Former 49ers linebacker and KNBR analysis and color commentator Gary Plummer is back again this year with his Points of the Game, a weekly online column that previews the upcoming opponent. Check out some of his views on Sunday's home game against the St. Louis Rams. **
I've been involved in both situations that the 49ers and Rams are currently experiencing. Losing a blowout game like the Rams did last week by getting beat 47-3 and losing a heart-breaker in the closing seconds of the game like what happened to the 49ers on Monday night both hurt. They all should just tear your heart out.
The way you handle adverse situations, really depends on the character of your team. And it depends on the individuals. Both teams are dealing with the same situation; they're dealing with a loss. For the 49ers and Rams, it's so hard to say which kind of loss is worse.
The Rams were down 40-0 at halftime, in an NFL game! That's hard to see happen in a high school game, much less in the NFL. That embarrassment, it's a situation where you don't want to go out to dinner that week. In the community, you don't want to be recognized.
I think that a lot of people looking at the players in the Bay Area are saying, "Hey, that's as hard as you guys have played this year. That's the most physical you guys have played this year."
So, I think psychologically, this week is not going to be as hard on the 49ers as it is on the Rams.
If you're the 49ers, you can hang your helmet on the fact that you finally came out and played a physical football game against the team that will eventually win the NFC West. There's no comparison between the opening game of the season against the Cardinals and the one that happened Monday night. "You've made dramatic strides in eight weeks," has to be the emphasis for the 49ers this week.
St. Louis interim head coach Jim Haslett has already announced that Marc Bulger will be the Rams starter at quarterback, despite the fact he was pulled last week in favor for veteran backup Trent Green. If the Rams do pull Bulger at some point in the game, the 49ers should be prepared for both quarterbacks. I think Trent Green has the stronger arm of the two, but Bulger has a quicker release.
Neither of them are very mobile in the pocket and both of them are getting up in age. Trent knows the offense better, because it is the same offense he ran in Kansas City with Al Saunders as the offensive coordinator for all those years. So, the 49ers can watch the tape from last week, in which Green played and get a good feel for what he can do. Unfortunately for St.Louis, he didn't do any better than what Bulger did in the first half.
The Rams biggest offensive threat remains running back Steven Jackson. Prior to his injury, he was a larger percentage of the Rams offense than any other player was to their team in the NFL. It was somewhere below 50 percent. In comparison, 49ers running back Frank Gore, makes up for 38 percent of the 49ers offense. That's a huge difference.
In Jackson, you have a guy who is averaging over four yards per carry, and has been to the Pro Bowl. He's a guy, who the Rams love to feature, not just in the running game, but in the passing game as well. Despite missing two games, he's still only eight receptions less than the team leader in wide receiver Torry Holt.
Even being out the last two games, he has over 900 yards of offense. When you have an elite running back, who accounts for almost half of your offense and he's missing for a couple of weeks, it changes everything. You go from Jackson to Antonio Pittman, who is averaging three yards per carry and he's actually dealt with injuries himself. Last week, they also tried Travis Minor, who was averaging two yards per carry. There's just no comparison.
If Jackson's in the game, that has to be the focus of the 49ers defense. For the last couple of weeks, opposing teams have been daring the Rams to run the football by playing seven men in the box and using the rest of the defenders to drop into coverage. They've tried running the ball, but they still haven't been able to run against seven-man fronts without Jackson.
With Jackson, you definitely have to use eight-man fronts, because he's so big and physical. Luckily the 49ers have a strong safety in Michael Lewis, who is great at playing in the box and being that eighth man. If Jackson is in the game, I think we'll see a lot of eight-man fronts this Sunday. We'll see Michael Lewis used similarly to how the Cardinals used their strong safety Adrian Wilson.
The injuries that have happened to the Rams have been devastating for them this year. Offensively, they've only had three offensive linemen play every game this year in center Nick Leckey, right guard Richie Incognito and right tackle Alex Barron. Their left tackle Orlando Pace and their left guard Jacob Bell, have both missed a bunch of games.
At tight end, they lost their starter in Randy McMichael four games into the season and that changed their offense dramatically. If you think back to the days of Al Saunders in Kansas City, tight end Tony Gonzales was a focal point of that offense. He loved to feature the tight end. But without McMichael, the Rams have to rely on Joe Klopfenstein, who is more of a run blocker.
Another injury that has hurt them tremendously has been Holt, who has been nursing a bad knee. He's pretty much been hurt the whole year. You can tell he's not the same player right now, because he's had eight consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, but this year he has 33 catches for 352 yards, with 10.7 average per catch. The average is a lot lower than his years playing alongside Isaac Bruce. Back then, Holt was a big-play threat. Both of those guys were averaging over 15-18 yards per catch.
For Holt now to be averaging just under eleven yards per catch, he's running the short and intermediate routes. He's not the guy who will beat you deep anymore.
I know a lot of people are pointing fingers at the quarterback play of the Rams, but the team as a whole has gotten old very fast. Most of their big name guys on offense, Holt, Pace, Bulger, they're all 33 years old or older.
The Rams also lost two wide receivers, Dante Hall and Drew Bennett for the season. They've lost a ton of guys, and it has really hurt them at the wide receiver position and the offensive line hasn't played very well. They've given up 28 sacks, and the reason for that is they've been getting blown out in a lot of games. Al Saunders' offense is based off a lot of deep throws off the play-action pass. If you can't run the ball, the play-action pass won't be effective.
The Rams have relied on rookie wideout Donnie Avery. He's a young guy, with big play potential. He's running the routes that Bruce used to run with the Rams.
Offensively for the 49ers, turnovers are going to be a key. The 49ers have a league-high 23 turnovers, but the Rams haven't gotten a turnover in their last two games. In fact, they have no takeaways and they've given the ball away eight times during that span. And they've been outscored 81-16 in the past two games. Turnovers are the biggest reason why and it will be a big key again this week.
Although the 49ers did turn the ball over three times last week, a positive was the fact that Shaun Hill was not sacked. The offensive line did a nice job and they broke the Cardinals NFL record of recording a sack in 31 consecutive games.
I think Mike Singletary had an impact on that from the start of the game, because he made sure the 49ers played a physical style of game. And there is no better way to be physical than by running the football, and that's what the 49ers established last week from the start of the game.
Frank Gore should get at least 25 carries this week, because last week, the Rams gave up over 200 yards on the ground to the Jets.
When Chilo Rachal got his opportunity, subbing in for Tony Wragge in a couple of offensive series on Monday night, I thought he looked amazing. He looked so athletic on some of the toss plays to Frank Gore. When he pulled, it looked like he was back at USC, when he was dominating people. So I would expect to see more of him.
I must say, Shaun Hill's helmet-less run reminded me of Steve Young. It seemed like yesterday, when Steve Young during a preseason game in San Diego, scrambled for a touchdown without his helmet on. Plays like that just get you so fired up.
Sometimes you look at quarterbacks as being soft and cerebral, but when you see a quarterback in a situation where he's in traffic and he wants the first down that bad – it changes your perception a little bit. Hill was struggling for that extra yard, but that says a lot about him.
When you see that kind of effort and how we threw caution to the wind – it gets you jacked up.
I think the 49ers took a huge step on Monday night in developing an identity. It's the identity Coach Singletary has talked about since he's taken over, being a physical football team. If you were going to use one word to describe the 49ers on Monday night, physical is the word you should use.
In the 2008 season, I don't think I remember seeing a couple of defenders tattooing ball-carriers. It was the best open-field tackling I've seen all season from the 49ers defense. Ball-carriers were going backwards on contact and defensive backs were coming up and hitting.
All of that was personified in the Shaun Hill run.
It was a fun game to watch, because it was exciting and you saw the effort. The effort was there to win. Sometimes this season, the passion hasn't been like the way it was on Monday night. If the 49ers play with that same kind of passion and intensity, while playing physical, the Rams will get blown out again.