49ers May Need Coffee To Get Through Rams Game, But Their Fans Shouldn't

Michael ErlerCorrespondent IOctober 4, 2009

SAN DIEGO - SEPTEMBER 04:  Running back Glen Coffee #29 of the San Francisco 49ers carries the ball against the San Diego Chargers on September 4, 2009 at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Since Mike Singletary has taken over the coaching duties for your San Francisco 49ers, a lot of verbal bouquets have been thrown his way, from both the local and national media.

The flattery has come from all fronts; from the Ken Doll talking heads, the more-jaded-than-you'll-ever-know beat writers, heck even our omnipresent snarky blogger community -- where protocol dictates that we throw around compliments about as often as we change our boxers -- has been surprisingly supportive.

Yet for all the praise Singletary has received (a team source revealed to me he even turned down a Rolling Stone cover story), no piece of prose will ever be more elegant or sincere than this:

St. Louis at San Francisco, 4:15 PM ET, SF -10.

To the non-degenerates out there, that means the folks at Las Vegas, who know a little bit about this sort of thing, hold the home team as ten point favorites tomorrow despite the facts that 1) the 49ers have been terrible since 2003 and 2) they'll be without the services of their best offensive player, running back Frank Gore.

To the layman or casual fan this may seem more like pregame minutiae than life-altering information, but in this age of salary cap induced parity ten points is an awful lot to favor one team over the other. Consider that only one point spread across the league is larger on Sunday and the quarterback match-up in that one is Peyton Manning v. Seneca Wallace.

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So what does this mean, you're asking.

Two words: Homecoming Game.

I know that we in the Bay Area don't put a lot of time or effort into college ball, and to anyone who would dispute that I offer a half-empty Stanford Stadium while Toby Gerhart and the Cardinal were sledgehammering UCLA as exhibit A and USC's walk-in-the-park win at the completely lifeless Memorial Stadium as exhibit B.

For the rest of the country though, homecoming games are a delightful tradition. Teams schedule some directional school patsy such as Northwest Idaho A&M, Southeast Alaska State, or Northsouth West Virginia Tech and use the whole day to drink, picnic, watch the fourth-string tailback get some playing time.

Not only is it a pleasant enough excuse to throw a parade, complete with the band and the homecoming queen and the whole bit, but it's a guaranteed non-competitive win on the ol' sked, and coaches simply adore those.

The Niners have been Homecoming opponents for plenty of teams these past few seasons, but back in their heyday, during the Walsh-Montana-Rice years, just about everyone in the league was Homecoming fodder for them except for the New York Giants, and maybe Singletary's Chicago Bears.

It wasn't a question of whether San Francisco would win that Sunday, but rather by how many, and seldom was that number in the single digits.

Throughout the whole week Singletary and his players have been saying the appropriate things about respecting the Rams, about not being good enough to look past anyone, and the usual "any given Sunday" rhetoric, and perhaps some of them are even being honest.

And yes, it would be unseemly for a team that just lost the week before and have been league doormats for so long to come into any game spouting bulletin-board material.

None of that changes the basic truth - the Rams are absolutely horrid.

They stink on offense, stink worse on defense and are in worse shape, injury-wise, than San Francisco, coming into the game without starting quarterback Marc Bulger, leading receiver Laurent Robinson, safety James Butler, and first round pick right tackle Jason Smith. 

Yes, technically the Niners are missing their first round pick too, but shut up about that already.

The drama in this game is in which of two ways the Niners will play it, the boring way or the smart way.

The boring way is to do what they've been doing, ram sacrificial running back du jour Glen Coffee into the teeth of St. Louis' defense 30 times for 70 yards, have quarterback Shaun Hill complete a couple of timely passes and walk off the field with a perfectly ho-hum 17-10 W.

Such a course of action will look nice enough in the standings the next day but will not teach the coaches anything new about Hill or his receivers, and moreover it will not give future opponents anything to learn about them.

The smart way to go about it, on the other hand, is to use this game for some grander purpose than simply putting the third win in their back pockets.

It's time to dust the cobwebs off Jimmy Raye's playbook, experiment, and use the Rams as guinea pigs.

Let Hill dictate the offense from a no-huddle attack and call his own plays. Activate receivers Jason Hill and Brandon Jones and see what they can do. Call a reverse, a double reverse, and a flea flicker -- in succession. See what running back Michael Robinson and receiver Arnaz Battle, who both played quarterback in college, get their shot at the Wildcat. 

The frivolity doesn't have to be limited to just the offense either. Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky should blitz Rams backup Kyle Boller from all angles, with five, six, seven rushers barging in. He should dial up zone blitzes, safety blitzes, even Madden '10 "nano blitzes" whatever the hell they are.  

Special teams coordinator Al Everest should try a fake field goal, a fake punt, and a fake onsides kick, just to freak everyone out.

Obviously not every wacky idea listed above will work, not even against the lowly Rams, but as the saying goes, sometimes the beauty is in the attempt.

The point isn't to light up the scoreboard or to delight the masses (although considering that the game was almost blacked out, that wouldn't be a bad idea), rather it's to give opposing coaches something to think about.

Singletary and his coaches should call every single thing they can possibly think of, even stuff they no intention of ever calling again -- especially stuff they have no intention of calling again - just to put it on film. Make other teams prepare for something besides runs up the middle.

Along the way if they discover a thing or two about Hill or his receivers, all the better.

Better teams than the Rams are on the schedule and they're coming soon. This three-yards-and-a-pile-of-lame offense will only be so effective.

Singletary's proven that he's got a team that can outslug their foes. Now let's see if they can outsmart them as well.


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