A few pregame notes before heading to the Edward Jones Dome:
• Here’s the story for today’s paper. QB Troy Smith on the 49ers being in hunt for the NFC West title despite a 5-9 record, “This is God’s work.”
• In his past six games against San Francisco, Rams RB Steven Jackson is averaging 3.5 yards a carry and has had one 100-yard game – and that 108-yard performance required 32 carries. Here’s a look at Jackson’s recent history against the Niners:
Nov. 14, 2010 (SF 23, Rams 20, OT): 20 carries, 81 yards
Jan. 3, 2010: (SF 28, Rams 6): 20 carries, 63 yards
Oct. 4, 2009: (SF 35, Rams 0): 23 carries, 79 yards
Dec. 21, 2008 (SF 17, Rams 16): 32 carries, 108 yards
Nov. 18, 2007 (Rams 13, SF 9): 23 carries, 92 yards
Sept. 16, 2007: (SF 17, Rams 16): 21 carries, 60 yards
It will be interesting to see how effectively cast-wearing ILBs Patrick Willis and Takeo Spikes, both playing with broken right hands, can tackle the 233-pound Jackson.
• Jackson ranks third in the NFL with 295 carries and ranks second with 334 touches. But it sounds like he’d like to touch the ball even more today. Here’s a story from the St. Louis Dispatch in which Jackson says, “Let’s go back to old Steven: I think the best player should have the ball.”
Jackson, in his seventh year, is averaging a career-low 3.9 yards a carry this season.
• The Niners rank seventh in the NFL in rushing defense (100.6 yards a game), are allowing 3.5 yards a rush (2nd) and haven’t allowed a 100-yard rusher in 20 games, the longest active streak in the NFL. Pittsburgh is the only other team to not allow a 100-yard rusher this season.
The last running back to gain 100 yards against the Niners was Green Bay’s Ryan Grant, who had 129 yards on 21 carries in the Packers’ 30-24 win on Nov. 22, 2009.
• Two players could make their Niners debut today.
Rookie OLB Thaddeus Gibson, a fourth-round draft pick by the Steelers, is expected to suit up with Travis LaBoy out with a season-ending knee injury. Gibson will likely play on special teams and on some third-down, pass-rushing situations. If Gibson plays, it will mark his NFL debut.
In addition, TE Colin Cloherty could play with rookie Nate Byham (heel) out. Cloherty, who was promoted from the practice squad this week, is an undrafted free agent from Brown. He spent time with the Colts in 2009 as a rookie. He has one catch for two yards in one career game.
• It’s probably safe to assume Troy Smith’s ability to burn the Rams with the deep ball in the Niners’ 23-20 overtime win on Nov. 14 played a role in the decision to start him today. Smith completed five passes of at least 30 yards against a secondary that’s otherwise been adept at preventing big passing plays.
In St. Louis’ other 13 games, it has allowed eight completions of 30 yards or more.
• Ten of Troy Smith’s 66 completions (15 percent) have gained at least 30 yards while 13 of Alex Smith’s 179 completions (7 percent) have covered that distance.
• Rams QB Sam Bradford (307 of 517, 3,065 yards, 17 TDs) is on pace to break Peyton Manning’s rookie record for completions (326) and attempts (575). He is also on pace to finish second behind Manning in yards (3,739) and rank fourth all-time in touchdowns behind Manning (26), Charlie Conerly (22) and Dan Marino (20). Bradford set a rookie record this season by throwing 169 passes without an interception.
• Bradford was named the NFL Rookie of the Month in October and November.
But he can forget about December.
Bradford has thrown five interceptions and 0 TDs in his past three starts while posting a quarterback rating of 51.7. In his first 11 games, Bradford threw 17 TDs and 9 INTs and had a rating of 82.0.
• The Rams rank sixth in the NFL in third-down defense, allowing a 34.7 percent conversion rate.
The Niners were 0 for 11 on third downs in the teams’ first meeting.
• The 60-year-old series between the 49ers and Rams is tied, 60-60-2.
The Rams are 31-30-1 at home against San Francisco.
The 49ers are 30-29-1 at home against St. Louis.