49ers vs. Rams: Thumbs up and thumbs down

Which way does the thumb turn for defensive coordinator Greg Manusky, San Francisco's offensive line, punter Andy Lee, wide receiver Taylor Jacobs, defensive end Bryant Young, punt returner Brandon Williams, linebacker Tully Banta-Cain and running back Frank Gore after Sunday's victory at St. Louis? Check inside.

Thumb's up: Greg Manusky is calling a heck of a game as San Francisco's defensive coordinator, playing to his team's strengths. Yes, the Rams finished with 331 net yards passing, but that's because it became clear early that passing was all St. Louis was going to be able to do and its only hope at victory. Manusky challenged the overmatched St. Louis line all afternoon, and let his secondary play man-to-man and match-up zones throughout. The Rams have some talented receivers, and five different St. Louis players had at least one reception of 19 yards or more, but it mostly middle-of-the-field yardage that padded the Rams' final numbers. This was the way to play and beat the Rams on defense, and Manusky had it planned out magnificently.

Thumb's down: What's up with the 49ers' offensive line? It was arguably the strength of the team last season, and should be even better this year. But it's not. It has been breakdown city for the guys up front as they're having problems opening holes in the run game and are not working in unison in pass protection, which is causing all kinds of problems for Alex Smith. Justin Smiley's pass blocking has not improved a lick since last year, and that's the area where he really needs to improve. He's not helping Joe Staley out on the right side, and while the rookie is holding his own out there at tackle, he could certainly use the help. And Eric Heitmann has seen much better days. It's way too early to start worrying too much about this unit, but it's not going to get any easier next week when they face a real defensive line.

Thumb's up: A lot of people might not realize how big an impact Andy Lee is having on a team that is playing it close to the vest offensively and relying on its defense to win. Lee is making a huge impact in the battle for field position, and for those who missed his 71-yard boomer, it should be noted that not only did he push the Rams way back while kicking from his own 22, he also angled his blast into a corner where Dante Hall had nowhere to escape after running it down. Lee had a great 41.8 net to go along with his 45.3 average, but he also deftly placed four of his six punts inside the St. Louis 20-yard line. Had Lee - who also had punts of 56 and 51 yards when the 49ers were backed up - had just blasted away on those placement kicks, he could have averaged 55 yards, but then the Rams wouldn't have started their drives, on average, from their own 14-yard line after Lee's six punts.

Thumb's down: We don't like ripping good-guy Taylor Jacobs, but the guy has been a complete non-factor as the 49ers' third receiver, and he's keeping Ashley Lelie off the field, a guy who might be able to do better. Jacobs wavered when taking a handoff on a reverse Sunday, and that split-second hesitation allowed the Rams to swarm him for an eight-yard loss when he might have been able to break it outside as planned had he been going full throttle. Jacobs had a great summer, but he has done nothing in two games, and as we recall, he didn't do too much in four preseason games, either.

Thumb's up: Geez, we knew he still had it in him, but we haven't seen Bryant Young play like that in a while. His job has changed since he became an end in the 3-4 system, where he sacrifices more of his game, but he was a beast Sunday when matched up against offensive linemen to whom he clearly is superior. With two sacks, six tackles and a forced fumble, B.Y. looked like he pushed the clock back to his All-Pro years.

Thumb's down: Brandon Williams is just killing the 49ers if he can't perform the only duty asked of him - and the only reason he's on the team - by getting underneath punts and securing them. It's bad enough that he can't shake loose or break a tackle when he does have room in front of him to run - he's averaging 8.0 yards on his four returns this season, actually an improvement on his 6.7 average on 22 returns last year - but he simply cannot put the ball on the carpet like he did Sunday, particularly in a dome where there are no elements working against him. His muffed punt didn't cost the 49ers a victory, but it very well could have in a one-point game. As it is, the muff left the Rams only 25 yards from the San Francisco end zone for the game's first touchdown - the only touchdown the Rams scored, by the way.

Thumb's up: Tully Banta-Cain was credited with only two tackles and half a sack, but he was in Marc Bulger's face all day and was credited with three hits on the St. Louis quarterback. He made life difficult all afternoon for Bulger, a guy who does not like to get hit.

Thumb's up: A high thumb to the sky for Frank Gore, just like he was pointing up to his mother in the heavens Sunday. More on this hero Tuesday.

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