Scouting St. Louis

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When the San Francisco 49ers host the St. Louis Rams this Sunday, both teams will be looking to snap multiple game losing streaks in the first meeting of 2008 between the two NFC Western Division rivals.

The 49ers have dropped six games in a row, following a heartbreaking 29-24 defeat to the Arizona Cardinals on Monday Night Football, and will have a short week to put the loss behind them and get ready for the Rams.

Interim head coach Jim Haslett led his team to back to back victories after taking over the job, including a 34-14 whipping of the Dallas Cowboys, but the Rams have fallen back on hard times with lopsided losses to the Arizona Cardinals and the New York Jets.

At his Monday morning press conference, Haslett announced that Marc Bulger would remain the team's starter, despite his struggles last week in a 47-3 loss to the Jets.

Bulger completed only six-of-thirteen passes for 65 yards and had a 29.3 quarterback rating, his worst of the season in the franchise's worst loss in 21 years.

Bugler's two first half turnovers helped the Jets get out to a 40-0 lead by halftime. One was the result of a free safety blitz by Abram Elam that blind-sided Bulger, causing him to fumble. The loose ball was picked up and returned 50 yards for a touchdown by linebacker Calvin Pace.

49ERS Rank RAMS Rank
Total Offense 21 Total Offense 31
Passing Offense 15 Passing Offense 29
Rushing Offense 19 Rushing Offense 26
Total Defense 22 Total Defense 30
Run Defense 16 Run Defense 30
Pass Defense 23 Pass Defense 26
KOR Average 10 KOR Average 30
PR Average 9 PR Average 14
KO Coverage 23 KO Coverage 27
PR Coverage 21 PR Coverage 22
Haslett replaced a struggling Bulger at the half with veteran backup Trent Green, who finished 5-of-10 for 70 yards and a pick. Although Green suffered a minor elbow injury while making a tackle after his interception, Haslett expects him to be available to be Bulger's backup against the 49ers.

Poor play from the quarterback position has become a reoccurring sight for Rams fans this season, which has them tied for last place in the NFC Western Division with a 2-7 record along with the 49ers and Seattle Seahawks.

In eight starts, Bulger has only surpassed the 300-yard mark once, and has thrown six touchdowns and six interceptions.

The two-time Pro Bowl quarterback was once a prolific passer in the Mike Martz-coached offense, but has fallen on hard times due to the injuries that have plagued Pro Bowl running back Steven Jackson and the inconsistent play of the St. Louis offensive line.

Jackson has missed two of the Rams last three games because of a thigh injury, and his status for this Sunday's game remains day-to-day.

Just a few weeks before he sustained the injury, Jackson had his best game of the season, when he carried the ball 25 times for 160 yards and three touchdowns in a 34-14 upset win over the Dallas Cowboys. On the season, Jackson has 525 yards on 128 carries and four touchdowns. The versatile running back has also been a reliable option in the passing game, catching 25 passes for 259 yards.

If Jackson is unable to play or take the bulk of the carries, St. Louis will rely on the trio of Antonio Pittman, Kenneth Darby and Samkon Gado.

The Rams were quickly flushed out of a ground game because of the Jets considerable early lead, as the group picked up only 64 yards on 19 carries. Pittman has had the most carries in the absence of Jackson, but is averaging 3.0 yards on his 43 attempts.

The Rams offensive line features one of the best in the business in perennial Pro Bowl left tackle Orlando Pace, but despite his significant presence, the line has allowed 28 sacks, the sixth most in the NFL.

The Rams suffered a major loss when tight end Randy McMichael was lost for the season with a broken bone in his leg against the Buffalo Bills in late September. Joe Klopfenstein has taken over the role vacated by McMichael, and has caught four passes for 21 yards.

Without a major threat of a tight end in the passing game, opposing defenses have been able to lock in on the Rams receiving corps. Pro Bowl wideout Torry Holt is having a down season for his standards, with only 33 catches for 352 yards and two touchdowns.

Instead of having Isaac Bruce on the other side of the field as he did for so many years, Holt has been joined by rookie wide receiver Donnie Avery. The Rams second round draft pick, and first wide receiver selected in the 2007 NFL Draft, is second on the team in receptions with 25, but leads the team with 392 yards. The speedster also has two touchdowns, and is considered more of a downfield threat than Holt with an average 15.7 yards per catch.

Dane Looker serves as the team's third wideout, and has only eight catches for 129 yards.

The Rams had also hoped to see veteran Drew Bennett contribute this season, but the receiver was placed on injured reserve after breaking a bone in his foot during the season opener.

While some of the veterans on offense haven't produced for the Rams like they have in previous years, the experienced players on the defensive side of the ball have been more reliable during a disappointing season.

Defensive end Leonard Little has four sacks and two fumble recoveries on the season, and is tied for the lead in sacks with rookie defensive end Chris Long and veteran James Long. As a whole, St. Louis has picked up 18 sacks, which rank them in about the middle of the pack in the NFL.

The Rams started off the year with La'Roi Glover at the under tackle position and last year's first-round pick Adam Carriker working at nose. They've seen slid in Clifton Ryan to work at the nose, and tried to limit reps for the veteran Glover by rotating him in and out with Carriker. Glover has started the last three games as Carriker has been slowed lately with an ankle injury.

The Rams front has been pushed around some in the run game, leading to a 30th overall ranking in the NFL.

Fortunately, they have ample foot speed at the linebacker position in outside backer Pisa Tinoisamoa and inside backer Will Witherspoon. Tinoisamoa leads the unit with 55 tackles, and has one sack and a forced fumble, while Witherspoon has 47 tackles and has accounted for the only interception by a St. Louis linebacker.

Linebacker Chris Draft could miss another two weeks with a foot injury, meaning Quinton Culberson, who led the Rams with eleven tackles against the Jets, will continue to start in his absence.

Ron Bartell replaced former first-round draft pick Tye Hill earlier in the season as the starting corner. Hill has been completely out of the picture in recent weeks as he seeks additional opinions on an ailing knee.

Opposite Bartell is Fakhir Brown, who was brought back after being released earlier in the year by then-head coach Scott Linehan. Brown is the only cornerback on the team to have notched an interception on the year.

The most active player in the Rams secondary has been fourth-year free safety Osiomogho Atogwe, who has 46 tackles, four interceptions and two forced fumbles. Starting opposite Atogwe is safety Corey Chavous, a crafty veteran who relies on his experience.

One of the Rams most solid performers on the season has been free agent kicker Josh Brown. The former Seattle mainstay has made 15-of-17 field goal attempts, with a long from 54-yards out.

Donnie Jones handles the punting duties for St. Louis, and has averaged 50.2 yards per punt.
Veteran return specialist Dante Hall was put on injured reserve last month, leading to Derek Stanley inheriting the job. Stanley is nursing an ankle injury, and could lead to some new returners for the 49ers special teams to deal with this Sunday. The Rams could opt to use Looker or Avery, or cornerback Jonathan Wade.

With both teams coming off frustrating losses and in need of a win, Sunday's game should make for an entertaining ball game, which can be seen at 1:05 PM PST on FOX.

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