Niners game plan

Niners game plan, matchups to watch and injury impact for Sunday's encounter with the Washington Redskins.


With a full two weeks to prepare, the 49ers will need to pull out all the stops against the Redskins. Coach Mike Nolan has shown a willingness to do a lot of things out of the ordinary. He has called for three onside kicks in the middle of games (two of which the 49ers have recovered), and quarterback Alex Smith has run the option. They will have to come up with a few new wrinkles against the Redskins, who are coming off two tough road losses and need to make sure of a victory against the overmatched 49ers. Offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy has to pick a spot early in the game to get Smith to deliver the ball down the field. Without the threat of a deep-passing game, opponents can stack the line of scrimmage and take away the underneath routes. The 49ers spent their bye week examining ways to get their tight end more involved in the game plan. Perhaps, they can design some plays to get Trent Smith, regarded as the best receiver among the tight ends, involved in the offense. The 49ers also need to grind things out on the ground more than they've been able to do at any time this season. Running backs Kevan Barlow and Frank Gore have to help the defense out by taking some time off the clock with sustained drives. Defensively, the 49ers can't afford to give up the big play. Cornerback Bruce Thornton, who was impressive in his starting debut two weeks ago against the Colts' Marvin Harrison, gets his second career start. One big key for the 49ers is the health of linebacker Julian Peterson, who has been hobbled since Sept. 25 with a right hamstring strain. The 49ers' front seven, playing without starting linebacker Jeff Ulbrich, must do a good job on first and second downs. But a lot of the team's problems have come on third downs, as the 49ers' defense has failed on 48.6 percent of those third-down plays.


--- 49ers cornerback Bruce Thornton, who was elevated from the practice squad three weeks ago, vs. Redskins receiver Santana Moss, who has become Mark Brunell's top target with 33 catches for 631 yards and four touchdowns.

--- MLB Derek Smith, the team's top tackler, vs. RB Clinton Portis, who has 443 yards rushing on 104 carries.

--- QB Alex Smith, who was intercepted four times in his starting debut, vs. FS Sean Taylor, who had four interceptions last year and the Redskins are relying on help generate more turnovers this season.

--- LT Anthony Clement, who is making a rough adjustment to protect Smith's blind side, vs. RDE Phillip Daniels, who can probably expect to see some double teams from the 49ers.


LB Saleem Rasheed is expected to miss two to five games after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus cartilage. ... T Jonas Jennings will not play this week because of a torn labrum in his right shoulder. Jennings' shoulder is improving but the injury could lead to season-ending surgery. ... WR Arnaz Battle will not play because of a right knee sprain. The club is hoping he can return Oct. 30 against the Buccaneers. ... Linebacker Julian Peterson (right hamstring) returned to practice Thursday and is expected to play Sunday against the Redskins. ... CB Derrick Johnson is expected to return from a left thigh strain to play Sunday. ... CB Willie Middlebrooks should be available, if needed, after missing a game with a groin strain. ... Center Jeremy Newberry will not practice this week but should start Sunday. He is hobbled by a chronic knee problem. ... CB Ahmed Plummer is expected to miss two more games after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his left ankle. ... WR Derrick Hamilton is still on the physically unable to perform list after sustaining a torn ACL in the off-season. He is not expected to play this season. ... LB Jeff Ulbrich (left biceps), CB Mike Rumph (foot), TE Eric Johnson (foot) and WR Rashaun Woods (thumb) are on injured reserve.

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