Here's a little more about the 49ers.
1. I think it's fair to say that the 49ers have surprised a lot of people with their fast start the season. What's been the difference between this year's 49ers team and those from the recent past?
At this point it's probably the development of the defense. The 49ers have had success the last couple years against the run, but this year, the pass rush has taken a huge step forward. They've generated enough of a rush to force the QB to throw a bit faster, or end up on their butt. That helps the secondary in that they don't find themselves running around in coverage for quite as long (usually). However, the secondary has also improved its play, which probably has a little something to do with the improved pass rush, but is also just better play in general from the DBs. The team surprised folks by going with Shawntae Spencer as the #2 corner opposite Nate Clements, but he's had a very solid year thus far.
I'd like to say the offense has helped, but really the offense has struggled in general. One plus is that they have cut down on turnovers as compared to last year. The 49ers killed themselves with turnovers in 2008, and that has been a minimal issue this season. While they're not putting together a ton of solid drives, they're not tripping up on the ones that are actually going somewhere.
2. The 49ers don't pass much; in fact, their basic passing stats (like YPG, TDs, etc.) are almost identical to the Rams. With so much of your offensive success coming from the running game, what adjustments will they make without Frank Gore?
If the coaching staff isn't hiding anything (always possible), it sounds like they might make absolutely no adjustments. They've said they won't change the game plan just because Glen Coffee is going to be starting. The team will be short a running back (none promoted from the practice squad), so I actually think we'll see a bit more passing this game. It seems a bit too stubborn to just keep forcing the run if you potentially have a struggling rookie. Coffee did show some solid signs last week, but we'll see how it plays out with a team game-planning for him. And yet I remain convinced the team will mix it up a little bit more. Look for Isaac Bruce and Vernon Davis to be fixtures of the passing game.
3. Will LT Joe Staley play this weekend?
I'd say more than likely yes. He sat out practice yesterday, but will probably practice a bit today. The practice report hasn't come out yet so we'll see. He left the game on Sunday, but returned a bit later, so hopefully he'll be fine. 49ers fans really want nothing to do with Barry Sims covering the blind side.
4. Obviously, it's easy to discount the Rams, but there's still that any given Sunday factor. What about this match up most concerns you from the 49er perspective?
There are two big concerns. The first is the absence of Frank Gore. Obviously they beat Arizona on the road with a minimal effort from Frank Gore, so that makes me a bit less concerned about that. Glen Coffee has shown some solid skills so I'm kind of excited to see what he can do.
The bigger concern is how the team comes out of the gates on Sunday following such a devastating loss last week. If this was a Nolan coached team I'd say the season is over. However, this could really show us what Mike Singletary brings to the table as motivational coach. He's shown a fiery personality and I don't expect a letdown. However, that was a tough loss last week, so anything is possible. This is definitely the biggest test of Singletary's young coaching career.
5. The 49ers have been stingy in the number of yards they've allowed opposing running backs, even holding the mighty Adrian Peterson to fewer than 100 yards last week. What's working for the run defense?
They've got a swarming defense in general that has displayed an impressive ability to make open-field tackles. The leader of the defense is Patrick Willis and plenty has been said about his abilities. However, one of the lesser known, but still impressive, assets of the defense is the tackling prowess of the secondary. Nate Clements is not the best cover corner in the league, but I'd argue he might be the best open field tackler. Strong Safety Michael Lewis struggles in pass coverage, but he is very good in the run defense. One more lesser known contributor is nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin. He's often taken off the field in passing situations, but he's proven solid in bursting through to tackle ball carriers in the backfield. When the Rams run Steven Jackson, expect to see a variety of 49ers defenders making the stop.
Thanks again to Fooch.