KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:15 ET
TV: CBS, Ian Eagle, Solomon Wilcots
2006 RANKINGS: Chargers: offense 6th (2nd rush, 26th pass); defense 1st (1st rush, 1st pass). 49ers: offense 13th (8th rush, 11th pass); defense 26th (24th rush, 25th pass)
PREDICTION: Chargers 23-13
KEYS TO THE GAME: The 49ers' offense is averaging 103.8 more yards per game than last season, but faces a tough task. San Francisco must have success on the ground and RB Frank Gore is second in the NFL with 632 yards from scrimmage, but the Chargers are allowing a league-low 66.5 rushing yards per game.
The 49ers hope to get LG Larry Allen back in the lineup to help control the line of scrimmage. But the line isn't as strong in pass protection and San Francisco can't afford to stick QB Alex Smith in long passing situations where he will be exposed to the Chargers' strong pass rush.
San Diego knows it can likely win this game on the strength of its defense, and coach Marty Schottenheimer won't take more chances than he absolutely has to. Expect a heavy dose of RBs LaDainian Tomlinson and Michael Turner until the 49ers prove they can stop the run. While the 49ers have had some breakdowns in coverage and don't rush the passer well, they are also allowing 126.2 rushing yards per game.
FAST FACTS: Chargers: Schottenheimer needs win to tie Dan Reeves (190) for sixth place all-time in regular-season victories. LS David Binn will play in his 196th game, passing Doug Wilkerson for third most in franchise history. Junior Seau and Russ Washington played in 200 games for the Chargers. 49ers: Smith has a 100.3 passer rating in three home starts this season. Gore is tied for the NFL rushing lead with 465 yards.
Chargers: Bhawoh Jue (knee) is still restricted to individual drills and won't be in his backup role.
Antonio Cromartie fielded the final kickoff in Sunday's loss, but the role will remain with Michael Turner.
Roman Oben (foot), who has been on the physically unable to perform list, will return to practice next week.
Michael Turner will remain the kick returner, especially after his 51-yard return Sunday night. But rookie Antonio Cromartie could claim that role at some point.
Terrence Kiel will make his second start since missing a game in the wake of his arrest on five felony drug charges.
Jonas Jennings missed his second day of practice Thursday and is likely to be downgraded to doubtful for Sunday's game against the Chargers. Jennings has a left wrist sprain. He also underwent surgery to repair a torn tendon in his left pinkie finger.
Larry Allen (left knee) practiced for a second consecutive day, but he is still listed as doubtful for Sunday's game against the Chargers. It's looking as if the 49ers will give Allen an additional two weeks of rest so that he can be ready for the Oct. 29 game against the Bears after the bye.
Maurice Hicks has just one carry this season, but he has made a big contribution on special teams. He leads the NFC with a 27.0-yard average on kickoffs. Hicks has also caught seven passes for 84 yards, including a 33-yard score against the Raiders last week.
Derek Smith, the team's leader with 44 tackles, returned to practice Thursday after missing a day with a strained hip flexor. Smith is listed as probable and is expected to start Sunday against the Chargers.
Moran Norris appears to have taken over as the starter after a strong showing against the Raiders. Norris was a dominating blocker, and he caught a 7-yard pass on a third-and-1 play. Still, the 49ers say their decision on whether to start Norris or Chris Hetherington is contingent on which player best fits their game plan on a week-to-week basis.