Rams Back on Track?

After a promising start, the San Francisco 49ers have plummeted to the second-worst record in the NFC. Only St. Louis has been worse, but even the Rams have shown signs of improvement lately.

Coming off their first victory of the season, the Rams look to send the 49ers to their eighth straight defeat when the NFC West rivals meet in San Francisco on Sunday.

Oddsmakers from Bodog have made St. Louis -3 point spread favorites (View NFL Football odds) for Sunday's game, the over/under has been set at 39.5 total points (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 81% of bets for this game have been placed on St. Louis -3 (View NFL Football bet percentages).

The 49ers (2-7) won their first two games before losing seven straight for the third time in four seasons. They're trying to avoid just their second eight-game skid since 1980 - they dropped eight in a row during their 4-12 season of 1999.

Meanwhile, the Rams (1-8) just snapped their own eight-game skid with a 37-29 victory at New Orleans last Sunday, ending the franchise's longest winless start in its 70-year history. St. Louis coach Scott Linehan hopes that's just the beginning of his team's turnaround.

"You start making your shot and the rim gets bigger and bigger," he said. "The same thing happens in football."

Linehan's club trailed 7-0 Sunday before scoring 34 consecutive points en route to beating New Orleans, which had won four in a row. Quarterback Marc Bulger and running back Steven Jackson, each of whom has been sidelined for part of the season by injuries, delivered strong performances in the Rams' first game after their bye week.

Bulger, who missed two games last month with broken ribs, was 27-for-33 for 302 yards and two touchdowns. Jackson, playing in just his fifth game because of a groin injury, ran for 76 yards and a score and threw the first touchdown pass of his career.

The resurgence of two key offensive players led to the Rams' best offensive game of the season with 409 total yards - a development that has Linehan excited about a much-improved second half of the season.

"It's what it is, it's one win. We've still got the record we have," said Linehan, whose team has scored 57 points in its last two games after totaling 79 in its first seven. "But it does give us confidence in that we're treating this as a second season for us, an eight-game season."

San Francisco could use an offensive boost of its own. The 49ers were shut out for the first time this season on Monday night, falling 24-0 at Seattle. They had fewer than 200 total yards for the fifth time this season and recorded only six first downs for the second time this season - the only two times it's happened since 1963.

"Despite our struggles, we had opportunities to make plays in the game," said San Francisco coach Mike Nolan, whose team ranks last in the NFL with 1,967 total yards and 11.6 points per game - the lowest scoring average in franchise history. "We're not very efficient on the offensive side of the ball."

Part of San Francisco's offensive woes can be traced to quarterback Alex Smith, who hasn't lived up to expectations since the Niners took him with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 draft. He was 12-for-28 on Monday, and has completed just 29 of 66 passes with three interceptions and no touchdowns in his last two games. The 49ers average a league-worst 128.4 passing yards.

Smith admitted Wednesday that his recently separated right shoulder and a chronically strained forearm have contributed to his recent poor play.

"Without a doubt, I'm not throwing the same way I was the first three weeks, and last year," Smith said before sitting out part of practice to rest his forearm. "Trying to play through this is hard. ... I chose to go out there and play, thought I could, thought it would get better as the weeks go on, and it hasn't."

Smith's ineffectiveness has neutralized other offensive weapons like tight end Vernon Davis and wide receiver Darrell Jackson, each of whom had one catch for four yards in Monday's loss.

"I ain't the play-caller," Jackson said. "All I can do is keep fighting, make targets for the quarterback, make it easy for him to throw it. ... I can't put my finger on it. I don't want to be politically incorrect."

Frank Gore, who set a franchise record with 1,695 yards while rushing for at least 100 yards nine times last season, hasn't reached the century mark yet this year. He hasn't scored a touchdown since Sept. 16, when he ran for two scores to help the Niners overcome a 392-186 total offensive yardage discrepancy to beat the Rams 17-16.

Since then, the Niners have been outscored 177-67 while matching their seven-game skid from Nov. 6-Dec. 18, 2005. They ended that losing streak with a 24-20 win over St. Louis.

The 49ers have won four of five against the Rams, but all five of those games were decided by seven points or fewer.

Gore has six touchdowns and two 100-yard games in five career contests against the Rams.

By: Staff Writers - Email Us

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