By Jim Thomas
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Sunday, Dec. 21 2008
When the Rams run the ball

The ***** have switched to a strict 3-4 scheme under Mike Singletary, which
puts more stress on the center and offensive tackles. Although undersized for a
nose tackle, Aubrayo Franklin's improved play has helped a San Francisco
defense that has allowed only one 100-yard rushing total by an opposing team in
its last four games. The ***** are tough to run against between the tackles.
Opposing teams are averaging a mere 2.5 yards per carry on 135 attempts between
the tackles this season. So rushing yards don't figure to come easy for the
Rams, but Steven Jackson is healthy and running as strongly as he has all
season.

EDGE: Rams

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When the ***** run the ball

Hard-charging Frank Gore hasn't played since suffering a sprained ankle two
weeks ago against the New York Jets. He's listed as a game-time decision, but
isn't expected to play after missing practice all week. But the 'Niners have a
capable replacement in former Carolina Panther DeShaun Foster, who's taller
than Gore and more of a slasher, but still tough between the tackles. Foster
had only 78 yards rushing through San Francisco's first 13 games, but basically
doubled that total with 76 yards on 18 carries last week against Miami. The
insertion of Chris Draft into the lineup at middle linebacker has helped the
Rams' run defense the past two Sundays.

EDGE: *****

* * * * * *

When the Rams pass the ball

Under Singletary, the ***** have tried to close the middle of the field
coverage-wise. Even so, both Miami touchdowns last week against San Francisco
came on passes to tight ends. Veteran corners Nate Clements and Walt Harris
both had an interception against the Rams when the teams met five weeks ago;
Takeo Spikes is tied for the NFL lead for interceptions among linebackers, with
three. But the ***** haven't been able to generate much of a pass rush all
season. They're just a moderate blitzing team. Former Mizzou and Jefferson City
High product Justin Smith is lining up almost strictly at right defensive end,
after being moved around earlier in the season.

EDGE: Rams

* * * * * *

When the ***** pass the ball

Since taking over for J.T. O'Sullivan at quarterback, Shaun Hill has helped San
Francisco dramatically reduce mistakes. The passing attempts are almost
identical for Hill (224) and O'Sullivan (220) this season, yet Hill has thrown
seven fewer interceptions, lost four fewer fumbles, and been sacked 14 fewer
times. Hill is using fewer seven-step drops, but offensive coordinator Mike
Martz the former Rams head coach still likes to wing it, and still likes to
go downfield. The *****' final 22 plays last week against Miami were pass
plays. For the season, they have 48 completions of 20 yards or more, the
second-highest total in the NFC.

EDGE: *****