49ers look to get Kaepernick back on track

Published: Thursday, Sep. 26, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Thursday, Sep. 26, 2013 - 4:28 pm

ST. LOUIS – Colin Kaepernick was on a roll.

In his first start at quarterback last season, he and the 49ers put up 32 points and 353 yards of offense in a win against the Chicago Bears. The following week in New Orleans, it was 31 points and 375 yards of offense in a victory over the Saints.

Then they went to St. Louis.

The 49ers scored just 13 points, and Kaepernick's soaring approval rating dipped a bit, too. He was penalized for intentional grounding while in the end zone, which led to a Rams safety, and he turned over the ball on a bad pitch to Ted Ginn, which led to a Rams touchdown.

Both 49ers-Rams games in 2012 went to overtime – the one in St. Louis ending in a 16-13 loss.

Today, Kaepernick and the 49ers return to St. Louis heading in the opposite direction and hoping to jolt their offense – and the season – back on track.

Their past two defensive opponents have drawn up a blueprint for stopping San Francisco's offense: Crowd the line of scrimmage, play press coverage against the 49ers' pass catchers and employ a spy to make sure Kaepernick doesn't scramble out of the pocket.

Kaepernick has had the two lowest passer ratings – 20.1 and 49.9 – of his career in recent weeks, and the 49ers have mustered only 10 points in the past two games.

Rams cornerback Cortland Finnegan hinted that St. Louis expects the 49ers to help Kaepernick out of his funk by returning to what he highlighted as the foundation of their offense, the running game.

That ground attack seemed to be working Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts. Tailback Frank Gore rushed for 70 yards in the first half. But he had only three carries – all coming on the 49ers' first drive in the third quarter – in the second half for 12 yards. Finnegan was asked if the 49ers' reluctance to run surprised him.

"I'm not the (offensive coordinator)," he said with a laugh. "I don't know if I was surprised or I wasn't surprised. … I know they can run the ball exceptionally well with Frank and (Kendall) Hunter and what they have behind their offensive line."

The 49ers have other options as well.

Vernon Davis returned to practice this week after missing Sunday's game because of a sore hamstring.

The tight end has been the team's best deep threat this season, averaging 13.1 yards a catch. His presence also would take pressure off receiver Anquan Boldin – who's been kept in check since his Week 1 breakout – on short and intermediate routes.

Running back LaMichael James said he is at full strength after missing the first three weeks because of a knee strain.

James, the team's fastest tailback, is unlikely to supplant Hunter as Gore's top backup. But he is more at home in the read-option attack than Gore and Hunter, and at the very least he might spark the 49ers' moribund kick-return game like he did a year ago.

Offensive coordinator Greg Roman said James would be a game-time decision.

The 49ers' coaches also have suggested wideout Jon Baldwin, who was acquired from the Chiefs last month for A.J. Jenkins, could see his first action of the season. Baldwin has better size – 6-foot-4, 230 pounds – than the team's current No. 2 receiver, Kyle Williams. Baldwin also has speed to stretch defenses downfield.

Baldwin, however, seemed to be working more with the scout-team offense in practice this week, which usually is a sign a player will not have a big role on game day.

Roman, meanwhile, suggested the solutions had more to do with precision than personnel.

"I think it's more of a function of staying on the field and having an opportunity to get into a rhythm or call those plays," he said. "… We've got to do a better job of extending drives, making first downs and creating opportunities for ourselves to get into a flow, get into a rhythm. When we do that, we're pretty good. But right now, the past couple games, we have not been."

Read Matthew Barrows' blogs at www.sacbee.com/sf49ers and listen for his reports Tuesdays on ESPN Radio 1320.

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