49ers are the model for teams like Rams

Sunday, November 11, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO -- Jeff Fisher and his St. Louis Rams consider San Francisco the blueprint for what so many NFL teams would love to be.

From a multi-faceted, creative offense and dominant, shut-down defense to spot on special teams, and a coach who motivates in his own unique way to make a group go, the 49ers sure look to be rolling right toward another special January playoff run.

Hold all the praise, please. Jim Harbaugh doesn't want to hear any of it -- and nobody on his team much cares to, either. It's still early November, after all, and Harbaugh has said it's not until well into December he truly takes stock of his team's chances.

"We'd rather probably just try to kick them in the shins when people are saying things like that," Harbaugh said.

His NFC West-leading Niners (6-2) will get that very chance today at Candlestick Park against the Rams (3-5). Both teams are returning from bye weeks, but with San Francisco striving to maintain momentum from a strong first half and St. Louis looking to snap a three-game losing streak and rebound from a 45-7 loss to the New England Patriots in London.

The Rams had a long flight home to think about that one -- and then an entire bye week to ponder what went wrong.

"Obviously, the game against New England was an embarrassment," linebacker James Laurinaitis said. "When you have that feeling in your gut from playing a game like that, you're just anxious to get out there to the next game. You can't move on to the next one fast enough. That's the way a lot of us feel. You always want to forget about the past. When you have a long bye week to think about the same game, it kind of gets under your skin a little bit."

The 49ers, meanwhile, are eager to get back on the field and find the same second-half swagger that carried them all the way to the NFC championship game last season -- and oh so close to a Super Bowl after a 20-17 overtime loss to the eventual champion New York Giants.

These guys are already beginning to get the questions about where they might wind up in the NFC in terms of playoff seeding.

"We haven't talked about it. We've talked about putting ourself in a good position against the division teams," cornerback Carlos Rogers said. "Where we fall in the playoffs, we fall. It doesn't matter."

San Francisco has beaten Seattle and Arizona in its two previous games, and now St. Louis is next in an NFC West that has made significant strides since the 49ers quickly ran away with the division a year ago.

The Rams realize they will have to make their share of game-changing plays to have a chance against one of the NFL's hottest teams in a hostile environment.

"They're a blueprint for what you want to be as a football team," Laurinaitis said. "They take the ball away extremely well and they don't give it away. Any time you do that consistently like that, it's going to be a recipe for success."

Quarterback Alex Smith and San Francisco's offense are not known to be sloppy with the ball. Smith has said he would rather take a sack than throw an interception.

He is coming off one of his best performances since the Niners selected him No. 1 overall out of Utah in the 2005 draft.

Smith completed 18 of 19 passes for 232 yards and three touchdowns without an interception in a 24-3 road rout of the Cardinals on Monday Night Football on Oct. 29. His passer rating was 157.1.

He connected with nine different receivers and went 14 of 15 for 146 yards and two touchdowns in the first half alone.

Running back Frank Gore loves how well-rounded the offense has become.

"You see some other teams where one or two guys have so many big stats. This offense, it's different," Gore said. "[Michael] Crabtree gets the rock. Vernon [Davis] gets some. Mario [Manningham]. Me. So there's much talent out there. That helps us as a team, but it hurts people's fantasy teams."

That versatility presents a difficult task when it comes to game-planning a defensive scheme to stop San Francisco.

"With the exception of the Niners, offensively, the remaining three of us are quite a ways behind," Fisher said about the West. "It's no surprise to me that they were able to accomplish what they accomplished last year and what's ahead of them this year. They're 100 percent healthy at halftime, and they're in position to make the run that they're expected to make."

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