KICKOFF: Sunday, 12 noon Central
SITE: Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis
RECORDS: 49ers 5-5, second place in NFC West; Rams 4-6, third place in NFC West
TV: FOX, Ron Pitts, Jesse Palmer
2006 NFL RANKINGS: 49ers: offense 24th (6th rush, 26th pass); defense 22nd (15th rush, 23rd pass). Rams: offense 12th (27th rush, 7th pass); defense 27th (31st rush, 9th pass)
SERIES: 116th meeting. The Rams lead 58-55-2, but the 49ers have won the previous three meetings, including a 20-13 victory in San Francisco in Week 2 this season and a 24-20 victory in St. Louis last December.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Fortunately for the Rams and their beat-up offensive line, the 49ers have only 22.0 sacks on the season. St. Louis allowed seven last Sunday, but if the Rams can provide time for QB Marc Bulger he should be able to work downfield. WRs Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce already pose problems for the 49ers secondary, which could be without top CB Shawntae Spencer. That would force Sammy Davis, who was torched by Seattle as soon as he entered the game, into the starting lineup. The key for San Francisco is keeping the game close so RB Frank Gore, who has 379 rushing yards the past two games, remains the focal point of the offense. St. Louis is 31st in the league allowing 153.2 rushing yards per game and dead last giving up 5.2 yards per carry. With the Rams likely to load the box in an effort to contain Gore, QB Alex Smith will be asked to do more than simply manage the game. Rookie TE Vernon Davis is finally healthy and could be a factor over the middle.
FAST FACTS: 49ers -- Smith has been sacked 22 times this season, compared to 29 last season in 109 fewer passing attempts. ... CB Walt Harris has a career-high six interceptions, which is tied for the NFL lead. Rams -- Holt is on pace for 1,224 receiving yards, which would break a streak of six consecutive 1,300-yard seasons. ... Have been outscored 62-30 in the first half the past four games.
BY THE NUMBERS: 3 -- Number of touchdowns the Rams have scored in the first quarter this season. In the last four games, all losses, the Rams haven't scored a first-quarter touchdown and have been out-scored 62-30 in the first half. 9 -- The 49ers' plus-turnover margin in the past three games (all victories). While beating the Vikings, Lions and Seahawks, the 49ers have forced 12 turnovers while giving it away just three times.
QUOTES TO NOTE
--- "I think when you look at the yardage you might think, 'Wow, these guys are giving up so much yardage,' but it's the big-play yardage, those big runs that we're giving up that are hurting. That's where that one guy is messing up and that's why we're emphasizing getting more than one guy to try to tackle the running back." -- LB Pisa Tinoisamoa on the Rams' run defense
--- "I said something to the team on Friday. I told them, 'I want you to know something so it's not a distraction.' I told them quickly that when I took the job that I wanted to wear a suit. I said the reason was to honor my father and the other coaches who have done it in the past, and it's an issue of respect. I said, 'That's it. I don't get any money, no free clothes. I get nothing. This is why I'm doing it.' And they all laughed because they thought I was lying." -- 49ers coach Mike Nolan on his being allowed to wear a business suit on the sideline for last Sunday's game against the Seahawks
49ERS GAME PLAN: Over the past three games, the 49ers found a formula that works. They have forced turnovers on defense while taking care of the football on offense. And they have been able to run the ball effectively, while playing solid run defense. However, something that might give them problems this week is the Rams' passing attack. The 49ers must find a way to get pressure on Rams quarterback Marc Bulger, who was sacked seven times last week as the Rams played their first game without All-Pro left tackle Orlando Pace. The 49ers need to get more of a consistent push from their pass rush to take the heat off a defensive backfield that could be playing Sunday without a key starter. Defensive end Roderick Green, who beat Seahawks left tackle Walter Jones for a sack last week, will be expected to have a big game against Adam Goldberg or whomever the Rams decide to start in place of Pace. Cornerback Shawntae Spencer is hobbled with an ankle sprain and he is questionable for Sunday's game. The 49ers do not have much depth at cornerback, as Sammy Davis is the likely starter. When Davis entered last week's game against the Seahawks in place of Spencer, he was immediately targeted for pass completions of 11, 23 and 41 yards, the latter of which resulted in a touchdown. Rookie CB Marcus Hudson might see some action if Davis continues to struggle. Offensively, the 49ers might try to open the offense up a little if the Rams load up the box to stop Frank Gore, who ranks second in the NFL with 1,043 yards in 10 games. Quarterback Alex Smith has been relegated to the role of "game manager" the past few weeks, but offensive coordinator Norv Turner might be more inclined to take some chances if the Rams give the 49ers the opportunity to make some plays on the outside. Also, look for rookie tight end Vernon Davis to play more of a role in the passing game. Last week, his first game back from a broken leg, Davis played five snaps, four of which he was used as a blocker on run plays.
RAMS GAME PLAN: Aside from the obvious need to run the football, protect QB Marc Bulger and limit the 49ers' scoring opportunities, the most important goal for the Rams is to have a good start and maintain a lead. That might be their only hope of limiting the 49ers' ground game.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
--- Rams run defense vs. 49ers RB Frank Gore: Gore had 127 yards in the first meeting between the teams on Sept. 17, and has rushed for 371 yards the last two games to give him 1,043 for the season. He had a team-record 212 last Sunday against Seattle. The Rams' run defense has had seven runners, including Gore, gain at least 100 yards against them this season.
--- Rams OL vs. 49ers defense: Since falling behind the Bears 41-0 at halftime on Oct. 29, San Francisco has allowed just three touchdowns. The Rams, meanwhile, totaled just 111 yards last week against Carolina, and weren't able to handle the Panthers' multiple looks.
--- 49ers CBs, most notably a hobbled Shawntae Spencer or a vulnerable Sammy Davis, if he is forced to start, vs. Rams WRs Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce, who have combined for 102 receptions with Holt catching seven TD passes.
--- 49ers RT Kwame Harris, who has played well in recent weeks as he holds off teammate Adam Snyder's bid to take the starting job, vs. Rams DE Leonard Little, who leads the Rams with 10 sacks on the season and has played well in the past against Harris.
--- 49ers LB Brandon Moore, who has been the 49ers' best defensive playmaker in his three starts since replacing Jeff Ulbrich, vs. RT Alex Barron, who remarkably kept Julius Peppers off the stat sheet last week.
49ERS: CB Shawntae Spencer (right ankle) is listed as questionable for Sunday's game and might not play. Spencer did not play in the fourth quarter of the game last week against the Seahawks due to the injury. If he is unable to play, veteran Sammy Davis is expected to replace him in the starting lineup. LT Jonas Jennings (left ankle) was upgraded to probable on Friday and will likely start against the Rams. WR Arnaz Battle returned to practice Thursday, three days after having surgery to insert two small screws into his broken left hand. Battle is wearing a cast but will have it removed to play in Sunday's game. Battle will wear a padded glove in the game. LB Jeff Ulbrich will require surgery on a sprained ligament in his left thumb. Ulbrich is scheduled to undergo surgery on Monday, but is not expected to miss any games.
RAMS: The Rams are crossing their fingers that RG Adam Timmerman will be available to play Sunday. Timmerman injured his ribs against Carolina, and has a streak of 181 consecutive games played. If he can't play, more shuffling will occur on an offensive line already without starters Orlando Pace (left tackle) and Andy McCollum (center).
Game breakdown: 49ers vs. Rams
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