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Rematch with the Rams

Posted Dec 29, 2009



Ray McDonald’s 11-yard touchdown return on a fumble back in Week 5 was the capper on a near-perfect 35-0 victory over the visiting St. Louis Rams.

McDonald and the rest of the 49ers would like to put on a repeat performance when they travel to St. Louis for the 2009 season finale.

The Rams (1-14) have lost seven games in a row dating back to their 17-10 victory over the Detroit Lions and could clinch the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 Draft with another defeat.

On Offense

It remains to be seen which quarterback will get the nod against the 49ers as the Rams have used three different starting quarterbacks this season.

St. Louis head coach Steve Spagnuolo said on Monday that he didn’t have a comment on whether Kyle Boller or Keith Null would start on Sunday.

The Rams used a sixth-round draft pick this past April to select Null out of West Texas A&M University and he’s been the starter the past three weeks. So far, he’s completed 66-of-102 passes for 509 yards with three touchdowns and nine interceptions. Three of those turnovers came last week in the Rams 31-10 road loss to the Arizona Cardinals.

Null didn’t have the services of running back Steven Jackson who was nursing a bad back.

Like the quarterback position, it’s not yet confirmed if Jackson will be the starter on Sunday. If he’s able to go it would be a huge boost to have the NFC’s leading rusher (1,353 yards on 304 carries) back in the lineup.

The running game has been the strength of St. Louis’ offensive attack as the unit ranks 16th in the NFL and 7th in the NFC.

However, in recent weeks the running attack has taken some serious blows. Besides Jackson’s injury, the Rams released guard Richie Incognito and lost guards Jacob Bell and Mark Setterstorm for the year with season-ending injuries.

As of Tuesday, St. Louis only has two active guards on their roster, John Grecco and rookie Roger Allen. The rookie will likely make his first start on Sunday.

With an unsettled offensive line and constant change at quarterback, the Rams have not fully developed their passing game. It ranks 27th in the league. Jackson leads the offense with 51 catches, but second-year wideout Donnie Avery leads the team with 566 yards and five touchdown catches. The speedster averages 12.6 yards per catch.

In addition to Avery, St. Louis features a shifty slot receiver in Danny Amendola (40 catches for 308 yards) and another big wideout in Brandon Gibson (31 catches for 330 yards). Gibson was acquired in a mid-season trade and did not face the 49ers the first time around.

On Defense

A big key for the Rams defense is to not get behind early. St. Louis has been outscored in every quarter this season and have been edged 87-16 in the opening quarter.

The defense has shown improvement, but has given up 27 points or more in nine of 15 games.

Linebacker James Laurinaitis has been a steady performer in his first season, leading the team with 115 tackles, 102 of which were solo stops. The former Ohio State product also has two interceptions and one forced fumble.

Laurinaitis led the Rams with nine tackles in the team’s first meeting, but was beat by tight end Vernon Davis on a 13-yard touchdown pass from Shaun Hill.

Laurinaitis has assumed more of a leadership role as of late, with safety O.J. Atogwe being placed on injured reserve earlier in the month with a dislocated shoulder. Craig Dahl has filled in for Atogwe at the free safety position. Strong safety James Butler has had a nice season, leading the team with three of the unit’s eight interceptions.

The Rams have yet to have an interception from the cornerback position.

Part of the lack of production is due to the pass rush which has 22 sacks this season, led by veteran defensive end Leonard Little who has 6.5 of his own. Against Arizona, second-year end Chris Long picked up his fifth sack of the season, one more than he had as a rookie.

St. Louis has struggled equally against the run and pass (27th vs. the run and 24th vs. the pass) giving them the league’s 29th overall defense.

But that’s in the past. The Rams would like nothing more than to end their ’09 season with a win at home, something they’ve yet to accomplish.

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