the featured back. Barlow has not started the last two games. He sat out the Dec. 12 game against the Arizona Cardinals with a concussion, and backup Maurice Hicks rushed for 139 yards on 34 carries.

Hicks earned the starting assignment for last week's game against the Redskins. But Erickson decided to go with Barlow as the starter, mostly because he does not believe the 205-pound Hicks can hold up to the punishment as the every-down back. Defensively, the 49ers have played much better in recent weeks though the team still ranks 31st in the league in scoring defense.

Defensive coordinator Willy Robinson, who made some critical mistakes earlier in the season, has not been as bold about putting his inexperienced corners into man coverage with no safety help.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: 49ers LT Kwame Harris, whose confidence seems to be growing after his return to the starting lineup three games ago, vs. Bills RDE Aaron Schobel, who leads the team with eight sacks including 2.5 in the last three games; TE Eric Johnson, who leads the 49ers with 77 receptions this season, vs. SLB Jeff Posey, who has started all 14 games this season and had five tackles last week against the Bengals; RDT Bryant Young, the team's most consistent defensive player, vs. LG Ross Tucker, who will require some help from C Trey Teague to contain the four-time Pro Bowler in the middle.

INJURY IMPACT: DE Andre Carter was placed on injured reserve after undergoing surgery to remove a cyst from his back. QB Tim Rattay is out for the rest of the season with a partially torn right plantar fascia, the tight band of muscle under the arch of the foot. LB Jamie Winborn will miss the final two games with a fractured right shoulder blade. Third-year player Saleem Rasheed will make his second career start Sunday against the Buffalo Bills. WR/PR Arnaz Battle might not play this week because of a thigh contusion.

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