Rams-Niners: 5 Things To Watch
By Jim Thomas
Of the Post-Dispatch
Saturday, Oct. 02 2004

Julian & Co.

The strength of the ***** is its linebacking corps. Two-time Pro Bowler
Julian Peterson is one of the few playmakers on the roster - and can
do it in coverage, on run defense and rushing the quarterback. He made his
presence felt against the Rams last season, registering three sacks, six QB
pressures, two pass breakups and two forced fumbles in two games.

"He's got to be one of the better defensive players in the league in my opinion
- no question about it," Rams coach Mike Martz said.

The ***** are moving Peterson around more this year under new defensive
coordinator Willy Robinson. Peterson is fast and so is nickel LB
Jamie Winborn, who's better equipped to handle Marshall
Faulk
in the passing game than most LBs. Also an effective blitzer,
Winborn registered two sacks against the Rams last season. When Winborn and
Peterson are on the field, it's tough to run outside.

Winborn comes in off the bench. The other starters besides Peterson are
Derek Smith and Jeff Ulbrich, both smart, heady players.
Smith is one of the league's most underrated LBs. He always seems to play well
against the Rams.


Life without TO

With Terrell Owens doing his pass-catching for Philadelphia, the
*****' receiving corps lacks star power. With the exception of Curtis
Conway
, it also lacks experience. First-round draft pick Rashaun
Woods
has yet to catch a pass. Former Illinois star Brandon
Lloyd
caught only 14 passes last season as a rookie, and has been slowed
by a groin injury this season.

The good news for Rams fans is that Cedrick Wilson no longer returns
kicks - he opened last year's Rams-***** game in San Francisco with a 95-yard
kickoff return for a TD. He is now a starting wide receiver.

Nonetheless, the Rams' secondary shouldn't take these guys lightly, because
almost all of them can run. Conway, with three 1,000-yard seasons and 49
receiving TDs over 12 NFL campaigns, runs the 40 in 4.33 seconds. Wilson (4.42)
and Woods (4.43) aren't far behind. But the go-to guy has been Eric
Johnson
, who entered the weekend leading all NFC tight ends with 18
catches.


Barlow . . . and more Barlow

Without the proven talent at quarterback and wide receiver, the ***** must run
to set up the passing game. Without Garrison Hearst, that means
fourth-year pro Kevan Barlow is the key to the *****'
offense. If he gets going early against the Rams' 30th-ranked rushing defense,
it could be a long evening for St. Louis. At 6-1, 238 pounds, Barlow is a
powerful runner, but also has some elusiveness.

"Kevan Barlow can be a very explosive and physical runner, and is a threat to
go the distance at any time," Martz said. "We've seen him do it."

That they have. Barlow had runs of 33 and 35 yards in a 2002 game against the
Rams. While splitting time with Hearst, he rushed for 121 yards and a TD on 25
carries in two games against them last season.


Finally, pocket passers

They've chased Michael Vick, and faced Michael Vick's cousin
(Aaron Brooks). Even Arizona's Josh McCown was
no slouch when it came to mobility at quarterback. But on Sunday, the Rams
finally face a pocket passer in Tim Rattay or Ken Dorsey.

"We're happy about that, because we're not worried about the running so much,"
Rams DT Ryan Pickett said. "It's like we've been playing track
teams."

It's a strange circumstance in San Francisco, because from Jeff
Garcia
to Steve Young to Joe Montana, the *****
have always had QBs who could beat you with their legs as well as their arms.
Until now. Neither Rattay nor Dorsey has a carry this season. Garcia had 56
last season, averaging 5.7 yards with seven rushing TDs.

Rattay will start Sunday after missing two games with a separated right
shoulder. In his first career start last season, he threw three TD passes in a
30-10 victory over the Rams.


In the trenches

A back injury is expected to sideline DE Andre Carter for the third
straight game. That's obviously a blow to the San Francisco pass rush, because
Carter averaged 8 1/2 sacks in his first three NFL seasons. DT Bryant
Young
, a four-time Pro Bowler, still can be disruptive in the middle at
age 32. Overall, this defensive line is nothing special, but has defended the
run much better than expected.

On the other side of the ball, the ***** are missing their best offensive
lineman, C Jeremy Newberry (knee injury). Also, 2003 first-round
pick Kwame Harris might be in uniform, but isn't expected
to start at tackle because of knee and ankle injuries. Rookie RG Justin
Smiley
struggled last week in his first NFL start. Veteran RT Scott
Gragg
has been known to struggle against speed rushers. (Leonard
Little
, that's your cue.)