Niners game plan

Game plan, matchups to watch and injury impact for the 49ers' season opener Sunday against the St. Louis Rams at San Francisco's Monster Park.


The Mike Nolan era begins on Sunday with a home game against the Rams. The 49ers have new coaches and new philosophies on both sides of the ball. The new 3-4 defense has to be aggressive and cause protection problems for the Rams' line. As one of only two teams in the NFC to employ a 3-4 defense, the 49ers have to find creative ways to put pressure on Rams QB Marc Bulger in hopes of taking the heat off the 49ers' beleaguered secondary. OLB Julian Peterson, returning from an Achilles' tendon injury that ended his season last year, will have to be the focus of the defense. Peterson should set a career-high in sacks this season, topping the seven he recorded in 2003. Offensively, the 49ers did not show much in the preseason. They have to do a good job of protecting QB Tim Rattay, who does not have a lot of mobility. The 49ers need a strong rushing attack, and then might be able to open it up down the field. The 49ers figure to see a lot of eight-man fronts, so the opportunities might be there to hit Brandon Lloyd or Arnaz Battle deep.


--- 49ers RT Kwame Harris, who appears to be much more comfortable in his switch to a new position, vs. Rams LDE Leonard Little, who is the team's returning sack leader from a year ago when he recorded seven.

--- 49ers CBs Ahmed Plummer and Shawntae Spencer, who struggle against deep routes, vs. Rams WRs Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce, who have a history of big catches against the 49ers.

--- 49ers ROLB Jamie Winborn and Andre Carter, who will rotate into the game in the team's new 3-4 scheme, vs. Rams LT Orlando Pace, who participated in training camp this year and could be ready for another big year.


Niners center Jeremy Newberry will be relegated to one practice a week because of a right knee problem. Newberry has little cartilage in his right knee, a condition that threatens his availability for the season. Newberry will start Sunday's opener but it is uncertain how much he will be able to play this season. When his season is over, Newberry will undergo extensive microfracture surgery. ... TE Eric Johnson has not practiced since Aug. 9 because of plantar fasciitis in his right foot. He won't play Sunday against the Rams. Without Johnson, the 49ers do not figure to feature the TE much in the passing game. ... Derrick Hamilton will begin the season on PUP, which makes him ineligible for the first six weeks of the regular season.

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