49ers vs. Rams: Thumbs up and thumbs down

Which way does the thumb turn for certain 49ers after Sunday's blowout victory over St. Louis, including RBs Frank Gore, DeShaun Foster and Michael Robinson, the team's move to more 3-4 defensive sets, CBs Walt Harris and Nate Clements, LB Manny Lawson, QB Shaun Hill, San Francisco's strong start but problems finishing, false-start penalties, special teams units and much more? Check inside.

Thumbs up: There is a definite change in the way this team is responding to Mike Singletary, and this time it finally resulted in his first victory as a NFL head coach after a near-miss six days ago at Arizona. That should have been Singletary's first victory, but the fact that he was able to pick up the 49ers after that devastating loss and prepare them for a lopsided victory in a short week says something about Singletary and his will to win and his methods in getting the 49ers there with him.

Thumbs up: When the 49ers start strong like this and get on top of an opponent, they are a completely different team. Of course, not many San Francisco teams have ever started this strong – the Niners' four-touchdown explosion in the second quarter tied a team record form most points in one period. The Niners scored touchdowns on five consecutive drives to end the first half.

Thumbs up: With Singletary in command, the 49ers are returning to more 3-4 defensive sets and bringing all-out blitzes that are causing confusion and problems for opponents. During one first-quarter sequence, the 49ers didn't have one lineman with his hand down at the snap, then sent five rushers with the front line stunting. That's some innovative play-calling. The 49ers sacked Rams quarterback Marc Bulger three times and hit him while he was throwing on five other occasions. The Niners had six tackles for losses.

Thumbs down: It didn't make any difference in this game, but the 49ers continue to have problems with ball security, with running backs Frank Gore and DeShaun Foster both losing fumbles. Gore's fumble – which came after he burst down the right sideline for a 37-yard run on San Francisco's second offensive play – could have been the kind of early momentum killer that has plagued the 49ers all season.

Thumbs up: That said, you have to love Gore's powerful running and explosion in open space. Gore was tough up the middle, as usual, and was breaking tackles all day on his way to a game-high 106 yards rushing on 18 carries, a 5.9 average, and two touchdowns. He looked like a runaway freight train on his 5-yard blast up the middle for San Francisco's first touchdown in the opening quarter. It almost looked like the Rams were trying to get out of his way on that one.

Thumbs up: One detail that might have gone a bit unnoticed in San Francisco's fine offensive performance was the crisp route-running of veteran wideouts Isaac Bruce and Bryant Johnson. Johnson, finally shaking off his lingering injury issues, led San Francisco receivers with four receptions for 56 yards and a touchdown. Johnson had one of his finest plays of the season when he reached up high to make the catch on a quick slant, then cut back to the outside to turn it into a 42-yard gain. Bruce's smooth routes help the 49ers even when he doesn't catch the ball – he had St. Louis cornerback Jason Craft hanging all over him on a post-corner route in the first quarter that resulted in a 17-yard pass-interference penalty that set up San Francisco's first touchdown.

Thumbs up: It's good to see linebacker Manny Lawson back in the flow on defense after he was mostly a nonfactor during the first half of the season. The 49ers are moving around Lawson along their front seven again to take advantage of his versatility, and he had a productive afternoon with one sack, one quarterback hit and three tackles behind the line of scrimmage.

Thumbs down: After seemingly shoring up their problems stopping the run after Monday's fine performance against Arizona, the 49ers shouldn't be getting gouged up the middle by a second-year backup running back, but that's what happened Sunday as Antonio Pittman – starting in place of injured Steven Jackson – had 95 yards rushing on 14 carries, breaking off several big runs right up the gut.

Thumbs up: The Rams finished with some inflated passing numbers because of the circumstances of the game, but the 49ers continue to get nice intermediate pass defense over the middle by linebackers Patrick Willis and Takeo Spikes, each of whom continue to show their versatility on passing downs. Spikes and Willis each finished with one pass defensed Sunday. But, please, can we see a little bit less of Willis backpedaling at full speed to play deep safety? Keep this playmaker moving forward instead of sprinting backward.

Thumbs down: The 49ers have to stop jumping offsides in defensive situations that turn third-and-longs into third-and-shorts. It has been happening all season, and happened again Sunday, turning a third-and-8 into a much easier opportunity for the Rams to convert, which they did.

Thumbs up: In just his second start of the season, quarterback Shaun Hill displayed exceptional patience and decision-making throughout the afternoon, and when your quarterback does that, it can and will lead to a 19-point victory. Hill was superb throughout the afternoon, finishing 15 of 20 for 213 yards and two touchdowns passing with a magnificent 142.3 passer rating. He had a perfect passer rating of 158.3 – the highest possible – in the first half.

Thumbs up: When you get a chance, keep an eye on left tackle Joe Staley for an entire offensive series. He is really coming along as a blind-side protector on passing downs, and he is getting some good drive off the ball on running downs, too.

Thumbs down: It may sound like nitpicking in a blowout victory, but the 49ers continue to have problems finishing games. For those who continued watching after San Francisco's standout first half resulted in a 35-3 lead at the intermission, the Niners were outscored 13-0 and outgained 203-75 in the second half.

Thumbs up: For the second consecutive game, tight end Vernon Davis found a tight opening in the end zone and turned it into a touchdown reception. Who cares if Davis only makes one catch a game if it's going to be a touchdown catch?

Thumbs up: It's nice to see the 49ers taking advantage of other team's fumbles and bumbles for a change instead of the other way around. When Bulger fumbled a snap exchange with center Nick Leckey, linebacker Parys Haralson was there to make the recovery. Keith Lewis also pounced on what should have been ruled a fumble by Dane Looker on a punt return in the third quarter.

Thumbs up: When you see big David Baas leading the way on a sweep to the left side you understand why the 49ers should have had him in at guard much sooner than just the past three games.

Thumbs up: We complain here a lot that the 49ers need to be better ballhawks in the secondary, but no complaints this week after cornerbacks Walt Harris and Nate Clements both came up with interceptions, each doubling his season output with their picks. Harris turned the clock back to his Pro Bowl season of 2006 with tight coverage, knocking away passes from receivers, coming up from the edge to make tackles and generally putting forth the kind of standout performance we have seldom seen from him on a consistent basis this year. The graybeard of the secondary still has it in him.

Thumbs up: Finally, a DeShaun Foster sighting. The 49ers finally worked the backup running back into the offense and he had by far his best output of the season with 57 total yards from scrimmage – 17 more than his season total for the first nine games combined. Foster showed what he can add to the offense with his explosive 31-yard catch-and-run that led to San Francisco's third touchdown in the second quarter.

Thumbs up: It's good to see the 49ers getting Michael Robinson more involved on offense, too. It's a delicate balance, but Foster and Robinson both still made an impact on a day when Gore went over the 100-yard rushing barrier. Robinson looked like a real weapon beating linebacker Will Witherspoon over the middle for a 36-yard reception that set up San Francisco's final touchdown. Robinson finished with 65 total yards from scrimmage.

Thumbs up: There was this distinct roar of "Let's Go Niners" rolling through the crowd during the second-quarter outburst. Now, that's something we don't hear much these days at Candlestick Park.

Thumbs down: The 49ers were a perfect 4 for 4 in the first half, but they finished the game just 1 for 7 on third-down conversions in the second half. That added just a bit of fizz to the fuzzy feeling the 49ers deservedly had at the finish.

Thumbs up: Some big kudos to the special teams, who got their act together for a full 60 minutes after several incomplete efforts. The 49ers started their offensive drives, on average, at the 50-yard line in the first half. Allen Rossum had a 29-yard punt return and a 30-yard kickoff return. The coverage teams returned to being solid. And punter Andy Lee averaged 51.8 yards a kick, including a fabulous 45.3 net.

Thumbs up: He has had his struggles in coverage this year, but free safety Mark Roman has been showing his feisty side with aggressive play the past few weeks. That was never more evident than in the third quarter when he timed his break on the ball perfectly and separated a pass from receiver Keenan Burton with a big hit deep down the right sideline just as the ball arrived.

Thumbs down: The 49ers had three consecutive false start penalties from their offense to begin the fourth quarter, with tight end Davis, running back Robinson and right tackle Adam Snyder all being flagged before the Niners could get off a play to begin the drive. That turned a first-and-10 deep in San Francisco territory into a first-and-18 from the San Francisco 1-yard line.

Thumbs up: San Francisco's depth at cornerback was evident throughout the afternoon, particularly when reserves Donald Strickland and rookie Reggie Smith came off the bench to make plays in coverage. Strickland, in fact, was making plays throughout the afternoon, and his eight tackles were second on the team only to safety Michael Lewis' 11.

Thumbs down: It hurt to watch now-backup quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan get planted hard into the ground on his lone passing attempt. We saw way too much of that when O'Sullivan was the starter.

Thumbs up: There were no big catches for the youngster this time in his second NFL game, but Dominique Zeigler continues to draw notice and make his playing time count. Just up from the practice squad earlier this month, Zeigler made a fine play in coverage to make an open-field tackle of Looker and hold him to a 1-yard return after a 50-yard punt. Zeigler is a young guy who has put in his time, worked his way up and now is helping the 49ers now that he's there.

Niners Digest Top Stories