Game breakdown: 49ers vs. Rams

Taking a look deep inside Sunday's matchup of longtime NFC West rivals between the 49ers and St. Louis Rams and the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, 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, 12 noon Central
SITE: Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis
SURFACE: FieldTurf
RECORDS: 49ers 5-9, second place in NFC West, 2-3 in division, 3-7 in conference; Rams 2-12, fourth place in NFC West, 0-5 in division, 2-8 in conference
TV: FOX (Sam Rosen, Tim Ryan, Chris Myers)

SERIES HISTORY: 118th regular-season meeting. The Rams lead the regular-season series 60-55-2. The team met in one playoff game, in which the 49ers defeated the Rams 30-3 in 1989. The clubs played Nov. 16, with the 49ers collecting a 35-16 victory for Singletary's first win as head coach.

KEYS TO THE GAME: The 49ers controlled the ball for 38:13 last Sunday without injured RB Frank Gore and with QB Shaun Hill throwing 46 passes. But Hill relies mostly on short- and medium-range passes, and will get rid of the ball quickly - especially with the Rams showing more aggressive blitz packages last weekend. Backup RB DeShaun Foster might get the call again against a Rams defense allowing 4.7 yards per carry. ... With RB Steven Jackson finally close to 100 percent, the Rams will continue to hammer away with the running game. They're happy to play a field position game and let Jackson soften the defense. The 49ers are generally solid against the run and pass, but have been beaten for 12 completions of 40-plus yards.

NEED TO KNOW: Gore has 978 rushing yards, needing 22 to become the first player in franchise history with three-consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. ... Jackson needs 226 rushing yards to reach 1,000 for the third consecutive season.

BY THE NUMBERS: 2-13 -- The Rams' home record over the last two seasons. Their only victories were over Atlanta last season and Dallas this year. 60 -- Receiving yards needed by receiver Isaac Bruce to move past Tim Brown and into the No. 2 spot all-time in NFL history. Bruce has 14,875 receiving yards, compared to Brown's 14,934. Jerry Rice is the all-time leader with 22,895.

"Believe me guys are playing for him. We wanted to win five weeks ago and we wanted to win last week but we just haven't been able to get it done. If we can win these last two it would be great and it starts with San Francisco. We are playing for him and we are pulling for him and we are trying to get those two wins for him." -- QB Marc Bulger on the team trying to win for coach Jim Haslett.
"The main thing is the way this team has kept fighting when it could have went either way. I've been on some teams in the past where it probably would have went the other way, but in this one guys kept fighting, kept plugging, trying to make the most out of it" -- 49ers defensive end Justin Smith on how the team has responded after being eliminated from the playoff hunt.

49ERS GAME PLAN: With Frank Gore out of the lineup last week, offensive coordinator Mike Martz turned to the passing game. Although DeShaun Foster gained 76 yards on 18 carries, Martz abandoned the run and went with a steady diet of Shaun Hill's passing. Interim coach Mike Singletary wants the 49ers to employ a physical style of football, and that begins up front with the running game, but the 49ers might want to throw it around on Sunday against the Rams. Martz is likely to want to get receiver Isaac Bruce involved. Both Martz and Bruce helped the Rams win a Super Bowl after the 1999 season. Martz was offensive coordinator and Bruce caught the game-winning touchdown pass in that victory over the Titans. Bruce is likely to get a warm reception from his old home fans. Bruce needs just 60 receiving yards to move into second place on the all-time list. Hill is efficient at getting the ball out quickly to receivers underneath. If the Rams place too much emphasis on stopping Bruce, Hill can also incorporate slot receiver Jason Hill and split end Bryant Johnson into the offense. Defensively, the 49ers have simplified their scheme. They should be able to use different pressures to put heat on Rams quarterback Marc Bulger, who has been sacked 32 times this season.

RAMS GAME PLAN: The most important plan for the Rams is to get off to a good start. They have done that in two of the last three games, and have at least been competitive in close losses to Miami and Seattle. Offensively, they will look to control the tempo with RB Steven Jackson, while defensively, the goal will be to stop the run.

--- 49ers QB Shaun Hill vs. Rams pass defense - Hill is making his seventh start of the season and will face a Rams defense that ranks 24th against the pass, allowing 223.6 yards per game.
--- 49ers RB DeShaun Foster vs. Rams LB Pisa Tinoisamoa: Foster is likely to get his second start in place of injured Frank Gore. Tinoisamoa leads the Rams' defense with 123 tackles.
--- 49ers WR Isaac Bruce vs. Rams CB Ron Bartell: Bruce has really turned it on in recent weeks with Hill at quarterback. Bartell leads the Rams with 16 passes defensed this season.
--- 49ers LT Joe Staley vs. Rams DE Chris Long: Staley had his best game of the season in pass protection last week against the Dolphins' Joey Porter. Long, a high draft pick, has had a solid but not spectacular rookie season.
--- 49ers CB Nate Clements vs. Rams WR Torry Holt: Clements has been up-and-down this season. Holt is still the Rams' top threat with 54 receptions for 651 yards and three touchdowns.
--- 49ers FS Mark Roman vs. Rams QB Marc Bulger: Roman has recorded just one interception in nearly three full seasons. Bulger's passer rating is a lowly 69.8. He has nine TD passes and 12 interceptions.


RB Frank Gore (left ankle) missed last week's game and is questionable against the Rams. Gore needs just 22 yards to become the first 49ers player to gain 1,000 yards rushing in three consecutive seasons. It'll likely be a game-time decision. KR Allen Rossum (ankle) missed the past three games but he saw full practice time at the beginning of the week. He is expected to be ready to play Sunday. RT Adam Snyder (ankle) left Sunday's game midway through the first quarter. He was replaced by Barry Sims, who figures to get the start this week, too. S Michael Lewis (abdomen) missed practice time early in the week, but is expected to play in Sunday's game.

RAMS: The Rams might elect not to replace WR/KR Derek Stanley on the active roster. Stanley won't play in the final two games because of a knee injury, but has yet to be placed on injured reserve. The Rams have receivers Matt Caddell, Joel Filani and Nate Jones on the practice squad, but if signed to the active roster would likely be inactive.



--- RB Frank Gore did not practice Thursday due to his left ankle sprain. Still, he said he believes there is a 50-50 chance that he'll be able to play Sunday against the St. Louis Rams. Gore missed last week's game against the Miami Dolphins with the injury. It will likely be a game-time decision.

--- WR Isaac Bruce has seen 93 passes directed his way this season, over 30 passes more than the 49ers' second wide receiver, Bryant Johnson. Bruce is coming on strong to end the season. He leads the 49ers with 52 receptions for 766 yards and six touchdowns.

--- PR/KR Allen Rossum is expected to return to action Sunday after missing three games with an ankle sprain. Rossum is a big key for the 49ers in the field-position battle. He averages 27.3 yards on kickoff returns with a touchdown. He has also averaged 16.0 yards on nine punt returns.

--- LT Joe Staley had the best game of his season last week in shutting down Dolphins pass rusher Joey Porter. Finally, Porter gave up and moved to the other side. Offensive coordinator Mike Martz said Staley reached the level of play the club had envisioned for him. The bad news, Martz said, is now they expect him to play like that every week.

--- S Mark Roman sat out practice after colliding with receiver Josh Morgan in practice Wednesday. The 49ers expect Roman to be available to start Sunday's game against the St. Louis Rams.


--- LB Gary Stills will have knee surgery Friday and miss the remainder of the season.

--- LB Larry Grant, who was signed off the 49ers practice squad Nov. 26, will be active Sunday and make his NFL debut against the team that drafted him in the seventh round last April.

--- S David Roach will be added to the roster from the practice squad, but won't be active this week. He could end up playing in the season finale against Atlanta.

--- DT Antwon Burton was added to the roster from the Kansas City practice squad Thursday and signed a contract for 2009.
--WR Travis Brown was added to the practice squad Thursday. Brown was released in training camp by the Bengals on Aug. 7 and spent nine days (Nov. 26-Dec. 5) on the Bears' practice squad.

--P Donnie Jones was held out of another practice because of remnants of the flu, but he will kick in practice Friday.



Defensive lineman Justin Smith has not had a big impact on the San Francisco 49ers' win-loss record, but he has made his mark in his first season with the club after signing a six-year, $45 million contract.

Smith was named this week as the winner of the Bill Walsh Award, which is given annually to the team's most valuable player. Smith is fourth on the team with 86 tackles. His five sacks rank behind only Parys Haralson's seven, and he leads the 49ers with 51 quarterback pressures.

Smith's role has changed a lot since the firing of coach Mike Nolan on Oct. 20. Smith routinely played seven different positions on defense early in the season.

But defensive coordinator Greg Manusky has decided to keep things a lot more simple for Smith and the rest of the defense. Smith now only plays right defensive end on base downs. In nickel situations, Smith moves to right defensive tackle.

Manusky wanted to find a way to get Haralson onto the field, so the 49ers have used primarily a 3-4 defense since the coaching change. Haralson starts at left outside linebacker, while defensive lineman Ray McDonald has moved into a reserve role.

"The main thing is you want to get your best guys on the field," Smith said, "and Parys is definitely one of those guys."

Manusky said it is important for the defense to create an identity, rather than trying to do too many things.

"From a player's perspective, it's easier on them because they know what to expect when they come into the building each and every Monday," Manusky said. "And if you have consistency with little tweaks here and there, that isn't bad. But when you make vast changes, it's tough on them."

Said Smith, "I think we're just becoming more simple in what we do and just basically sticking with what we do and do it well. I think Manusky's approach has been good, and he's really relayed that to us and what he expects from us. I think it's really helped us."


With just two games left in the season, much of the focus for the Rams is on the offseason. Yes, the team wants to win. But players and coaches also wonder about their future when the record is 2-12 and an interim coach, Jim Haslett, is running the team.

Despite the losses, quarterback Marc Bulger said the team is playing hard. Said Bulger, "Believe me, guys are playing for him. We wanted to win five weeks ago and we wanted to win last week but we just haven't been able to get it done. If we can win these last two, it would be great and it starts with San Francisco. We are playing for him and we are pulling for him and we are trying to get those two wins for him."

Asked what makes Haslett a good coach to play for, Bulger said, "He hasn't changed one bit from when we won our first two and he said he would not change. We have lost I don't know how many in a row and he hasn't changed. He just cares about us as players and as people. We know the circumstances. He could lose his job and we could lose our jobs but he is not selfish. It is about us, it is not about him and that is why the guys in this locker room respect him so much."

Indications are that executive vice president of player personnel Billy Devaney will become the team's general manager after the season, and Jay Zygmunt will depart. Devaney is expected to head up the interviewing process for the next head coach, a search that will include Haslett.

Devaney is expected to be the one that makes a recommendation to owner Chip Rosenbloom. Club president John Shaw will not have a voice in the decision.

Devaney came to the Rams last February from Atlanta after the Falcons hired Thomas Dimitroff as general manager. But Devaney was involved in the search that resulted in Mike Smith becoming the Falcons coach.

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