The problems the St. Louis Rams are having on the field might pale in comparison to the overall issues surrounding the San Francisco 49ers.
Mired in their first losing stretch under coach Jim Harbaugh and minus at least one key player, the visiting 49ers look to avoid a third consecutive defeat Thursday night against a Rams team that gave them plenty of trouble in 2012.
In two games since totaling 494 yards during a 34-28 season-opening win over Green Bay, San Francisco (1-2) has looked nothing like the team expected to contend for a second straight NFC title. The 49ers have managed 461 total yards, turned the ball over seven times and committed 18 penalties while being outscored 56-10 by Seattle and Indianapolis.
Colin Kaepernick threw for 412 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions against the Packers, but 277 with no TDs and four picks the last two weeks.
A defense that in 2012 ranked second in the NFL at 17.1 points per game and third at 294.4 yards per game is giving up averages of 337.0 yards (12th) and 28.0 points (25th) through three games.
The 49ers last dropped three in a row during the 0-5 start in 2010 — the season prior to Harbaugh’s arrival.
“We’re not going to hang our heads,” Harbaugh said. “Football is not easy, there are struggles.
“We’ve got some adversity, no question about it. We also have the rare opportunity to stare adversity in the face and whip it. That’s our goal.”
Doing so could be difficult as off-field issues and injuries continue to plague the club.
Star outside linebacker Aldon Smith was placed on the reserve non-football injury list Monday as he enters rehab for substance abuse. Smith, who had an NFC-leading 19 1/2 sacks last season and has 3 1/2 in 2013, played in Sunday’s 27-7 home loss to the Colts two days after he was arrested and jailed on suspicion of DUI and marijuana possession.
There is no minimum number of games Smith must miss.
“We’re very supportive of Aldon as we are of all of our players, all of our coaches, our personnel,” Harbaugh said.
The 49ers also could be without fellow linebacker Patrick Willis (groin) and defensive back Nnamdi Asomugha (leg). Tight end Vernon Davis could miss a second straight game with a hamstring injury.
Playing without Davis seemed to leave Kaepernick lost at times Sunday. He completed two of his first eight passes and finished 13 of 27 for 150 yards with an interception and was sacked three times.
Kaepernick targeted Anquan Boldin 17 times when the veteran receiver caught 13 passes for 208 yards with a TD against the Packers. In the last two, the ball has gone Boldin’s way 12 times, resulting in six catches for 74 yards and no touchdowns.
“I feel very confident in Colin,” Harbaugh told the 49ers’ official website.
“We all have our fingerprints on (the offensive struggles). We’re working to improve the precision.”
Frank Gore did rush for 82 yards on 11 carries Sunday after totaling 60 on 30 attempts the first two weeks. He scored in San Francisco’s 16-13 overtime loss at St. Louis (1-2) on Dec. 2 but was limited to 58 yards on 23 carries.
Kaepernick threw for 208 yards and rushed for 84 in that contest, which followed the teams’ 24-24 tie at San Francisco on Nov. 11 — the game in which Kaepernick relieved a concussed Alex Smith and the last one he didn’t start.
Rams coach Jeff Fisher hopes the memory of last year’s play against the 49ers will help his current team move on from consecutive losses at Atlanta and Dallas.
“This is a defining moment for us right now,” he said after Sunday’s 31-7 loss to the Cowboys. “We’ve got to get past this and get ready for the 49ers.
“All you have to do is put on a series here or a series there of our matchup last year, either one of the two games against the 49ers, and we’ll have their attention.”
No matter how much off-field drama and on-field struggles have consumed the 49ers, Fisher knows his team likely can’t afford to follow the trend of falling behind again Thursday.
St. Louis rallied from an 11-point deficit to post a 27-24 season-opening win over Arizona and trailed by 21 points in a 31-24 loss to the Falcons.
The Rams weren’t nearly as competitive at Dallas, gaining 18 total yards in the first half and 232 for the game. They were 0 for 12 on third down until converting one on the game’s final play. Quarterback Sam Bradford was sacked six times after not being taken down once in four straight games dating to last season.
St. Louis also allowed DeMarco Murray to rush for 175 yards and a TD on 26 carries.
“We have to stick together,” defensive end Chris Long said. “Nobody is going to come in here and save the day. It is on us to change things.”
Bradford has completed 71.1 percent of his passes while going 2-0 at home versus San Francisco, and he has thrown four TDs without an interception in four career games against the 49ers.