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Niner Exploitation

Update [2007-9-14 14:41:38 by VanRam]:As I posted this, I read in the comments the news from jroman that Tye Hill is out for 4-6 weeks because of an injury sustained in practice yesterday. Needless to say, this sucks, and is yet another example of how Brown's personal screw up winds up hurting the team more than anything. Shit. Shit. Shit. You can always make the argument that it might not matter anyway, given Hill's poor showing last week. Still, it hurts the depth at a position the Rams were already shallow at. The practice squad guys better step up in a big, big way, hopefully they're thinking of the contracts in their future if they fill in capably enough. At the very least, it's a sign that the team was practicing with some intensity.[end update]

I missed the San Francisco game last Monday, but I've been pouring over the recaps to try and get a feel for just what it is the Rams will be dealing with this week. Had I been able to see the game, the TV would have had to have been on mute so that I didn't have to listen to Mike and Mike - oh the tediousness! Seriously, where does ESPN find these guys...

Anyway, on with a look back at SF's week one and the potential for the Rams in week two.

Defense

SF's defense had a solid game all around, but it was the backfield that really shined. Cornerbacks Nate Clements and Walt Harris kept Arizona's two very talented receivers, Fitzgerald and Bouldin, mostly off the board, save for a Bouldin TD, and held Arizona to less than 100 yards in the air. Obviously, that's huge and, given the less than impressive passing game the Rams employed last week, a bit troublesome. However, it sounds like Bennett's back this week and with McMichael and Jackson or even Leonard well able to catch passes in the middle, Bulger should have plenty of targets with Harris and Clements busy covering Holt and Bruce. Providing of course that the patch work O-line can protect him.

The good news for the Ramshackle O-line is that SF sacked Matt Leinart just once. In their game grades, the SF Chronicle cites problems for the Niners' lack of an effective pass rush. The Rams will absolutely have to take advantage of that to put points on the board, preferably lots of them, and open things up a bit for Steven Jackson. Our line may be piecemeal now, but Arizona's line, while improved over last year, is politely described as nothing special. Edge James rushed for 92 yards and Arizona put up a total of 162 yards and a TD on the ground. San Francisco's defensive line should be pretty good match up for SJ.

In the middle, the San Francisco linebackers, particularly rookie Patrick Willis, shined. Willis has 11 tackles through one game this season. An effective Rams passing game should help throw a little confusion into the young SF linebacker corps, ideally allowing Steven Jackson to run around the linebackers - last year teams had success running to the right side against SF - who'll be busy keeping an eye out for McMichael or Bennett or someone else, maybe Leonard as a pass catching decoy, to catch passes in the middle of the field.

Around the league there was all kinds of talk about first team offenses sputtering after a preseason that saw little to no action for marquee offensive players. (I have to think that factor was at work with the Rams, particularly Steven Jackson.) The 49ers certainly experienced some of that, as Frank Gore just 55 yards rushing (and a TD) and Alex Smith passed for just 102 yards against a much improved but still Arizona Cardinals defense.

Offense

Before we talk about the run defense, yet again, let's point out that Arizona sacked Smith 3 times, as the young QB struggled a little in the pocket. Leonard Little should take this opportunity to shine, especially in light of the fact that the SF offensive line not only did a poor job of pass blocking but only helped Pro Bowler Frank Gore to a measly 3.1 yards per carry. Haslett ought to be pleased about the opportunity to bring the rush.

Of course, why would SF pass at all against the Rams when Frank Gore has enjoyed nothing but success against us? Hopefully, the Rams will get some help from the SF o-line, but it's probably not wise to go in counting on that and that alone. Gore himself may have been suffering from a little of the same rust from sitting out during the preseason that Jackson dealt with; however, Gore sat out because of a broken hand. Could that have been a factor? Here's the Niners' take on it from Fooch over at Niners Nation:

Aside from th 21 yard reception he had, Frank Gore seemed to struggle receiving the ball out of the backfield.  Maybe it's the hand, maybe not.  Thoughts?  I'm not sure if there is blame to be handed out to the line for his poor rushing performance, or if he was also shaking off a little rust.  At times he shot into the holes, other times he couldn't get more than a couple yards.

Whether the Niners continue to struggle on offense or not, the Rams defense will need to regroup and focus as a unit. Carriker looked like a force early on in the game, and if the offense can keep the defense from having to be on the field for a majority of the time, then they could realize some success here and have some serious momentum to build on for the rest of the season.

The short week and a road game for the 49ers could also factor into the week two forecast.

Either way, it's pure understatement to say that the Rams need to even their record at 1-1 this week. A win over a division up and comer would make it even sweeter.