Game breakdown: 49ers vs. Rams

The 49ers have to play very good defense and hope QB Alex Smith doesn't commit any turnovers to have a chance Saturday against the Rams.

49ERS GAME PLAN: The 49ers have to play very good defense to have a chance against the Rams, a team they somehow defeated 28-25 in the opening week of the regular season despite getting outgained by a 2-to-1 margin in total yards. The 49ers' offense is in a sorry state, so about the best they can hope for is that rookie QB Alex Smith does not commit any turnovers. Smith did not fumble but threw one interception in the 49ers' 10-9 loss last week to the Jaguars. The 49ers have been able to count on kicker Joe Nedney, who has made 23 of 25 field goals this season. He has accounted for all the points this season in seven of the 49ers' 14 games. The 49ers have been held without an offensive touchdown in eight games. Offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy has to do a better job of making adjustments as the game progresses for the 49ers' offense to keep a step ahead of the defense. In the last three games with Smith at quarterback, the 49ers have gained 388 total yards in the first half and just 162 yards in the second half. The 49ers need to get yards on first down, most likely behind the running of rookie Frank Gore, who seems to run with a lot more determination and aggression than starter Kevan Barlow. Barlow missed last week's game with a knee injury. Gore gained 79 yards on 19 carries against the most physical team the 49ers have played this season. Smith has to do a better job of making accurate passes when his mediocre group of wide receivers gets open. He also has to use good judgment when deciding to take off out of the pocket to run the ball. Defensively, the 49ers' secondary played well last week but they will have a major test this week against the Rams' solid group of wideouts. It really does not matter who the Rams start at quarterback, if the pass rush does not apply some pressure, the secondary is likely get torn apart in the passing game. Still, the 49ers came up with a formula for beating the Rams once - one of their only two victories this season - and if they can do it again it will give them their first season series sweep of their longtime rivals since 1998.

RAMS GAME PLAN: The defense has been better the last two weeks, allowing a total of 460 yards in losses to Minnesota and Philadelphia, by being aggressive. That should continue because of the 49ers' inexperience at quarterback and their lack of consistency at wide receiver. Rookie QB Smith has been easily rattled this year and the Rams need to come after him and continue that trend. Offensively, the Rams have to turn yards into points and open up the passing game. That would be more possible with Jamie Martin at quarterback instead of Ryan Fitzpatrick, who has struggled in three games as the starter after getting off to a great start last month in a relief appearance. The Rams could have a big advantage with their quality receivers against San Francisco's undermanned secondary, so St. Louis has to make sure and make it a point to get them the ball.


--- 49ers RT Kwame Harris, who is much better blocking on run plays, vs. Rams LDE Leonard Little, a speed rusher who leads the Rams with six sacks.

--- 49ers CB Derrick Johnson, making his second consecutive start, vs. Torry Holt, a NFC Pro Bowl selection who leads the Rams with 88 receptions for 1,128 yards and eight touchdowns.

--- 49ers C Eric Heitmann, who has been the club's most consistent performer this season, vs. NT Ryan Pickett, who has recorded an unbelievable 109 tackles at his interior line position.

--- 49ers LB Julian Peterson, who many believe drops into coverage too much instead of rushing the passer, vs. RT Alex Barron, a first-round draft pick who has started nine games this season.

--- Rams QB vs. 49ers pass defense: The 49ers are last in the NFL in pass defense, allowing more than 277 yards a game. The Rams have not passed well in the three games started by rookie Ryan Fitzpatrick. A return to Jamie Martin should be able to help move the ball more consistently in the passing game.

--- Rams pass rush vs. 49ers QB Alex Smith: San Francisco's passers have averaged 118 yards per game, and completed just 51.2 percent of their passes. In addition, the 49ers' quarterbacks have been sacked 40 times. The Rams haven't had great success with their past rush, but they have been more aggressive the last two games, and that should continue in this game.


49ERS: RB Kevan Barlow (left knee) was downgraded to doubtful after he was unable to practice on Wednesday, and he also didn't practice Thursday. ... RB Frank Gore (left shoulder) sustained a sprain last Sunday against the Jaguars. It looks as if he'll be able to play Saturday against the Rams and he probably will start after being upgraded from questionable to probable earlier this week. Gore will likely need surgery on both shoulders after the season, coach Mike Nolan said. ... DE Bryant Young (right knee) returned to action last week against the Jaguars but was clearly limited. He should be close to 100 percent against the Rams. ... CB Ahmed Plummer (left ankle) will miss the remainder of the season after undergoing arthroscopic surgery to remove bone chips in late September. ... C Jeremy Newberry (right knee), FS Tony Parrish (left leg), LT Jonas Jennings (right shoulder), LB Jeff Ulbrich (left biceps), CB Mike Rumph (foot), TE Eric Johnson (foot) and WRs Derrick Hamilton (left knee) and Rashaun Woods (thumb) are on injured reserve.

RAMS: With most of the team's injured players on reserve, the active roster is healthy. The only situation that bears watching is RB Steven Jackson, who suffered a hip pointer against the Eagles. He is expected to play this week, but it is unknown how long he will last. Like Jackson, the other six players on St. Louis' injury report this week each or listed as probable.

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