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Patrick Willis, 49ers' defense must take away big plays by St. Louis

The 3-5 St. Louis Rams may not seem like they'll be any trouble for the Niners' stout defense, but in the NFL, things aren't always what they seem.

Thearon W. Henderson

Coming off a bye week, the San Francisco 49ers will be rested and healthy, and that's a good thing going into the division home game against the St. Louis Rams on Sunday.

Though it may not seem like it, the 49ers' No. 1 ranked defense will have its hands full with the likes of Sam Bradford and the rest of the Rams' offense. Their numbers are unimpressive -- 210.2 yards passing, 106.2 yards rushing, 316.5 total yards and 17.1 points per game -- and likely won't scare any defense, let alone the Niners.

But it only takes a look back to the 24-13 loss against the Minnesota Vikings to see that they can't underestimate any team, and that playmakers don't necessarily have to have their best games in order to contribute to a team win. In that game, Adrian Peterson was held to a pedestrian 86 yards on the ground on 25 carries, good for a 3.4 yards per carry average and held without a score.

It was big plays and a failure to capitalize in the red zone that sealed San Francisco's fate in that game, and the potential for the same to happen against a motivated division rival is there.

It's not likely though. The Niners need to take care of business and bottle up the running game first, as they have done throughout the year allowing 87.4 yards per contest. At that point, making Bradford one-dimensional will play right into their hands. The only real trap for the defense is to give up a big play that costs them momentum.

St. Louis is a middle-of-the-road team defensively in all major categories, and the Niners should be able to run on them as they have everyone else, especially at home. Frank Gore's leadership continues to inspire, and he and quarterback Alex Smith should have their way with the Rams' defense at The Stick.

Defense wins championships, and San Francisco has hung its hat on playing the nasty, stifling variety. The only thing that can stop this game from getting out of hand is a failure to prepare. With a bye week and a coach like Jim Harbaugh, it's safe to say that the Niners will be up to the task of taking care of yet another division foe and move to 7-2.