Maiocco: 49ers-St. Louis matchups to watch

Maiocco: 49ers-St. Louis matchups to watch
December 24, 2010, 4:59 pm
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Dec. 24, 2010MAIOCCO ARCHIVE49ERS PAGE 49ERS VIDEOMatt MaioccoCSNBayArea.comThe 49ers would've been eliminated from playoff contention a long time ago if it weren't for their overtime victory against the St. Louis Rams on Nov. 14 at Candlestick Park.Now, the 49ers need a second win against their longtime NFC West foe -- this time in St. Louis -- to still have playoff hopes entering the final week of the regular season.Coach Mike Singletary decided on Troy Smith over captain Alex Smith to start the franchise's most important game in eight seasons, as the 49ers look to recapture the offensive spark that ignited the club last month.NEWS: Singletary: 49ers to start Troy Smith vs. Rams
Before looking ahead to Sunday, let's take a peek back at the 49ers' 23-20 win against the Rams:--Troy Smith completed 17 of 28 passes for 356 yards and one touchdown. Six different receivers caught at least 60 yards in passes. That's the first time that had occurred in 49ers history. Running back Frank Gore had 87 yards on 22 rushing attempts, including 33 yards on the 49ers' five-play drive in overtime to set up Joe Nedney's winning kick. Neither Gore (hip) nor Nedney (knee) is available for the rest of this season after being placed on injured reserve.--Rams rookie quarterback Sam Bradford completed 30 of 42 passes for 251 yards and a touchdown. After the 49ers took a three-point lead late in the game, he rallied the Rams back into position to win the game. Tight end Daniel Fells dropped a pass inside the 5-yard line with :30 remaining that likely would've won the game. The Rams settled for the game-tying field goal to push the game into overtime.--It was nearly miraculous that the 49ers did not lose the game in regulation. After all, down by four points with 2:30 remaining, the 49ers were faced with a third-and-32 situation. Smith completed a pass to Gore for 14 yards. Then, on fourth-and-18, the pair hooked up again for 23 yards. Smith then threw a 16-yard touchdown pass to Michael Crabtree. Earlier in the game, the 49ers had three touchdowns nullified by penalties.--Neither team committed a turnover, but both struggled on third downs. The Rams converted two of 14 (14 percent), while the 49ers were a ghastly 0-for-11. MATCHUP TO WATCH
49ers right tackle Anthony Davis (76) vs. Rams defensive end Chris Long (72)
TALE OF THE TAPE
Davis: 6-5, 323, Rutgers, rookie
Long: 6-3, 276, Virginia, third seasonGenerally, Davis has played well at home and struggled on the road.But five weeks ago, Davis had a difficult time at Candlestick Park against third-year defensive end Chris Long. And, now, he must face the Rams in their domed stadium.Long recorded one sack, two tackles for losses, two quarterback hits and one pass defensed when the teams met in Week 10. Davis was beaten in pass protection several times. His holding penalty on Long nullified a touchdown pass.But Davis held his own in the final minutes when he supplied good one-on-one protection against Long, giving Troy Smith enough time to find Crabtree on a 16-yard game-tying touchdown pass."He's a good football player," Davis said. "Everybody's quick and strong and fast, so you can't really say that's what makes him good."Chris Long, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2008 draft, recorded nine sacks in his first 32 games. This season, he leads the Rams with 7.5 sacks."The thing Chris had to deal with a little was a change in systems his second year. That's always difficult for anybody at any position, depending on whether the change is a drastic change or not," Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo said."But from when we've been here with Chris and the growth we've seen, we've been very happy with him. He's had some quality plays for us. He has a high motor. I love having him on our football team." Other matchups worth watching
49ers nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin (92) vs. Rams center Jason Brown (60) -- Franklin is going to be key for the 49ers to slow down Rams running back Steven Jackson. Because inside linebacker Patrick Willis and Takeo Spikes are playing with broken right hands, it's difficult for them to shed blocks. Therefore, it is imperative that Franklin is able to tie up double-teams and keep blockers off Willis and Spikes. It's difficult enough for linebackers to tackle Jackson with two good hands. But if Willis and Spikes have to take on blockers and try to stop Jackson at the same time, there could be more missed tackles than usual. Brown is a 328-pound center who came to the Rams two years ago as a free agent from the Baltimore Ravens. He and Franklin know each other from their time together with the Ravens. Brown has started 74 consecutive games, and is a major reason the Rams average 105.1 yards rushing per game.VIDEO: Patrick Willis, Takeo Spikes practice with bandaged hands

49ers quarterback Troy Smith (1) vs. Rams free safety Oshmiomogho Atogwe (21) -- When Smith thrived in his first two games as a 49ers starter he made plays against man coverage when defenders had their backs turned. That element seemed to surprise the Rams. Smith is best when he is able to use play-action. But without Gore, the 49ers do not have that same kind of run threat with the combination of Brian Westbrook and Anthony Dixon in the backfield. That probably will not prevent Smith from taking some chances down the field. Atogwe has 20 interceptions for the Rams over the past five seasons, and he might have an opportunity to make some plays in the secondary. If Atogwe has a good game, he might force his future father-in-law, Mike Singletary, to consider a switch back to Alex Smith.