National Football League News
Rams Stand Between Niners, 2-0 Mark
Sep 14, 2007, 18:00 GMT
- The rebirth of the San Francisco 49ers as a major player on the NFL scene could take place Sunday in the Gateway City, as Mike Nolan's club seeks to move to 2-0 with a win over the St. Louis Rams.
The 49ers have a chance to get to 2-0 for the first time since 1998, when they finished 12-4 under head coach Steve Mariucci, and can also announce their strength to the rest of the NFC West for a second consecutive week.
On Monday, San Francisco outlasted Arizona in a hard-hitting 20-17 affair which the Niners pulled out on a one-yard run by wideout Arnaz Battle in the game's waning seconds. The win moved Nolan and company into a tie with Seattle (at Arizona on Sunday) atop the division as Week 2 begins.
Kickoff weekend did not go nearly as well for the Rams, who dropped a lackluster 27-13 affair to the Panthers at home and also lost perhaps their best player. Perennial Pro Bowl tackle Orlando Pace was knocked out for the season with a torn labrum and rotator cuff suffered against Carolina, an injury that robs Scott Linehan's squad of one its most vital offensive cogs.
Former first-round draft choice Alex Barron will have the major job of filling Pace's shoes this week, and the offensive guru Linehan will be in charge of finding ways to mitigate the All-Pro's absence.
The Rams have not lost home games on the first two weeks of the season since 1998, when they fell to the Saints (24-17) and Vikings (38-31) en route to a 4-12 campaign.
The Rams hold a 59-53-2 edge in their regular season series with the 49ers, and snapped a three-game losing streak in the series with a 20-17 home victory in Week 12 of last year. San Francisco won the first meeting between the two last season, taking a 20-13 home decision in Week 2. The Niners swept a home- and-home against their division rival in 2005, including a 24-20 triumph at the Edward Jones Dome.
In addition to the regular season series, the teams have met once in the postseason, with San Francisco earning a 30-3 home triumph over the then-Los Angeles Rams in the 1989 NFC Championship.
Nolan is 3-1 against St. Louis in his career, while the Rams' Linehan is 1-1 against both Nolan and the 49ers as a head coach.
WHEN THE 49ERS HAVE THE BALL
The Niners didn't run up and down the field against the Cardinals in Week 1, but did hit on enough big plays to keep the team in position for the win. Quarterback Alex Smith completed 15-of-31 passes for 126 yards in the contest, with a large selection of his biggest plays coming on the team's decisive final drive. Smith's favorite target was Battle, who caught a game-high five balls for 60 yards in addition to his winning touchdown run. Fellow wideout Darrell Jackson, making his first start with San Francisco after coming over from Seattle in a Draft day trade, contributed four catches for 36 yards. The team would like to get former first-round pick and tight end Vernon Davis, who managed just two grabs totaling four yards, more involved. In the running game, Frank Gore had 76 yards and a touchdown on 19 total touches in his first game after missing the entire preseason with a broken hand. The San Francisco o-line allowed three sacks on the night.
The Rams received high marks for their defensive changes in the offseason, but those alterations had precious little impact in Week 1 against Carolina. The Panthers ran at will, piling up 186 yards on 28 carries, a 4.9 average per rush. They also made significant gains in the passing game, with Jake Delhomme throwing three touchdowns without an interception, including one to 100-yard receiver Steve Smith. The Rams also didn't come up with a sack all day, a situation that ends Leonard Little (5 tackles) and James Hall (5 tackles) will look to avoid against San Francisco. On the positive side for St. Louis, linebackers Will Witherspoon and Brandon Chillar both came up with fumble recoveries a week ago. In the secondary, O.J. Atogwe logged a game-high 10 tackles, and fellow safety Corey Chavous (7 tackles) forced a fumble.
WHEN THE RAMS HAVE THE BALL
The absence of Pace had a profound effect on a St. Louis offense that didn't put together a drive of any significant length after the former No. 1 overall draft pick exited the game. Pro Bowl running back Steven Jackson had a poor day overall, carrying 18 times for 58 yards and losing a pair of fumbles in the loss. Wideouts Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce combined for just eight catches and 93 yards in the defeat, and Holt scored the Rams' only touchdown of the day in the first quarter when Pace was still protecting Marc Bulger's blind side. Bulger finished 22-of-42 for 167 yards and a touchdown and was sacked once. Like San Francisco, St. Louis would like to see more production from its tight end. Ex-Dolphin Randy McMichael had just two catches for 24 yards in his first game as a Ram last week. St. Louis wideout Drew Bennett, who missed Week 1 with a thigh problem, should be in the lineup on Sunday.
Bulger, Jackson, and company will see a much different defense than the one they worked against last year. Starters like cornerback Nate Clements, strong safety Michael Lewis, and inside linebacker Patrick Willis have been added to a group that allowed the most points in the league in 2006, and initial returns on their presence are all positive. The re-tooled secondary held Cardinals star receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin to a combined seven catches for 42 yards on Monday night, while the rookie Willis posted a game-high 11 tackles in his first meaningful action as a pro. That said, there are some offensive strides to be made against a San Francisco defense that allowed 161 yards on the ground in Week 1, and also managed just one sack of Arizona's Matt Leinart.
Fantasy managers owning Steven Jackson and/or Marc Bulger were disappointed last week, as neither Ram hit his projected total. Both are due for bounce- back days and are solid plays, as are the always productive Torry Holt and kicker Jeff Wilkins. Tight end Randy McMichael might still be a 'wait and see' proposition. On the San Francisco side, Gore is the only first-rate fantasy player, and some managers might take a flier on Battle this week after a productive night against Arizona. Neither of these defenses is of starting quality at this stage.
The 49ers remain a sexy pick to rise up the NFC West and make the playoffs, though anyone that watched their performance against the Cardinals knows they were very fortunate to come away with a win in Week 1. This team is not yet in midseason form, thanks in large part to all the new faces, and how Nolan's team will play on a short week that follows a physical contest remains to be seen. For the Rams, the loss of Pace will have season-long consequences, but the team does have enough talent to win some games, especially before the home fans. Look for Bulger and Jackson to play well, for the defense to make a couple of plays against Smith and Gore, and for both clubs to end the day at 1-1.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Rams 24, 49ers 17
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