ST. LOUIS (AP) -Frank Gore romped through the St. Louis Rams' defense for 261 yards in two games last season.
Judging by the Rams' shaky debut against the run, reflecting no improvement, the San Francisco 49ers' running back might just be anticipating another big day.
The Rams' run defense ranked at the bottom of the NFL last year, and couldn't stop the less-heralded Carolina Panthers duo of DeShaun Foster and DeAngelo Williams in the season opener, yielding 186 yards rushing. Now St. Louis faces a back who ranked second in the NFL in rushing and receiving yards in 2006 behind the Rams' Steven Jackson.
``I think we're going to be better,'' St. Louis defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said. ``We'll find out.''
Haslett's optimism is eerily similar to his comments from last year, when he kept anticipating improvement but never saw it, and remarkably reminiscent of former Rams coach Mike Martz when things went wrong.
``We can fix that,'' Haslett said. ``It's just being disciplined, holding your gap responsibility, and we didn't do a good job of it.
``Guys are held accountable and they know it, and we'll fix it.''
Gore set a franchise record with 1,695 yards rushing and 485 receiving last year for San Francisco, and two of his nine 100-yard games came against the Rams. They might not get him at full strength after Gore missed the preseason with a broken hand and then showed signs of rust in the opener, totaling 55 yards and a touchdown in a victory over the Cardinals.
Then again, Arizona has had success against Gore, twice holding him below 100 yards last season. The Rams, on the other hand, also surrendered 100-yard games to Mike Bell, Noah Herron, Maurice Morris and Ladell Betts in 2006.
``When I get out there, I'm just going to try my best to do everything like it's my last and just go out there and have fun,'' said Gore, who intends to play despite the death of his mother Thursday. ``I can't think about last year. Last year is gone. They have new players.''
The Rams added first-round pick Adam Carriker and end James Hall, but gave up 4.9 yards per rush against the Panthers. Four players had gains over 10 yards against St. Louis, thriving mostly when they bounced the play outside but finding holes everywhere when the Rams abandoned their gap responsibilities - also the problem last year.
``Same exact stuff,'' end Leonard Little said. ``It's not what teams do to us, it's what we do to ourselves.''
The 49ers' offense was puny in the opener, mustering only 194 total yards. Only one of the first 11 possessions went longer than 21 yards and there were three consecutive three-and-outs before mounting a 12-play, 86-yard drive for the winning touchdown in the final three minutes.
That could have something to do with Nolan's hesitation to expect success in the ground game.
``I'm better at talking about our unit than I am the other team with respect to that,'' Nolan said. ``I know Haslett is an outstanding coordinator. Any issues they had last year, I'm certain that he'll get them rectified this year.''
The Rams have an equally big issue on offense replacing seven-time Pro Bowl tackle Orlando Pace. Alex Barron, a No. 1 pick in 2005, will move to the left side in a series of shuffles that'll leave St. Louis with only two opening-day starters in their original spot.
Guard Richie Incognito is likely to miss his second straight game with a high ankle sprain, an injury he aggravated late last week.
``I have confidence in these guys,'' quarterback Marc Bulger said. ``They're not rookies stepping in. I'm sure there are going to be mistakes, but I make mistakes, receivers make mistakes.''
Jackson was held to 58 yards on 18 carries in the opener and made two of the biggest errors, losing fumbles on consecutive carries in the third quarter. He lost two fumbles all last season.
``He's a great player, and when great players have a game like that, they come back and play great,'' Linehan said. ``That's what we expect.''
These issues negate the normal advantage for the Rams, who got one more day to prepare because the 49ers opened on Monday night. Nolan said the fact it was the first game will make bouncing back a lot easier.
``A lot of the bumps and bruises when you play a Monday night game later in the season, it hangs with you a little longer,'' Nolan said. ``But I don't put much in it.''

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