Former 49ers linebacker and KNBR color commentator Gary Plummer previews the 49ers opponents every week of the 2009 season on 49ers.com. For this week's "Points of the Game" column, Plummer breaks down the 49ers week four opponent – the St. Louis Rams.**
The St. Louis Rams have the longest losing streak in the NFL at 13 games and when that's the case there's always going to be doubts in your mind if you're that team. You almost have to have something go good in order to start believing that your team can win. That's why it's so important for the 49ers to come out strong in this game and not give the Rams any hope.
The best way for the 49ers to stop the Rams is to stop their talented running back Steven Jackson. The best way for them to do that is by bringing up eight or nine men into the box.
A positive for the 49ers is that the Rams best wide receiver Laurent Robinson is now out for the season. That means they'll have to rely on Jackson even more. And Donnie Avery, a second-year guy will have to take Robinson's place and pick up his production. They've just been banged up by injuries at that position; some of the guys on their roster weren't even there to start the season.
That just means your focus should be even more on Jackson.
The 49ers should play a lot of eight-nine in the box and a man-to-man coverage on the outside. Doing so, would allow Joe Staley and Takeo Spikes to be matched up with Jackson on the inside. But don't forget Jackson catches a lot of passes out of the backfield, so the 49ers linebackers will need to cover well and tackle in the open field.
St. Louis will have a different starting quarterback than usual with backup Kyle Boller getting the nod. He presents a different problem than what Marc Bulger did. He's young, big, strong, fast and he helps out his linemen quite a bit by making plays with his legs. The 49ers will need to keep containment on him. I also think Boller has always had trouble reading coverages. You can bet that the 49ers will show a lot of different coverages with different personnel groups to try and confuse him.
Overall, I just want to see the guys continue to play team defense. I like how I've seen 11 helmets to the ball. It's impressive to see what guys like Dashon Goldson and Michael Lewis are doing in run support. You can't forget about Nate Clements, who is one of the best tackling cornerbacks in the NFL. And Shawntae Spencer isn't afraid to stick his head in there.
With the way the 49ers have played against the run, I expect that to continue against Jackson.
On offense, I think without Frank Gore in the lineup, Glen Coffee will have to step up. The Rams will be without their starting strong safety James Butler. With St. Louis relying on a backup Craig Dahl, that's a matchup the 49ers should try to dominate against in the run and passing game.
O.J. Atogwe is definitely a good player at the other safety position, but I think if the 49ers are able to attack Dahl and that's an advantage for them.
The Rams defense ranks in the bottom in a lot of defensive categories. Take your pick, they're in the bottom. They are 29th in the league in overall defense, 27th in rush defense and 27th in pass defense. In most cases you let the defense dictate how you are going to attack. But I think Jimmy Raye has an opportunity to dictate to their defense and take what they want to take.
One last thing I'd like to see the 49ers accomplish and that's pick up some yardage in the return game on special teams and limit the return yards against them. Percy Harvin's touchdown return from last week was a back-breaker. But what's been for the 49ers is that it hasn't been just one guy making a tackle. Just like the defense there have been multiple guys flying to the ball. Those guys on special teams play just like they are on defense trying to get 11 hats on the ball. Al Everest does a great job with them And rookie linebacker Scott McKillop has twice as many tackles as anyone else. He's been a big standout.
This should be a great game for the 49ers in all phases of the game as they look to start the season 3-1.