Can the 49ers Beat the Rams?

Sep 8, 2005 at 12:00 AM


The 49ers shouldn't win Sunday, but they might. The only way the 49ers could pull off the win is if they magically shed the type of offensive and defensive production that typified them throughout the preseason and emerge as a team with the ability to manipulate their opponents into adhering to the 49ers' style of play.

Or they could get lucky. It is Mike Martz after all.

49er preseason football was a mixed bag of results. Yes, the team went .500 during the preseason and while many fans would give their (insert favorite appendage here) for a .500 season, a closer look at the team's starting units shows that they are not quite where they need to be.

Problem #1: The 49ers cannot find a way to run the ball. In the NFL, even the high octane passing attack teams have a solid running game. The Colts have a perennial thousand-yard rusher in Edgerin James, the Chiefs have Priest Holmes and the Rams have Steven Jackson and Marshall Faulk.

The 49ers have a rushing attack that looks similar to my little brother's Peewee football team's rushing attack. It goes a little something like this: the offensive line looks like they're blocking real hard but for some reason the defense always gets penetration. The running back dances behind the line, looks a tad confused, and eventually gets tackled for a minimal gain.

Here are the first five running plays from the third preseason game against Tennessee:

1-10-SF45 (12:25) K.Barlow left tackle to SF 46 for 1 yard.

1-10-TEN37 (10:02) K.Barlow left guard to TEN 34 for 3 yards.

1-10-TEN19 (8:21) F.Gore to TEN 22 for -3 yards.

3-1-TEN10 (7:22) K.Barlow up the middle for 10 yards.

2-9-SF16 (3:41) K.Barlow left end to SF 16 for no gain.

The third preseason game is the closest thing we have to a regular season game until the season opener; and it was not looking good. If not for one 10-yard run, their yards-per-rush average was .25 yards per carry. With the 10 yard run their average jumps to an astronomical 1.2 yards per carry. Barlow ended the game with a 3.3 rush average, which is similar to last year's mediocre performances. Frank Gore, on the other hand, averaged .6 yards per carry. Mind you, the 49ers are compiling these numbers while utilizing two tight end formations that the team has so eloquently labeled "tank" formations. Rest assured that John York does not do any defense contracting work for the U.S. Government on the side.

Problem #2: The 49ers cannot find a way to stop teams from running on them. The shift to the 3-4 defense means that a team needs strong defensive lineman at the point of attack in order to allow the linebackers to fly around the field and make tackles. The pivotal man in that scenario is the nose tackle, Anthony Adams. While he does an admirable job, he often finds himself being driven off the ball by the center and guard. Isaac Sopoaga, while bigger and stronger than Adams, is raw when it comes to football knowledge. This means that linebackers are often finding themselves trying to fight off blocks, not making tackles. Case in point, in the same game against Tennessee, Chris Brown, the Titan's starting running back, averaged 6.5 yards per carry.

What then, do the 49ers do this week against the Rams? Is all hope lost? Of course not. The 49ers do have some rays of sunshine coming though the NFL-basement boards. Their young secondary looks better than it has in the last four or five years. Plummer, Spencer, Rumph and Parrish look to be a unit that not only plays well now, but has room for improvement. Rookie Derrick Johnson is also a bright spot and he will be needed often against the Rams' three and four wide receiver sets.

Moreover, Tim Rattay seems to be establishing some chemistry between himself and flanker Arnaz Battle. Chemistry is also present with Johnny Morton, something that developed when Rattay was working with the second team. And he already has a season (or half of one depending on how you look at it) with the other starter, Brandon Lloyd. The 49ers should be able to get some aerial yardage with this unit, especially since the Rams' secondary comes in without Jerametrious Butler, who was lost for the season with a torn ligament in his knee.

Can the 49ers win Sunday? Sure they can. They will have to establish their run game, stop Steven Jackson and force the Rams into being a one-dimensional team. Once that happens the linebackers can tee-off on Quarterback Marc Bulger. All the while Tim Rattay has to stay upright and connect with a receiver for a score, or three.

More than likely, though, the 49ers will continue to play as they were throughout the preseason. They will not be able to contain Steven Jackson and when Safety Tony Parrish comes up to support the line, the Rams will throw it down the field into the waiting arms of Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce.

Well, at least the 49ers could still get lucky.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


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