Around the NFC West: 49ers gearing up

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says the 49ers face a tough matchup against the Chargers on Thursday night. Maiocco on the matchup between 49ers left tackle Barry Sims and Chargers linebacker Shaun Phillips: "Sims will make his fifth start after taking over for Joe Staley, who is out with a broken fibula. Sims has generally fared well in pass protection, but he has yet to face a threat like Phillips, who has recorded 10 sacks on the season. Sims has some experience going up against Phillips, as Sims spent nine seasons in the AFC West prior to signing with the 49ers three seasons ago. The 49ers' running backs will also face a big challenge in blitz pickup. Both Brian Westbrook and Anthony Dixon did their parts last week, as they picked up blitzes to allow Smith to make plays to burn the aggressive Seattle defense last week."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee previews the 49ers' matchup against San Diego. Barrows: "No quarterback likes to throw deep as much as Philip Rivers, and the San Diego signal caller has several big-bodied targets. San Francisco's defense usually handles big receivers well, but the secondary is susceptible to the long ball."

Also from Barrows: thoughts on Mike Singletary's job security in relation to how the 49ers finish. Barrows: "At this point, the 49ers are a long shot to win the division, and the best they can finish is 8-8. Strong, or at least solid, finishes have become a 49ers trademark in recent seasons. Mike Nolan did it in 2006 and 2007. Singletary went 3-1 in 2008 and 2009. But those rallies, in my opinion, only helped mask the stench of the season and provided false hope for the year ahead."

More from Barrows: Alex Smith looks back fondly on his time with Norv Turner as 49ers offensive coordinator.

Sam Good of 49ers.com says the 49ers got strong play from nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin against Seattle.

Eric Branch of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says Smith hadn't even thought about playing a homecoming game against San Diego. Smith: "San Diego (7-6) boats the league's top-ranked pass defense (173.4 yards a game) and is three weeks removed from flummoxing Indianapolis' Peyton Manning, who tossed four interceptions in a 36-14 loss to the visiting Chargers on Nov. 28. Opposing quarterbacks have a 72.9 rating against San Diego, the second-lowest figure in the NFL."

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says Smith misses Turner. Brown: "Of all the 49ers offensive coordinators to come and go, Turner's departure stings most for Smith. The quarterback describes 2006, his lone year with Turner, as the best of his career. Smith threw for a career-high 2,890 yards that season as his passer rating improved from the 40.8 he posted as a rookie to 74.8. A year after throwing one touchdown pass against 11 interceptions, the numbers jumped to 16 and 16. That's not exactly Joe Montana-type stuff, but Smith felt as if he was trending upward."

Mark Purdy of the San Jose Mercury News offers thoughts as 49ers defensive end Justin Smith prepares to make his 153rd consecutive start, this one on a short week.

David White of the San Francisco Chronicle offers more on Alex Smith's reunion with Turner.

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Ron Bartell is eager to get back on the field as the Rams fight for a playoff spot. Bartell was a rookie in 2006 when the Rams had a shot at the playoffs late in the season. Bartell: "At this point, it's now or never. I've been here six years, and I haven't been in this situation before. The excitement that everybody has, I want to be a part of that. Sitting out last weekend was tough enough. So there's no way in the world I'll be sitting out again. I'm going to play regardless."

Also from Coats: The Rams say they are preparing more for the Chiefs' offensive system than for a specific quarterback.

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams need to shore up their perimeter run defense and become more efficient on offense in the red zone.

Also from Miklasz: where Sam Bradford stands heading into Week 15. Miklasz: "Bradford has had his moments, including the two-minute drill to tie the game at San Francisco at the end of the fourth quarter. He's made other money throws to put opponents away late in games. But if you want to go by the raw numbers, there's this. In the fourth quarter of games this season, Bradford has two touchdowns, seven interceptions and a passer rating of 59.3."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Saints' blitzes against the Rams worked well enough for upcoming opponents to copy them. Thomas: "The Saints got after Bradford like nobody else has this season, with the possible exception of Arizona in the season opener. According to Post-Dispatch count, New Orleans blitzed Bradford 25 times. Overall, including plays where the Saints got to him with just a four-man rush, they sacked him three times and hit him seven additional times. Even on plays when Bradford wasn't hit, the pressure was enough to disrupt several other pass plays, forcing Bradford to throw the ball away or throw it with less accuracy, preventing him from stepping into the throw or leading to a tipped pass."

Nick Wagoner of stlouisrams.com says Bradford is re-growing the beard he wore while playing well in November.

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says Seattle receivers Mike Williams and Ben Obomanu caught passes in practice Wednesday. Both are returning from injuries. Williams on his foot/ankle situation: "It feels OK, I feel OK. I’m excited. It’s been a very frustrating last few weeks. I was trying to get into my groove, but then had a couple of bumps. I’m excited to get back out here and bring the energy and try to be a shot in the arm for our group and for our offense."

Also from Farnsworth: Seattle's Jordan Babineaux faces a Falcons team featuring brother Jonathan Babineaux.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says Obomanu is not yet catching the ball naturally. Obomanu: "You just have to adapt a little bit. The thing about receiver is you want to be able to catch the ball naturally. But at the same time, I'm trying to adjust and figure out some things. It's a day-by-day thing, and hopefully by the end of the week, I'll be comfortable with some kind of way to make it work to help the team out Sunday."

Also from O'Neil: Seahawks veteran Lawyer Milloy is happy to be in the playoff race.

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune points to Red Bryant's knee injury as a turning point for Seattle this season. Boling: "Chris Clemons continues to be the most consistently dependable defender, having upped his sacks total to 10 with admirable energy and effort. But it is in keeping with the theme of irony that on one play in the Oakland game, when Clemons was hustling in to make a play, that he accidentally struck Bryant and caused the injury that seemingly triggered the defense’s downfall. It’s been that kind of a season."

Liz Mathews of 710ESPN Seattle says Falcons receiver Roddy White credits Jim Mora for helping him develop into a top player.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says two years and multiple quarterbacks separate Arizona and Carolina from the NFC postseason game they played following the 2008 season. Somers: "Since August, the Cardinals have gone from Matt Leinart to Derek Anderson to rookie Max Hall, back to Anderson and now to rookie John Skelton. The Panthers have gone from Matt Moore to rookie Jimmy Clausen, back to Moore, back to Clausen, to Brian St. Pierre, and back to Clausen."

Also from Somers: Skelton wants to improve his completion percentage.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com touches on Skelton's development before noting that Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt wants to make measured use of LaRod Stephens-Howling on offense. Whisenhunt: "You’ve got to make sure to track how many plays he’s been getting. You don’t want to lose him."