If the San Francisco 49ers are going to make a successful run at a third consecutive Super Bowl title, they have to be able to run.
John Robinson, for one, thinks they're already off and running."A lot of people are trying to do what we did against them earlier, and the 49ers are responding," said Robinson, whose Rams confounded the 49ers with unpredictable defensive setups in a 28-17 victory over San Francisco last month.
"They will try to run the ball the rest of the season, I think. They are a team which just seems to be able to take it up another notch as the playoffs approach."
The 49ers (12-1) try to avenge their only loss of the season when they face the Rams (5-8) tonight at Anaheim Stadium.
San Francisco coach George Seifert said the Rams' defense kept the 49ers off balance in the Nov. 25 meeting.
"They did an excellent job of changing up their defenses from what they had done," he recalled. "By the time we adjusted, we had turned the ball over too much (six times)."
The Rams' different defensive looks knocked the 49ers' passing game out of rhythm and the 49ers were unable to counter with a consistent running game. But San Francisco has been improving in that regard, thanks mostly to the fact that Roger Craig finally seems to be healthy again.
Craig rushed for 97 yards on 21 carries as the 49ers gained 202 yards on the ground in a 20-17 overtime victory over Cincinnati in their last game.
"In the early stages of the season, Roger got hurt and we were not running the ball," Seifert said. "But in the last week or so he's gotten himself on track.
"I don't know if it (the running game) is totally back on track, but we have a certain amount of confidence in it now. We showed signs of improvement, or maybe it was just calling more runs, but either way we were able to get a sense of accomplishment."
The 49ers coach added that the loss to the Rams heightened the concern about the lack of a rushing attack.
"The defense the Rams played was a factor, but had the Rams not done that, we still felt it was something we had to improve," Seifert said.
While Craig is back in form, the 49ers may be without one of their key defensive players, safety Ronnie Lott.
Lott suffered a knee injury against the Bengals and is doubtful for the game against the Rams. He may even face surgery.
"Ronnie's been the heart and soul of the defense," Seifert said. "We have a number of other good players. We've had to play without him in the past, but there's no question he's a catalyst.
"But it's a fact of life. He probably won't play and the other players have to answer the bell."
The only significant change for the Rams for the game appears to be at running back, where Gaston Green will start in front of Cleveland Gary.
Gary, who scored twice in the earlier victory over San Francisco, has had problems hanging onto the ball recently. He has lost at least one fumble in the past four games, including two costly fumbles in the Rams' last game, a 24-20 loss to New Orleans.
"We're going to start Gaston, but Cleveland will play a lot," Robinson said. "We're just trying to take the focus off him (Gary). He's going through a very difficult time.
"I'm hoping to get him back into the rhythm he had before this (the fumbles) happened. He's going to be an outstanding back when he comes through all this."
Gary is the Rams' leading rusher this year, with 702 yards on 179 carries. Green has carried 50 times for 214 yards.
The 49ers will put a couple of streaks on the line - they've won 17 in a row on the road and also have won eight of the last nine meetings at Anaheim Stadium, dating back to 1986.
Even more impressive is Joe Montana's record at Anaheim Stadium, 8-0. He was out for back surgery and Jeff Kemp filled in during that 16-13 loss in 1986.