Mike Singletary of San Francisco and Jim Haslett of St. Louis each inherited somebody else’s mess, stepping in for fired head coaches in midstream. Both are trying to show enough to their respective owners to be retained as head coaches in 2009 and beyond. Haslett, in particular, is in dire straits with the woebegone Rams. His squad is in the midst of an eight-game losing streak including a wrenching 23-20 loss to Seattle last week.
Isaac Bruce was the last of the L.A. Rams in St. Louis and the first star player for the franchise once it moved to the Midwest. The 49ers wide receiver returns to the Edward Jones Dome for the first time since being released by the Rams last offseason. Bruce needs just six catches to become the fourth player in NFL history with 1,000 career catches; and with just 60 receiving yards against his old club, he’ll move into second place in career receiving yards, trailing only Jerry Rice. How ironic that he could reach both milestones against his old club.
OK, they may not catch Detroit for the No. 1 overall pick, but at 2-12, the Rams have a bead on the No. 2 overall selection in the draft for the second straight year. Make no mistake, with the season already down the toilet, some Rams fans would just as soon see the team lose Sunday, as well as Dec. 28 in Atlanta, to get the highest pick possible in April.
49ers Keys For Success
1. Grind it out. It will be tempting for offensive coordinator Mike Martz to take to the air in the building where he created the Greatest Show on Turf, especially against a suspect Rams defense. But the best teams in the league prove they can control the game on the ground. That’s something Martz — who called 22 straight passes at the end of the game in Miami — has yet to show he can do.
2. Don’t give up anything deep. The 49ers made only one catastrophic defensive blunder in Miami when safety Mark Roman allowed tight end David Martin to get behind him for a 61-yard touchdown. In fact, many of the team’s losses have played out in a similar fashion — the 49ers give up a big touchdown on defense and their methodical offense can’t keep pace.
3. Better starting spots. The 49ers’ average starting position in Miami was at their own 19. That’s in part because the team was without their top three punt returners, Allen Rossum, Arnaz Battle and Nate Clements. Instead they had to rely on Dominique Zeigler, whose last punt return was in high school. The 49ers need Rossum (ankle) back in order to start winning the field-position battle once again.
Rams Keys For Success
1. Keep them guessing. The Rams came out with a creative defensive game plan against Seattle, with heavy blitzing and almost routine use of a three-man front. Whether it’s that alignment, or something different, the Rams don’t have enough talent on defense to be predictable. Even with a so-so offense like San Francisco, the Rams need to keep the 49ers off balance.
2. Reduce the turnovers. When does it stop? During their eight-game losing streak, the Rams have committed 24 turnovers. That’s more than 20 NFL teams have committed ALL season. Worse yet, Rams turnovers lately have been leading directly to touchdowns. Against Seattle, Derek Stanley’s fumble was returned for a TD by the Seahawks, making it the third defensive TD scored against the Rams in the past two games.
3. Stop the run. Even with pass-happy offensive coordinator Mike Martz, the 49ers are a different team when they’re one-dimensional. The Rams have done a better job on run defense the past two Sundays, and need to continue that to have any chance of snapping their long losing skid.
The Bottom Line
If the Rams couldn’t beat a Seattle team without quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, left tackle Walter Jones, and linebacker Leroy Hill, it’s hard to imagine them beating an improving San Francisco team that is playing very good defense lately under Coach Singletary.
Scoring prediction: 49ers 24 – Rams 16