Game breakdown: 49ers vs. Bills

Taking a look deep inside Sunday's interconference clash between the 49ers and Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y., with snapshot game details, series history, game plans, matchups to watch, injury impact, personnel updates and a look inside both camps.

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1 p.m. Eastern
SITE: Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y.
SURFACE: AstroPlay
RECORDS: 49ers 3-8, 3-7 in NFC, 2-3 in NFC West; Bills 6-5, 4-4 in AFC, 0-3 in AFC East.
TV: FOX (Ron Pitts, Tony Boselli, Charissa Thompson)

SERIES HISTORY: 10th regular-season meeting. The Bills lead the regular-season series 5-4. The Bills won the last meeting between the teams, 41-7, late in the 2004 season. The 49ers' last trip to Buffalo was in 1998, when they lost 26-21.

KEYS TO THE GAME: 49ers coach Mike Singletary is looking at the expected cold conditions as a chance to test the character of his team. The first priority will be to establish RB Frank Gore and the ground game, and Singletary has challenged his offensive line to be physical and lead a power running attack. Hill is playing well, but the 49ers would prefer to run the offense through Gore and have him set up Hill to work off play-action. ... The 49ers' already shaky secondary is thinned by some injuries and will be vulnerable to big plays. But the Bills also don't want to do the 49ers any favors on a cold winter day. It's critical for QB Trent Edwards to avoid turnovers that set San Francisco up with short fields. With the ground game slowly coming to life, look for the Bills to turn to RBs Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson early to soften up the 49ers for more downfield shots later in the game.

FAST FACTS: Since the start of the 2003 season, the 49ers are 9-36 on the road overall and 3-27 in road games that began at 10 a.m. Pacific time. ... Clements ranks ninth in Bills history with 23 interceptions from 2001-06.

BY THE NUMBERS: 27 -- The league-worst number of giveaways the 49ers have committed this season. The 49ers are tied for worst in the league with 14 interceptions and they lead the league with 13 lost fumbles. 11 -- Head coaches in the NFL who were also NFL players. Two of them will face each other Sunday when the Bills host San Francisco. Buffalo's Dick Jauron played eight seasons for the Bengals and Lions, and San Francisco's Mike Singletary was a Hall of Fame linebacker for the Chicago Bears for 12 seasons.

"We're a team that lacks confidence. When you lack confidence as a group, it's hard to get everybody to believe, 'OK, we just need to make a play here and the momentum will change.' I've seen the bottom of the barrel. That's not us." -- 49ers linebacker Takeo Spikes
"I think we're getting a little more intense and there's more of an urgency. Guys are getting more and more in rhythm and we're kind of finding our identity. And I think that happens to any team naturally at the end of the season and when they're trying to make a playoff run, and that's exactly what we're doing now." -- Bills QB Trent Edwards, on where the team stands moving into December

49ERS GAME PLAN: The 49ers expect a physical matchup Sunday against the Buffalo Bills. That fits into interim coach Mike Singletary's mindset, and he said his offensive line is ready to rise to the challenge. "When you look at our offensive line, they get excited about being a power running team," Singletary said. The 49ers must get some major production from running back Frank Gore if they have any hopes of being competitive against the Bills. If Gore is able to get some chunks of yards, it will make it easier on quarterback Shaun Hill to make effective play-action fakes in hopes of getting the ball down the field. Tight end Vernon Davis has caught just one pass in each of the past three games, but he is showing signs of being a viable option in the passing game. Those three passes have produced two touchdowns and one 47-yarder. Defensively, the 49ers have gone with more of a 3-4 scheme with coordinator Greg Manusky after Mike Nolan was fired as head coach. The team is settling into that defense to shore up the run game. However, the 49ers need to be able to bring more pressure from the pass rush. The 49ers rank 28th in the league in sacks per play. The 49ers have recorded just nine sacks in their eight losses this season.

BILLS GAME PLAN: At 6-5, the Bills have little margin left for error if they intend to make the playoffs, and just as they did a week ago in Kansas City, need to be focused and prepared to take care of business against a less-than-formidable opponent in the 49ers (3-8). Buffalo can take its pick in attacking San Francisco weaknesses: Pressure young QB Shaun Hill (team has allowed 40 sacks). Fly to the ball (49ers have 27 turnovers). Have Trent Edwards throw (San Francisco's 29th-ranked secondary allows 244 yards per game). The running back duel between Marshawn Lynch and Frank Gore on what will be a cold, maybe slick weather day will go a long ways toward determining the outcome. Basically, the Bills should have no problem winning at home against a team that has traveled across the country, not with renewed playoff hopes after last week's 54-point explosion against the Chiefs. They shouldn't take the 49ers too lightly, though. San Francisco leads the NFL with 52 plays of 20 yards or more (running and passing), so it has the capability of punching back.

--- 49ers RB Frank Gore vs. Bills MLB Paul Posluszny - Gore is the key to the 49ers' offense. Posluszny leads Buffalo with 94 tackles.
--- 49ers RG Chilo Rachal vs. Bills LDT Marcus Stroud: Rachal struggled in his first career start a week ago against Dallas, and it won't get any easier this week. Stroud, an eight-year pro, is a force at clogging up the run game inside.
--- 49ers OLB Parys Haralson vs. Bills LT Jason Peters: Haralson is tied for the 49ers' lead with three sacks. Peters got off to a slow start this season after a protracted contract holdout. But he's playing well again. 49ers LB Patrick Willis vs. Bills RB Marshawn Lynch: Willis leads the 49ers in tackles. Lynch, a fellow second-year player, is a threat in the run and pass games.
--- 49ers CB Nate Clements vs. Bills WR Lee Evans: Clements is coming off a difficult game against the Cowboys' Terrell Owens. Evans is a game-breaking receiver who averages 19.3 yards per reception. Clements, the ex-Bill, is playing well with two picks and 42 tackles, despite having a poor performance last week at Dallas.
--- Bills CB Leodis McKelvin, coming off a two-interception game, vs. 49ers veteran WR Isaac Bruce (34 catches, five TDs), whom the 49ers will want to match up against the rookie who will likely start for a second week with Jabari Greer hobbled.
--- Bills RBs Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson picking up blitzes by 49ers LBs Parys Haralson and Manny Lawson, who have combined for 7.5 sacks.


LB Patrick Willis has an ankle sprain that kept him out of practice early in the week. Willis is expected to start Sunday's game. CB Walt Harris (hamstring) did not take part in practice early in the week. If he is unable to play, Donald Strickland would likely get the start. WR Josh Morgan (groin) returned to limited practice this week, but he is not expected to be well enough to play Sunday. S Dashon Goldson (knee) will miss his fifth consecutive game. WR Arnaz Battle (foot) went through limited practice early in the week, but it does not appear as if he'll be available for Sunday's game. KR Allen Rossum (ankle) has been ruled out of action. Veteran Nate Clements will likely return punts, while Delanie Walker would take over on kickoff returns.
With Keith Ellison (ankle) and backup Teddy Lehman (hamstring) nursing injuries, Buffalo enters Sunday's game against the 49ers thin at the linebacker spot. Safety Bryan Scott has been getting repetitions at linebacker and would be available to play if Ellison and Lehman are sidelined or less than effective.



--- P Andy Lee, who was named to the NFC Pro Bowl team last season, ranks tied for sixth in the NFL with a 47.2-yard average this season. Lee has the longest punt in the league this season, an 82-yarder. It is the third-longest punt this decade.

--- LB Patrick Willis ranks second in the NFL this season with 97 tackles, according to the stats taken from game books and tracked by the Elias. Cleveland's D'Qwell Jackson leads the league with 108 tackles. Willis ranks first among all linebackers in the league with nine passes defensed.

--- QB Shaun Hill has compiled passer ratings of better than 100 in five of the seven NFL games in which he has played in his career. In his past two games, Hill has completed 36 of 53 passes for 516 yards with four touchdowns and one interception.

--- WR Arnaz Battle is likely to miss another game with a mid-foot sprain. Battle has been out since Oct. 26 with the injury. He recorded 24 catches for 318 yards as the 49ers' slot receiver.

--- CB Walt Harris returned to limited practice on Thursday, and his status for Sunday's game against the Bills is questionable with a hamstring strain. Harris has started every game this season.


--- QB Trent Edwards has completed 204 of 303 passes this year, a 67.33 completion percentage that ranks second all-time in Bills history. Kelly Holcomb set the mark of 67.39 (155 of 230) in 2005.

--- WR Lee Evans is hoping to repeat past success against the San Francisco 49ers. As a rookie in 2004, he caught eight passes for 92 yards and two touchdowns in a 41-7 Buffalo victory over the 49ers at Monster Park. Evans needs one 100-yard game to tie Frank Lewis (14) for fourth most in Bills history.

--- TE Robert Royal is nursing a hamstring pull suffered last week against Kansas City. He's likely a game-time decision for Sunday's tilt with San Francisco.

--- SS Donte Whitner is practicing on a limited basis this week due to his tender right shoulder. It's partly a pain tolerance issue and signs are leading towards him playing Sunday against San Francisco.

--- CB Jabari Greer, who suffered a sprained knee against Cleveland and missed the Kansas City game last week, is still sidelined. He may be another game or so.

--- LB Keith Ellison, who has been playing on a tender ankle, re-injured the joint in last week's win at Kansas City. He's day to day for Sunday's game against San Francisco.

--- CB/KR Leodis McKelvin needs just 66 kickoff return yards to break Eric Moulds' rookie team record of 1,205 yards. McKelvin is averaging 29.2 yards per return.



49ers cornerback Nate Clements, coming off a rough game against Terrell Owens and the Dallas Cowboys, might have a little extra responsibility on Sunday against the Buffalo Bills.

Clements is likely to be back battling the conditions at Ralph Wilson Stadium as the 49ers' punt returner. Clements is expected to get the assignment with regular return man Allen Rossum out of action with an ankle sprain. Clements returned a career-high 35 punts while playing for the Bills in 2004.

"I don't think it's going to be as bad as I've seen it there before," Clements said. "But you definitely have to concentrate and focus on catching the ball."

Clements has handled five punts this season for the 49ers with an 8.6-yard average. His big assignment Sunday will most likely be his coverage of Bills top wideout Lee Evans, who averages 19.3 yards on his 42 receptions.

Clements is looking forward to erasing the memory of last week's game. "Last week's game?" Clements said. "I'm focused on moving forward. As a corner, you have to look at it as water off a duck's back - let it just roll right off you. You have to get ready for next week."

Owens torched the 49ers for 213 yards and a touchdown on seven receptions. Most of those yards came at the expense of Clements, who is in the second year of a lucrative contract with the 49ers after leaving Buffalo as a free agent.

49ers interim coach Mike Singletary said he had no regrets about matching up Clements on Owens.

"It wasn't a mismatch," Singletary said. "I think Nate Clements can cover T.O. If we just said, 'Nate Clements, go over there and get on the line of scrimmage and do not let him off the line of scrimmage,' I would say nine out of 10 times, Nate Clements would go over there and do that. "(But) that's not the way we play defense. That's not the way we played it because they (the Cowboys) have so many other guys that can hurt you."


The 49ers' defense ranks 23rd in the NFL in yards allowed, 29th vs. the pass and 29th in points allowed. So why is Bills quarterback Trent Edwards worried?

Two numbers: 3 and 4.

San Francisco employs a 3-4 scheme that has given him so much trouble this season, and the 49ers have enough playmakers to potentially make his life miserable for three hours at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

All three teams in the AFC East play a 3-4 -- the Dolphins, Jets and Patriots -- and Buffalo is 0-3 against those division rivals. Edwards struggled mightily in those games with turnovers and errant throws, contributing to a four-game losing streak that dropped Buffalo from a 5-1 team to .500 before it won at Kansas City last Sunday. Buffalo did beat San Diego, another 3-4 team from the AFC.

How does San Francisco stack?

"They have two shutdown corners (Nate Clements, Walt Harris) and two fast and physical inside linebackers (Takeo Spikes, Patrick Willis) that fly around to the ball and they disguise a lot of their coverage and fronts," Edwards said. "Again, this is what we faced with the AFC East defenses and that's very concerning to me right now."

Bills coach Dick Jauron is hopeful that familiarity breeds success, not more contempt.

"You hope so," Jauron said. "Obviously, the more you see and the more you experience it, you get a better and better feel for it. This team, I don't know if you saw their game against Dallas, but I have great respect for Dallas football team and they gave Dallas all they could handle. Tony Romo and Dallas made big plays to beat them. But they pressured and they played hard. They come after you. They're a talented group and we'll definitely have our hands full."

San Francisco - with four of its last six games on the road - lost to the Cowboys 35-22.

Buffalo didn't run the ball with any consistency in going 0-3 against the division, so that's a place to start Sunday. A good running game would give Edwards a play-action presence. In that way, he can get the 49ers reacting to him instead of the other way around.

"We've faced 3-4s and we've seen what a majority of their defenses can do," he said. "Hopefully, we can handle it. The past couple of weeks the 49ers haven't shown as much defensively as they had earlier in the season, but again, I've said this about past defenses that they don't show a lot (either) and then once we play them, they bring the kitchen sink."

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