Former 49ers linebacker and now 49ers Radio Network Analyst Gary Plummer breaks down this upcoming game against the Rams, the second for the 49ers against a divisional opponent. Get some keys to getting the W in this latest installment of Points of the Game.
While the 49ers defense churned out an outstanding performance against the Arizona Cardinals in their Monday night win, their next opponent, the St. Louis Rams, struggled offensively in their opener against Carolina.
Everyone in the NFL is making a huge deal of the fact that Steven Jackson didn't play well, LaDainian Tomlinson didn't play well, and Larry Johnson didn't play well. The way I am looking at it is that those guys played against some pretty good defenses. Those guys didn't have big games and neither did Frank Gore, but by the third carry, Frank looked like his old self again. He did some great things with the blitz pickup. So, I don't think Steven Jackson fumbling has anything to do with him not playing in the preseason. Neither he nor LaDainian played in the preseason last year and they both had great years. I think it was just coincidental that they went up against a couple of good defenses, and I'm sure the 49ers defense expects Jackson to be at his best.
The question mark for the Rams won't be Jackson, but instead their offensive line. Anytime you lose a seven time Pro Bowler, it's going to have a dramatic affect on your offense. Ironically, they lost him for seven or eight games last year, and they went 5-3 in those games, so some people will point to that. I think it's going to be difficult for them because they are going to have to switch Alex Barron to the left tackle and shift around the others guys which means you are talking about more than just one position. Milford Brown started last week at right guard with Richie Incognito out with a high ankle sprain, and still isn't practicing. I think Brown will probably have to come in at right tackle and then Claude Terrell, who has been listed as the 2nd team right guard will move into the starting position there. Now you are talking about three out of the five starters being different. Two will be new starters and one will be playing a different position. So it affects the offense tremendously.
Carolina attacked Mark Bulger last week. The Panthers pass rush is one of the best in the league, especially with Julius Peppers. They had a lot of inside blitzes much like Arizona did to the 49ers. This is a copycat league and so the Rams will look at what the Cardinals did to put pressure on Alex Smith, and the 49ers will be looking to see what Carolina did to put pressure on Bulger. What they did was blitz early and often.
With those changes to the line, I think that Bryant Young, Tully Banta-Cain, and Manny Lawson should all have an opportunity to take advantage of a potential weak link. One of the problems with the shifting around is that Brett Romberg and Mark Setterstrom are the only guys in their original positions. Setterstrom, being the left guard, was used to working with Orlando Pace. It will be different working with Barron which will cause some miscommunications. I think it's a great match-up for BY to go against Barron, especially with how much penetration Young was getting on Monday night. It's the same thing with Brett Romberg playing with Brown. Isaac Sopoaga and Aubrayo Franklin should have an advantage against Romberg because he is going to be focused on helping out the right guard. I think it will be very advantageous for the guys going against Brown at right tackle. We have played against him a number of times when he was with Arizona. He is a journeyman guy, and was a liability with Arizona, which is why they let him go
Isaac Bruce is still relatively fast but he has lost his step, and so now when he is running his go route, guys aren't playing as off of him as they used to. Last week, you saw Nate Clements moving all over the place, so I think you will see him on their best receiver, Torry Holt. I see Walt Harris on the other side playing the corner with some help over the top with the safety. What was really nice to see was Shawntae Spencer play well last week. In talking with some people from Arizona, they felt like their 3rd wide receiver, Bryant Johnson, was going to be the difference maker because they felt we didn't have three corners to cover their receivers. Obviously that wasn't the case. The coaches and fans should feel a whole lot better then they have in a decade in terms of those match-ups with the corners.
Drew Bennett was out last week, but he is now practicing. He's a different kind of receiver. They have a burner in Holt who has great quickness and can get down the field, but Bennett really adds a lot to their red zone offense. He is a tall receiver. We have played against him before and he has had some success when he was in Tennessee. If he's in there, that will strengthen their three wide receiver set, but as the 49ers secondary showed last week, they can handle a challenge.
Now, on to the 49ers offense.
I think first and foremost what you have to do is get Vernon Davis involved in the game. He looked like he was being used as a decoy early on and it was effective, but the more productive a guy is, the better decoy he becomes. I don't see anyone being able to cover Vernon. A couple of the times the 49ers went play-action pass into max protection, and it was pretty effective. So I see the 49ers doing more of that this week. They are going to have to get Alex Smith into more of a comfort zone. As a quarterback, when you get hit, it affects your drop and your timing. The times that Arizona only brought in four guys, there was a lot more time for Alex. But because he has been pressured with the five, six man blitzes, he has been forced to get the ball out of there quicker than he needed to. So I see them running the football more and using more play action, max protect schemes to pick up those five or six man rushes.
The Rams could also be without linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa. He has been their leading tackler for a long time and he hasn't practiced so far this week. That could impact their defense because they didn't play that well against Carolina's offense last week. They weren't physical enough and didn't have enough speed to cover the receivers. Now it will be Chris Draft that replaces him if he can't go, who has been in the league for a while but doesn't have the kind of speed Pisa has. That could really mean an easier day for Gore, who will want to get back to the high rushing numbers he grew used to last season.
In closing, one of the biggest differences this week will be being more aggressive offensively, and taking more shots down the field and using more max protect. I see more of the same defensive schemes being used that we saw last week. You have to give Al Everest and Jeff Rodgers a ton of credit for how well their unit played on special teams. For a close game like Monday night was, special teams is huge. That is as good a 49ers coverage team as I have seen from them in a long time. They'll need another strong performance because it is always helpful on the road to not put your team in bad field position.
The great thing for the 49ers is the St. Louis fan base is really down on the Rams right now. In recent years it's been a tough place to play in St. Louis with them going to the Super Bowl. Back when the 49ers reigned supreme San Francisco had so many fans on the road that away games weren't much tougher than home games. With St. Louis' fan base being down, and such high expectations put on the 49ers this year, more fans are going to be following this team and be more boisterous on the road. In this game it will be critical to get off to a fast start to take that crowd noise out of the game and eventually turn them on the home team. You can look at how the 49ers finished on the road last year playing well against Seattle and Denver. That was huge in the eyes of the organization to show that a young team can play well on the road, and so this is just an opportunity to continue upon what the 49ers started last year.