Injuries have forced the Rams to manufacture makeshift defensive units, but that means nothing to San Francisco 49er wide receiver Jerry Rice.
The most valuable player in last year's Super Bowl and the NFL's only unanimous all-pro pick this season doesn't care who will or won't be playing for the Rams in today's NFC title game at Candlestick Park. All that matters to him is that he will be there, and he intends to make the Rams well aware of his presence.
Rice, who scored on touchdown pass plays of 72 and 13 yards last Sunday in San Francisco's 41-13 rout of the Vikings, said the 49ers don't plan to exploit any single specific weakness in the Rams' defense. And he doesn't expect the Rams to concentrate solely on him, because of the 49ers' many scoring threats.
"They'll try to keep us from making big plays because we're a big-play team," he said.
But can they stop Rice, who led the NFL this season with 17 touchdown receptions and 1,483 yards receiving--his fourth consecutive season of 1,000 or more yards receiving?
"I don't think so," Rice said, smiling. "Whenever I get a chance, that's my job, to make a big play. I'm looking forward to this (game)."
Playing the Rams is a familiar task for Rice, who did not catch a scoring pass in either of the 49ers' games against the Rams this season. He had only two catches for 36 yards in the Rams' 13-12 victory Oct. 1 at San Francisco and five for 38 yards in the 49ers' 30-27 comeback victory Dec. 11 at Anaheim Stadium.
Although he didn't score in the second game, he did draw double coverage, leaving John Taylor wide open for touchdown pass plays of 92 and 95 yards.
"They've got to respect John," Rice said. "You can't play that guy one on one. If they try to focus on me, someone is going to be one on one with him and he's going to get into the end zone.
"They might still come out and say, 'We've got to double cover Jerry Rice. We're not going to let him beat us,' but I think they've got to respect John."
Rice shrugged off questions about how the Rams' defense will line up and the 49ers' plans to foil their strategies.
He said only that he expects to see a defense "like a man to man. . . . they're going to roll through my side with one guy coming up in my face and one guy behind. They're not going to leave the middle wide open."
But he wouldn't discuss the 49ers' plans to counter that, contending that the 49ers are more concerned about themselves than about their opponents' possible defensive schemes.
"We're not going to focus in on the Rams," he said. "The thing we'll try to key on is what we're going to do in certain situations. We're just going to play 49er football. We've got to be ready mentally and physically, that's the key for us.
"I don't look at who's injured or who's not injured. We're just going to go out and try to establish ourselves and get into the end zone. I'm not out to compete against (Henry) Ellard and (Flipper) Anderson. My job is to help this team.
"The thing about this is, I had a feeling it would come out this way. The Rams are a great football team and we are also. The team that goes out and plays the better game is going to win the football game Sunday."
He made it clear that he considers the 49ers the better team.
"We've got a lot of guys who make big plays, the best quarterback in the league, and John Taylor and I complement each other very well," he said.
Most compliments directed at Rice are for his speed--he lost 15 pounds last summer, improving his acceleration--but he says he is strong in every area.
"Most of my touchdowns were on long passing routes and I wanted to be able to catch underneath, those five-yard passes, too," he said. "I also block. I think I'm a complete receiver. I feel real good about the situation now."
So good that he simply doesn't care who he goes against today.
"It makes no difference if (cornerback) Jerry Gray plays," Rice said. "Either way, I'll be ready. They'd better be ready."