KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:15 p.m. Pacific
SITE: Monster Park in San Francisco
RECORDS: 49ers 2-3, third place in NFC West; Chargers 3-1, tied for first place in AFC West
TV: CBS, Ian Eagle, Solomon Wilcots
2006 NFL RANKINGS: Chargers: offense 6th (2nd rush, 26th pass); defense 1st (1st rush, 1st pass). 49ers: offense 13th (8th rush, 11th pass); defense 26th (24th rush, 25th pass)
SERIES HISTORY: 12th meeting. San Francisco leads the series, 7-4. And the 49ers lead it in a convincing fashion, having outscored the Chargers, 335-200. The Chargers haven't won in San Francisco since 1982. Of course, the biggest game these teams every played was in Super Bowl XXIX. It was the Chargers first and only visit to a Super Bowl, and they were blasted 49-26, as the 49ers won their fifth Super Bowl championship. The Chargers won the last time two teams faced, 20-17 in overtime, in 2002.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The 49ers' offense is averaging 103.8 more yards per game than last season, but faces a tough task. San Francisco must have success on the ground and RB Frank Gore is second in the NFL with 632 yards from scrimmage, but the Chargers are allowing a league-low 66.5 rushing yards per game. The 49ers hope to get LG Larry Allen back in the lineup to help control the line of scrimmage. But the line isn't as strong in pass protection and San Francisco can't afford to stick QB Alex Smith in long passing situations where he will be exposed to the Chargers' strong pass rush. San Diego knows it can likely win this game on the strength of its defense, and coach Marty Schottenheimer won't take more chances than he absolutely has to. Expect a heavy dose of RBs LaDainian Tomlinson and Michael Turner until the 49ers prove they can stop the run. While the 49ers have had some breakdowns in coverage and don't rush the passer well, they are also allowing 126.2 rushing yards per game.
FAST FACTS: Chargers -- Schottenheimer needs win to tie Dan Reeves (190) for sixth place all-time in regular-season victories. ... LS David Binn will play in his 196th game, passing Doug Wilkerson for third most in franchise history. Junior Seau and Russ Washington played in 200 games for the Chargers. 49ers -- Smith has a 100.3 passer rating in three home starts this season. ... Gore is tied for the NFL rushing lead with 465 yards and he's second in the league in total yards from scrimmage.
BY THE NUMBERS: 1 -- Number of times the Chargers (3-1) have finished the first quarter of their season with three-or-more wins since 2002. 103.8 -- Average yards per game the 49ers' offense has improved since last season.
QUOTES TO NOTE
--- "If we go to the wishbone we would be hell on wheels." -- Coach Marty Schottenheimer, on the Chargers' powerful backfield of running backs LaDainian Tomlinson and Michael Turner and fullback Lorenzo Neal.
---- "A win gives you a lot more hope for where you're headed, while a loss like a week ago (41-0 against the Chiefs) takes you a step back. You have to think, 'Whoa, who am I fooling? Are we where we thought?' This win builds confidence in your team and your players and what you're doing." -- 49ers coach Mike Nolan on taking the momentum from the victory over the Raiders into this week's game against the Chargers.
49ERS GAME PLAN: The 49ers best recipe for success appears to be what they dialed up last week against the Raiders. The 49ers relied heavily on the running of Frank Gore to help take the pressure off quarterback Alex Smith and the team's suspect defense. Aside from their shutout loss against the Chiefs, the 49ers have shown an ability to move the ball and score some points. But the true concern is the team's defense, going against a balanced attack like what the Chargers bring. The 49ers will likely gear up to contain the running of LaDainian Tomlinson and take their chances, to a degree, against Chargers' quarterback Philip Rivers, in his first year as the starter. The 49ers' pass defense has been vulnerable due to a lack of a pass rush. The 49ers have also had some breakdowns at safety, allowing receivers to get behind them. Coach Mike Nolan and defensive coordinator Billy Davis are going to have to devise some methods to get some pressure on Rivers, probably through an array of blitz packages. Outside linebacker Manny Lawson, whom the 49ers selected in the first round, has been used primarily in coverage and as a run defender. The 49ers might have to find a way to get Lawson to rush the quarterback on passing downs, too.
CHARGERS GAME PLAN: The Chargers would love to continue doing what they do best on defense, which is stopping the run. If they can force Smith into obvious passing situations, they like their chances of getting after the young quarterback with their active front seven and tempting Smith to beat them. The key is stopping Gore on the running downs; Gore is tied for the NFL lead in rushing. But if the Chargers can at least slow him down and have Smith stare at some third-and-longs, it will be playing right into the Chargers' defensive hands.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
--- The Chargers' run defense, with NT Jamal Williams in the middle, vs. the 49ers' running game. Some might think to stop Gore the linebackers must be active and get run-support from the defensive backs. But in reality the matchup to watch is Williams against the interior of the 49ers line led by center Eric Heitmann, who has done a fine job in starting the past 11 games at this position. But Williams was outstanding against a solid Steelers offensive line last week and will be looking to build on that performance. If Williams does his thing with his massive 6-foot-3, 348-pound frame, that allows the rest of the unit to swoop in and get the tackles and the headlines.
--- The Chargers' offense, led by first-year starting QB Philip Rivers vs. a 49ers defense which is big on making adjustments. The Chargers know the 49ers' defensive personnel isn't nearly as stout as what they saw the past two weeks against Baltimore and Pittsburgh. But what the 49ers defense does do is switch around a lot, going from a 4-3 to a 3-4, to a variation of the two. So it's imperative that Rivers recognizes what they 49ers are trying to do and how they are trying to do it.
--- The 49ers short passing game, featuring TE Eric Johnson, against the Chargers pass defense, which is led by SS Terrence Kiel. Johnson is filling in for Vernon Davis, the rookie who was being counted on before breaking his leg. But Johnson is no slouch; he had a team-high 82 receptions in 2004, after last year was derailed by a foot injury. Kiel could draw the athletic Johnson and be asked to stick with someone who is fourth on the team with 14 catches for 126 yards and a touchdown.
--- 49ers LT Jonas Jennings, who is coming off surgery to repair a torn ligament in his left pinkie finger, vs. Chargers OLB Shawne Merriman, who leads the team and ranks second in the NFC with 4.5 sacks. It could be Adam Snyder going against Merriman instead if Jennings, who was downgraded to doubtful Friday, is unable to play.
-- 49ers MLB Derek Smith, who leads the team with 44 tackles, vs. RB LaDainian Tomlinson, who rushed for 336 yards and three TDs on 89 carries.
--- 49ers OLB Manny Lawson, who has adapted well to a position change after being a defensive end in college, vs. TE Antonio Gates, who has 177 yards receiving and two touchdowns in four games.
49ERS: LG Larry Allen (left knee) practiced this week but is listed as doubtful for Sunday's game and appears unlikely to play. Allen has been out since the sixth play of the regular season after sustaining a sprain of his medial collateral ligament. … LT Jonas Jennings, who missed 13 games last season with a shoulder injury, has already missed all or parts of three games with injuries this season. Jennings underwent surgery Monday to repair a ligament in his left pinkie finger. He also has a wrist sprain that coach Mike Nolan said is not severe. He did not practice this week and was downgraded from questionable to doubtful on Friday. … LB Derek Smith (hip flexor) missed practice Wednesday but returned later in the week. He's listed as probable and will start Sunday. … TE Vernon Davis (right fibula) is expected to miss at least another couple weeks with the hairline fracture he sustained during their 49ers' game Sept. 24 against the Eagles.
CHARGERS: S Bhawoh Jue (knee) is doing some limited work, but nothing in the team drills. He won't play this week even though he's listed as questionable. … TE Ryan Krause (hamstring) is working and is fine for Sunday; he could be a healthy inactive. … LT Marcus McNeill (hand) is working and is fine to start Sunday.
Game breakdown: 49ers vs. Chargers
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