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RamView: 49ers Preview

There are understatements, like “the Democrats are in trouble Tuesday” and “Charlie Sheen would be a bad baby-sitter”, but those are nothing compared to “the 49ers are a disappointment this season”. Now that’s an understatement. Expected to control the NFC West in 2010, what the 49ers have to show for their efforts at the halfway point is a stupefying 2-6 record and a hammerlock on last place. They’ve already fired one offensive coordinator this season, and head coach Mike Singletary’s been in more hot water this year than a Jacuzzi tester. The 49ers also have significant problems at QB. Before he got injured at Carolina last week, Alex Smith was last seen getting booed off the field by his own team’s fans, and San Francisco’s turned the keys to the offense over to Troy Smith, last seen here at the Dome spraying passes around like Albert Pujols spraying hits around in batting practice, except Albert seems to have far more control over where the ball’s going to go. Whichever Smith it’ll be, the Rams need to focus on keeping him in the pocket. Alex throws well on the run and Troy’s much more dangerous as a runner than as a passer. The Rams also need to focus on Frank Gore, who should be the centerpiece of their offense given their ineptness at QB. Gore hasn’t piled up tons of yards on the Rams in the past but has piled up TDs. Look for him and Vernon Davis (if healthy) near the goal line. Don’t try to cover Davis with a linebacker, and do everything you can to take away passes to him up the seam. The Whiners’ poor depth at WR should help the Rams out there. Look for Michael Crabtree to run lots of slants. The Niners have to have one of the NFL’s youngest offensive lines; two rookies start, C David Baas is the greybeard at 29, and I don’t think he’s been a starter all that long. Rookie RT Anthony Davis doesn’t look half bad sometimes, gets smoked other times. That should be a good matchup with Chris Long. Gore will be more important than Smith when the Rams blitz. Blitz protection’s one of his underrated skills, and the Rams sure don’t want him slipping out of the backfield for swing passes. Still, Gore is to the 49ers as Steven Jackson is to the Rams. If your defense can limit him, they’ve done a lot of their job.

The 49ers have limited Steven Jackson in recent meetings, the last four of which they have won, and have controlled the line of scrimmage in doing so. Anybody who watched them pounce on the Eagles’ backup LT for four sacks last month knows Renardo Foster will be in for the test of his football career November 14, too. Justin Smith’s a Chris Long-like presence on the 49er d-line: lots of pressure, but not so many sacks to show for it. Manny Lawson has been a Ram-killer. With two weeks to plan, Pat Shurmur needs to come up with the kind of creative running game he hit Tampa with in the first half last week and keep the Niners off balance. The Rams are definitely going to have to get better play from the middle of their line than they did this week. Yet, it’s not a defense without its weak spots. The OLBs overplay and are susceptible to bootlegs. Hmm, what is Sam Bradford good at running? Eagle receivers were popped open in 49er zone coverage all night in their week 5 win in Candlestick Park. The Rams can get it done over the middle if they want: the Niners struggled to cover the TE, and so far, at least, you can pick on rookie safety Taylor Mays in coverage. It’ll be a lot about winning the line of scrimmage, though. And since that’s a matchup the Rams have been getting the worst of against San Francisco, Shurmur will have to help his line out with a lot more than slamming Jackson up the middle a dozen times and calling a passing game that’s more horizontal than vertical. He’s got the ability to come up with a good game plan, and he’s got two weeks.

In the end, if the Rams are to pull off their first road win of the season in San Francisco, it may be the 49ers’ poor coaching and discipline that gets them there. For a team with Mike Singletary at its helm, the 49er defense have been unconscionably bad downfield tacklers this season. The team repeatedly shoots itself in the foot with penalties and turnovers. They changed OCs, but their playcalling is still weirdly conservative a lot of the time. (Conservative? In San Francisco?) Their crowd had all but completely turned on the team last home game. They’re ready to boo every incomplete pass and 2-yard run. The Rams have shown the composure and discipline this season to let a team like the 49ers beat themselves. If they do it for sixty minutes two weeks from now, they’ll be flying back home with an upset win under their belts.

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