Game breakdown: 49ers vs. Rams

Taking a look deep inside Sunday's battle of NFC West rivals between the 49ers and St. Louis Rams at Monster Park in San Francisco, with snapshot game details, series history, game plans, matchups to watch, injury impact, personnel updates and a look inside both camps before the game.

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:15 Pacific
SITE: Monster Park in San Francisco
SURFACE: Grass
RECORDS: 49ers 2-7, 2-2 in NFC West; Rams 1-8, 0-3 in NFC West
TV: FOX, Chris Myers, Rod Woodson

SERIES HISTORY: 116th meeting. Rams lead, 59-54-2. The 49ers have won four of the last five games in the series, including a 17-16 win at St. Louis in Week 2. The 49ers have lost seven in a row since that game. The last five games have been decided by seven points or fewer and four by four points or fewer.

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Rams' offense is on the upswing with RB Steven Jackson back and the line playing with some continuity. QB Marc Bulger has passed for more than 300 yards in consecutive games, but he was sacked six times and hit seven more in the first meeting. Jackson can prevent a repeat beating by creating manageable passing downs. ... Considered a run-first team, the 49ers are running the ball just 37.6 percent of the time while playing behind so early in games. QB Trent Dilfer starts in place of injured Alex Smith, and will give the ball early and often to RB Frank Gore. Dilfer also needs to get TE Vernon Davis involved early after he didn't see a pass come his way until the fourth quarter Monday night.

FAST FACTS: Bruce has 123 receptions for 1,871 yards and 10 touchdowns in 25 career games against the 49ers. ... The 49ers are last in the NFL with 3.7 yards per pass play. New England leads at 8.5.

BY THE NUMBERS: 4 -- Number of red-zone touchdowns the Rams scored against New Orleans after having just six in the first eight games of the season. 22 -- Consecutive games by the 49ers without 200 net yards passing, the longest such streak since the NFL went to a 16-game schedule in 1978 and modified rules to promote passing offense.

QUOTES TO NOTE
"You know there's light at the end of the tunnel, but at this point, you wonder how far you have to go to get to the end of that tunnel." -- 49ers wide receiver Arnaz Battle
"It's one win. We still have the record we have. It does give us confidence in that this is a second season for us, an eight-game season. We're focusing on that and not what happened in the first eight even though they all count. We count them too. We know it's a part of where we are in the season, but it does give us much more confidence as a football team to know that when the chips are down and everything's against you, you can go on the road and play against a team that is playing as good as anybody in the NFC and play like we did. It's a matter of confidence, sometimes that can go a long way." -- Coach Scott Linehan, on how he hopes the team can build on Sunday's win over New Orleans.

49ERS GAME PLAN: With quarterback Alex Smith struggling to complete even the most simple of passes – and now Trent Dilfer in his place as the starter this week – the 49ers have to rely more on their running game. The 49ers' strength is clearly the team's run attack behind Frank Gore, but only three teams in the league have a lower percentage of run plays than the 49ers. The 49ers have run the ball on just 37.6 percent of their offensive plays. A lot of that falls on the shoulders of offensive coordinator Jim Hostler for failing to stick with the running game. But, also, the 49ers have fallen behind at halftime so often that they feel as if they're forced to abandon their running game. Gore rushed for 72 yards last week against the Seahawks on just 13 carries. The 49ers have to get Gore running, and they have to find a way to get a threat in the passing game going behind Dilfer, who played poorly in place of Smith in three games earlier this season. Defensively, the 49ers have not been able to get any kind of pass rush on the quarterback. As much confidence as defensive coordinator Greg Manusky has in cornerbacks Walt Harris and Nate Clements, the 49ers cannot afford to sit back and play coverage against the Rams. The 49ers need to turn up the heat on Rams quarterback Marc Bulger because they have been unable to generate any pressure from a disappointing four-man rush.

RAMS GAME PLAN: The Rams will seek to have balance between the run and pass, and keep the pressure away from QB Marc Bulger. In Week 2, the 49ers sacked Bulger six times and hit him another seven in San Francisco's 17-16 victory. Bulger passed for 368 yards that day, but the team scored just one touchdown as two drives resulting in field goals were stopped at the 9- and 11-yard line. Defensively, the Rams will be primed to stop RB Frank Gore, who had a big 43-yard touchdown run in the first game. The Rams have a streak of 10 consecutive games without allowing a 100-yard game by a running back.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH
--- 49ers TE Vernon Davis vs. Rams pass defense. The 49ers want to make an emphasis to get the ball in Davis' hands. The Rams held Davis to two catches for 23 yards in the earlier meeting this season.
--- 49ers FB Moran Norris, who is coming off a rough game as a lead-blocker, vs. Rams MLB Will Witherspoon, who leads the Rams with 83 tackles.
--- 49ers RB Frank Gore, whose last TD came in Week 2 in St. Louis, vs. Rams No. 22-ranked run defense.
--- 49ers C Eric Heitmann, whose play this season has been up and down, vs. Rams NT Adam Carriker, who has struggled getting any kind of push as a rookie.
--- 49ers LB Patrick Willis, the 49ers' leading tackler who's playing with a cast on his hand, vs. Rams RB Steven Jackson, who sparked the Rams offense last week with his return to the lineup.
--- Rams WRs Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce and Drew Bennett vs. CBs Walt Harris and Nate Clements. Bulger passed for 368 yards in an earlier game against the 49ers this season and Bruce had eight receptions for 145 yards. It's strength against strength.

INJURY IMPACT
49ERS

Smith admitted that his play has been affected by the shoulder he separated on Sept. 30, as well as a bothersome forearm strain, and he will serve as the No. 2 quarterback behind Dilfer to rest his injuries this week. Smith was particularly ineffective in the three games since he returned to the lineup. Gore is still limited by an ankle sprain, but he looked like he was returning to form Monday night against the Seahawks, when he rushed for 72 yards on 13 carries. As long as Gore does not aggravate the injury, he should be OK to play. CB Walt Harris returned to action after missing one game with a left knee sprain. Harris played the entire Monday night game against the Seahawks. He is expected to be available to face the Rams. NT Aubrayo Franklin is expected to miss four games with a right calf strain. While Franklin's out of the lineup, the 49ers plan to turn to backups Isaac Sopoaga and Ronald Fields. S Mark Roman is limited by a knee sprain. His status for Sunday's game is uncertain.
RAMS
Assuming Bruce is able to play, this week's game will be the second in a row that the team's top five weapons -- Bulger, RB Steven Jackson, WRs Torry Holt, Bruce and Drew Bennett -- are healthy for a game. Bulger has missed two games, Jackson four, Bruce two and Bennett two. Only Holt has played in every game. T/G Todd Steussie is expected to be re-signed next week. Steussie suffered a broken bone in his foot in the final preseason game and was released with an injury settlement. That enables him to re-sign with the Rams after their 10th game of the season.


PERSONNEL NEWS

49ERS

--- QB Alex Smith admitted to lingering soreness in his right shoulder and forearm. He sustained a separated throwing shoulder Sept. 30. He returned to action four weeks later and played poorly. He will be the No. 2 quarterback this week as the 49ers attempt to rest his injuries.
--- QB Trent Dilfer will get his third start of the season Sunday against the Rams. Dilfer has struggled in his limited action this season. Dilfer has completed 47 of 90 passes for 463 yards with three touchdowns and five interceptions. His passer rating is 55.0.
--- RB Frank Gore went through limited practice Thursday due to a right ankle sprain, but the club expects him to be ready to play Sunday against the Rams. Gore rushed for 72 yards on 13 carries on Monday against the Seahawks after missing one game with the injury.
--- WR Ashley Lelie will not play Sunday due to a right quadriceps strain. It's an injury that bothered Lelie throughout the team's offseason workouts. Lelie has not made much of an impact this season. He has just seven catches for 90 yards.
--- S Mark Roman, who is sixth on the team with 45 tackles, went through limited practice Thursday but is expected to be back in the starting lineup for Sunday's game against the Rams.

RAMS
--- C Brett Romberg (ankle) was limited again in practice Thursday, and if he's active this week, he will be a backup at center and guard.
--- G Nick Leckey will start again at right guard, making his second consecutive start.
--- C Andy McCollum was back at practice Thursday after getting a day of rest Wednesday. McCollum, who lost the starting job to Brett Romberg in training camp, will start this week against San Francisco.
--- WR Isaac Bruce had no after-effects from practice Wednesday and was a full participant again Thursday. Bruce suffered a strained hamstring last Sunday against New Orleans, but will play against the 49ers.
--- WR/KR Dante Hall had another good day of practice Thursday and is set to return kicks against the 49ers.


INSIDE THE CAMPS

RAMS

He routinely doesn't practice each week on Wednesday, and after off-season knee surgery, wide receiver Torry Holt acknowledges that his knee isn't 100 percent.

Combine that with an offense that has struggled this season, and you'd think Holt's numbers would be uncharacteristically low. If you thought that, you would be wrong.

After nine games, Holt has 54 receptions for 700 yards and four touchdowns. He's tied for ninth in the league in catches, just five away from fourth place, and he's also ninth in yards. His current total projects to 96 receptions and 1,244 yards for 16 games.

Most important, Holt has 22 receptions for 326 yards in his last three games, an average per catch of 14.8, nearly two yards higher than his season average of 13.0. He has two consecutive games with at least 100 yards.

Asked if he is surprised by Holt's production, coach Scott Linehan said, "That's just a testament to how good he is -- to be able to play and know that he's not 100 percent. I don't know what the percent is. It's not 100 percent, but he's able to get himself ready for Sunday. In recent weeks he's got himself closer and closer to what he needs to do to be effective.

"Even with a banged up knee this year and the last couple of years, I don't think he's felt great especially at the end of the '05, '06 seasons. He's still been able to do what he can do. (Quarterback) Marc (Bulger) and he trust each other. Those two ultimately hook up in critical plays."

Asked if Holt's knee is getting better, Linehan said, "I don't think he's getting worse. In some ways he's getting better because we're adjusting to some of the things that are aggravating him during the week and avoiding those. It's catch-22. You want to get the timing down and work with the quarterback and the offense during the week, but you also don't want to have a guy that has a banged up and sore knee on Sunday. We're trying to come up with the best solution which is to do as much as we can on Thursdays and Fridays so that we're as close as we need to be on Sunday."

Holt recently admitted he will have to manage the knee for the rest of his career.

Concluded Linehan, "When the season's over we have to sit down and evaluate what we have to do to get from one game to the next to get through these long seasons with a very sore knee. Torry has not missed any games since I've been here. He's played through everything, but it's noticeable as we go through training camp or a Wednesday practice or a full practice.

"It's getting more and more difficult for him to do it the way he used to do it. He's figured out his own body and how it feels and what he has to do to get himself to Sundays. The bye week helped him. Hopefully we can get through the remainder of the games we're playing and get him to where he can continue to be as productive as he has been the last two weeks."

49ERS
Quarterback Alex Smith and coach Mike Nolan have clearly not been on the same page when it comes to the quarterback's health.

After struggling for three games, Smith will not be in the starting lineup Sunday against the St. Louis Rams because of lingering soreness in his right shoulder and forearm.

Veteran backup Trent Dilfer, who played poorly in three games when Smith sat out with a right shoulder separation, will start Sunday's game against the Rams.

It is unclear how long Smith will be out of action. Dr. James Andrews was scheduled to examine Smith's MRI later in the week to make a diagnosis.

Nolan has maintained that Smith's health was not a reason for his recent struggles. Since returning from a separated throwing shoulder, Smith has completed just 51 of 109 passes. For the season, his 57.2 passer rating ranks last among all qualifying quarterbacks in the NFL.

When Smith finally admitted this week that his shoulder and forearm have been greatly affecting his play, Nolan appeared upset Smith was blaming his problems on the injury. Nolan maintained that he had no idea Smith was bothered, but Smith believes he conveyed that information in several face-to-face meetings.

"Obviously, what I was saying and what he was hearing might have been different," Smith said. "In the future, I'll be sure to tell him exactly what's going on and be more clear."

In Nolan's first year as coach, he selected Smith with the first overall pick in the 2005 draft. In many ways, the fate of the organization rested with how they performed together.

Through 21/2 seasons, it is safe to say that neither has performed at a high level.

"I'm going to learn from this and there are things I'm going to take from it," Smith said. "I'm still learning on the field and off the field. We both want to win games and we both want to get this thing going. And it's going to take us coming together, and there's no doubt in my mind that's happening."

Nolan admitted that he made a poor decision not to recognize Smith was struggling with his shoulder and forearm.


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