Game snapshot: 49ers vs. Rams

Taking an inside look at Sunday's season opener between the 49ers and St. Louis Rams at San Francisco's Monster Park:

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:15 Pacific


TV: FOX, Ron Pitts, Tim Ryan

SERIES: 111th meeting: Rams lead the series, 58-50-2, and have won 10 of the past 12 games. Since 1999, the two San Francisco wins have come at home, in 2002 and 2003.

2004 NFL rankings: Rams: offense 6th (26th rush, 5th pass); defense 17th (29th rush, 11th pass). 49ers: offense 26th (30th rush, 20th pass); defense 24th (20th rush, 19th pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: To stay within shouting distance, the 49ers must win the turnover battle -- probably by a few. With a new 3-4 defense and a very shaky secondary, San Francisco will have to be aggressive in causing protection problems and coming after QB Marc Bulger. While Bulger isn't typically as strong on the road, he should have little problem moving the ball, especially if RB Steven Jackson has success on the ground. The 49ers have to score consistently to be competitive, which means an offensive line that played poorly in the preseason must come together. RB Kevan Barlow will get plenty of early carries as San Francisco attempts to control the clock. The Rams allowed 136.2 rushing yards per game last season, so the potential for a big ground game is there. If not, immobile QB Tim Rattay will take a beating.

FAST FACTS: Rams: Won nine of their past 13 season openers. ... Have outscored the 49ers 2,465-2,462 in 111 previous meetings. 49ers: Rattay threw seven of his 10 INTs and had three fumbles in the fourth quarter last season. ... S Tony Parrish has an NFL-high 23 INTs over the past four seasons.



--- WR Isaac Bruce is now the NFL's active leader in receiving yards following the retirement of Jerry Rice. Bruce has 11,753 yards. Marvin Harrison is the active leader in receptions and receiving touchdowns. Asked about being first in yards, Bruce said, "It's big. But Jerry will always been No. 1 in my eyes. He's what every receiver in this league aims to be. We'll miss him."

--- RB Aveion Cason could be the kickoff returner Sunday against the 49ers with CB Terry Fair likely out because of a neck injury. Cason received extra playing time in the final preseason game because RB Arlen Harris was sidelined with a concussion, and did enough good things to make the 53-man roster.

--- RB Arlen Harris said he's ready to play after missing the final preseason game because of a concussion suffered Aug. 29 against Detroit. If healthy, Harris will compete with Aveion Cason for the job as kickoff returner.

--- P Reggie Hodges will be under the microscope Sunday. Hodges has been inconsistent throughout the summer. However, the Rams did not bring in any punters for tryouts this past week.

--- OL Blaine Saipaia will likely be one of only seven linemen active Sunday because of his versatility. Saipaia became the backup center when Larry Turner was released in the cutdown to 53 players. At some point in the preseason, Saipaia has played every position on the line.


--- NT Anthony Adams will start at his listed position, but he might also see action at defensive end and on offense. Adams played some fullback this summer in short-yardage situations, and might be called up in the regular season. "I'm big and fat and can move people out of the way," said Adams, listed at 6-foot, 300 pounds.

--- TE Eric Johnson wore an orthopedic boot on his right foot on Thursday and shows no signs of being available to play Sunday due to a case of plantar fasciitis. Johnson has not practiced since Aug. 9 but is listed on a game-to-game basis.

--- TE Steve Bush figures to see a lot of action as the 49ers won't have Johnson available for the season opener. Coach Mike Nolan said Bush gives the 49ers more versatility because he can play on and off the ball.

--- TE Billy Bajema will see a lot of action, along Bush, as the team compensates for the loss of Johnson. Bajema could even start, depending on what the 49ers decide to do with their first offensive play.

--- QB Cody Pickett, the team's No. 4 signal-caller, could see action on special teams Sunday. Nolan said it all depends on which players the staff decides to dress as part of their 45-man game roster.

-- C Jeremy Newberry went through his one practice for the week. He took about 45 snaps during practice and declared himself ready for the game. Newberry is nursing a bad right knee, which essentially has no cartilage remaining. He will undergo major surgery when his season concludes.



He doesn't get mentioned much when discussions of the NFL's top quarterbacks begin, but that could change this season if Rams quarterback Marc Bulger has the season he, and his teammates believe, he is capable of.

Last season, Bulger passed for 3,964 yards, and he missed two full games and most of a third because of a shoulder injury. When he returned from that injury, he helped the Rams qualify for the playoffs and win a postseason game, posting a 106.3 passer rating in the final two games of the regular season and two playoff games. In those four games, Bulger passed for 1,287 yards, completing 67.6 percent of his passes with eight touchdowns and four interceptions.

Coach Mike Martz believes Bulger is ready to establish himself as one of the league's elite passers.

Entering Sunday's game, Martz said, "I think he's probably pretty close to where he was when last season ended, to be honest with you. He's really playing at a high level."

Wide receiver Isaac Bruce is very impressed with Bulger's ability.

"I think he realizes what he means to this team, and what he means to this offense now," Bruce said. "That was very evident when he went down last year vs. the 49ers here at home, and we missed him for those two games. Things didn't go as well as they should have when he was in there. I believe just having him in the offense makes everything a whole lot smoother."

Bulger has confidence in his ability and that of his teammates, but he also knows it's now put up or shut up time.

"For me personally, this is as happy as I've been going into the year," Bulger said. "Being confident in the line. Being confident in all my receivers, and not just the first two. Being confident in the tight end. It all looks good right now on paper. We should be scoring a lot of points. But we have to go out and get it done."

Concluded Rams defensive lineman Tyoka Jackson, "If we keep his jersey clean, I see a guy who has MVP-type potential."


The 49ers' new 3-4 defensive scheme will be put to an immediate test against the Rams, one of the more imposing offenses in the league.

The 49ers struggled in the first two exhibition games before playing much better to close out the preseason. But coach Mike Nolan said the transition to a new defense is not necessarily what concerns him.

"It's not as significant as you might think," Nolan said. "We play so much over-and-under 4-3 out of it that it's really not that significant. The biggest thing is the guys playing together. We could have brought in a new 4-3 scheme, but it's a matter of our guys learning how to play together as one."

The 49ers have three significant defensive players in new positions this season. Bryant Young moves from defensive tackle to defensive end. Andre Carter goes from defensive end to outside linebacker. And free safety Mike Rumph makes the switch from cornerback.

A lot of pressure figures to be on Rumph, as the Rams figure to challenge the 49ers with their vertical passing game.

"It's going to be a tough challenge for the corners," Rumph said. "I know because I've been out there. I've already seen it as a corner, and I want to help them as much as possible. I think our corners will go out there and challenge them and I want to be there for them."

The 49ers' starting cornerbacks, Ahmed Plummer and Shawntae Spencer, figure to get challenged often on Sunday. But it won't stop there. The 49ers can't feel confident about their depth in the secondary, and the Rams can test nickel and dime pass coverages better than any team in the NFL.

Second-year player Mike Adams beat out veteran Willie Middlebrooks for the nickel back job. Adams will line up against the Rams' slot receiver in three-WR formations.

"I know they'll come after me," Adams said, "It's nothing new. I've always been an underdog kind of guy. I wasn't drafted, so I had to take what wasn't given to me all the time."

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