Game breakdown: 49ers vs. Rams

Taking a look deep inside Sunday's pivotal NFC West battle between the 49ers and St. Louis Rams at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, with snapshot game details, series history, game plans, matchups to watch and injury impact.

KICKOFF: Sunday, 12 noon Central
SITE: Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis
RECORDS: 49ers 1-0, 1-0 in NFC West; Rams 0-1, 0-0 in NFC West
SURFACE: Artificial
TV: FOX, Dick Stockton, Brian Baldinger, Rob Desir
SERIES HISTORY: 116th meeting. Rams lead series, 59-54-2, though the 49ers have won three of the past four meetings. Amazingly, the Rams have outscored San Francisco by just 19 points (2,540-2,521) in the previous 114 regular-season games. The teams split the season series in 2006, with each team winning at home.

KEYS TO THE GAME: Running back Frank Gore will lead the way in attacking the Rams' shaky front seven, but he can't do it alone. The 49ers' offense did not execute well in the opener and must step up - from QB Alex Smith's accuracy to receivers eliminating dropped passes. A key to the running and passing games will be Rams DE Leonard Little working against rookie RT Joe Staley. Staley is strong in run-blocking, but will need help protecting Smith. ... Watching 49ers CBs Nate Clements and Walt Harris shut down the Cardinals' passing game Monday night, the Rams know they must get RB Steven Jackson untracked. He'll have to do it behind a makeshift offensive line. OT Alex Barron slides from the right side to the left to take over for injured LT Orlando Pace, with journeyman Milford Brown taking over right tackle. If Jackson isn't productive, QB Marc Bulger will be a sitting duck for the 49ers' blitzing linebackers.

FAST FACTS: The 49ers seek their first 2-0 start since 1998. ... Jackson lost two fumbles the entire 2006 season -- a number he matched in the season opener last Sunday.

BY THE NUMBERS: 498 -- Number of regular-season victories the Rams have in their history. Only four teams in history have reached 500, and the Steelers have 499. 23 -- The age of starting quarterback Alex Smith, who begins his third NFL season as still the youngest starting quarterback in the league.

QUOTES TO NOTE
"He's here, which is a couple thousand miles from where he was last year. He's had a great offseason. He's still a young player that has maturing, but I see growth there. He wouldn't be on the 53 if he hadn't improved. That says a lot about where he's at. Now it's a matter of being consistent every day. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday -- those are the days that have to be great for him so that Sundays are a reality for him." -- Rams coach Scott Linehan, on OG Claude Terrell, who spent the 2006 season on injured reserve away from the team in Texas.
"You can always imagine playing better. But I was pleased with what they did. I liked the physical nature of the way we played. There were some good hits in the game. We said going into the game that it was going to be a physical week. That was one of the things we stressed." -- 49ers coach Mike Nolan, on building on the 49ers' season-opening defensive performance.

49ERS GAME PLAN: The 49ers' secondary played exceptionally well in the opener against the Cardinals receivers in the season opener. With Nate Clements and Walt Harris playing so well on the outside, it should afford defensive coordinator Greg Manusky the confidence to bring an even wider array of blitzes to the table against the Rams on passing downs. It should also allow the 49ers to creep strong safety Michael Lewis closer to the line of scrimmage to play an eighth defender in the box to slow down Rams running back Steven Jackson, whom the 49ers had a difficult time containing when the clubs met last season in St. Louis. Jackson rushed for 121 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries. Offensively, the 49ers must do a much better job of executing than they did against the Cardinals on Monday night. The 49ers put up the second-worst offensive performance of the opening week of the season, gaining just 194 total yards. The Rams have a light front seven and are vulnerable against teams that like to run the ball. Offensive coordinator Jim Hostler has to use Frank Gore's running to set up quarterback Alex Smith and the passing game more effectively than they did Monday night against the Cardinals.

RAMS GAME PLAN: Talk about simplistic game plans. The St. Louis offensive line will be challenged against the 49ers' 3-4 defense to create lanes for RB Steve Jackson and time for QB Marc Bulger to throw. Defensively, they will have to contain RB Frank Gore, who has hurt the in the past.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH --- 49ers CBs Nate Clements and Walt Harris, who combined to help limit the Cardinals to 100 passing yards, vs. Rams WRs Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce, who have tormented the 49ers secondary in previous seasons.
--- 49ers RB Frank Gore, who gained 1,695 yards last season, vs. the Rams run defense, which allowed 186 yards to the Panthers in the season opener.
--- 49ers RT Joe Staley, making his second NFL start as a rookie, vs. Rams LDE Leonard Little, a 10th-year player who has averaged nearly 11.5 sacks for the past six seasons.
--- 49ers LB Patrick Willis, who led the 49ers with 15 tackles in his NFL debut, vs. Rams RB Steven Jackson, whose goal this season was to gain 2,500 yards from scrimmage.
--- 49ers ROLB Tully Banta-Cain, who is being counted upon to be the 49ers' top pass-rush threat, vs. Rams LT Adam Goldberg, who takes over for Orlando Pace after his season-ending injury.
--- 49ers pass rush vs. Rams offensive line: While the Banta-Cain/Goldberg match will be a battle within the battle, with three potential changes in the line, the Rams will have to find a way to figure out when the 49ers will send their pass rushers. Sometimes it will be Banta-Cain, other times LB Manny Lawson. Then, don't forget Willis, who is making an immediate impact. This will be a tough matchup for the Rams.

INJURY IMPACT
49ERS:
The 49ers don't expect to be impacted much by injuries in their game Sunday against the Rams. Safety Dashon Goldson has returned to practice after sustaining a strained muscle and sprained ligaments in his right elbow Aug. 18 in an exhibition game. He is not expected to play Sunday. Tight end Billy Bajema, a blocking specialist, aggravated a high right ankle sprain. His availability for Sunday's game is in question. Cornerback Shawntae Spencer (elbow) is listed as probable, so he is expected to be the team's No. 3 corner on Sunday. Cornerback Marcus Hudson (quad), the team's fourth corner, is expected to be ready to play also.
RAMS: LB Pisa Tinoisamoa did not practice earlier this week because of a foot injury, and is probably 50-50 to play this week. ... WR Drew Bennett, who missed the season opener because of a quad injury, practiced and is expected to play Sunday.


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