ST. LOUIS — There's an air desperation for both squads heading into the Thursday night matchup between the St. Louis Rams and the San Francisco 49ers.
Both teams are 1-2 and hoping to avoid being backed into a 1-3 corner.
"We're facing adversity," said 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, whose squad is dealing with key injuries and the loss of pass rusher Aldon Smith as he undergoes treatment for substance abuse. "It gives us the opportunity to stare it in the face and respond. That's a relentless quest for improvement, that's where we're at."
The 49ers haven't looked like the same squad that won the NFC Championship and battled the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII this past February.
They've been outscored 56-10 in losses to Seattle and Indianapolis -- their first losing streak under Harbaugh -- but Rams coach Jeff Fisher expects to get their best shot.
"You don't get to where they got last year without being able to overcome adversity," Fisher said. "They were a few plays away from winning the world championship last year. We've got our hands full."
It was the 49ers who had their hands full with the Rams last season.
The Rams played the 49ers to a 24-24 tie at Candlestick Park, then beat them 16-13 in overtime at the Edward Jones Dome.
The all-time series between the two teams is tied at 62-62-3.
The Rams' struggles against the 49ers -- they'd lost 11 of the previous 14 meetings prior to last season -- make Fisher hesitate in calling it a rivalry game.
"We've been on the losing end of a lot of games, this organization has," Fisher said. "Now last year, we got our feet back on the map, but I don't think there's a rivalry yet.
"It's a division opponent. It's a big challenge for us on a short week, but I don't necessarily see it as a rivalry yet. Hopefully, we'll become one."
It's a sure bet that the 49ers spent time in the offseason trying to figure out why they had so much trouble with the Rams last season.
They signed former Rams safety Craig Dahl, a savvy player when it comes to X's and O's, during free agency.
"Not concerned about it," Fisher said of Dahl providing detailed intelligence on the Rams' personnel. "Players change teams all the time, and I'm not concerned about it."
Fisher is concerned about getting off to better starts. The Rams have trailed by double-digits in all three games.
They rallied from an 11-point deficit in a 27-24 season-opening win over Arizona and trailed by 21 points in the 31-24 loss to Atlanta.
They weren't nearly as competitive last Sunday against the Cowboys as they got behind 17-0 in the first half and ended up losing 31-7.
"I think the past two weeks we've seen what it's like playing from behind, and it's really not a whole lot of fun," said Rams quarterback Sam Bradford, who was sacked six times by the Cowboys. "I think it would help, not only ourselves out, but it would help the defense out if we could come out and start fast and play with a lead."
In addition to Smith, the 49ers could be playing without tight end Vernon Davis (hamstring), linebacker Patrick Willis (groin) and defensive back Nnamdi Asomugha (leg).
49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick remains a dual threat as a passer and a runner.
Running back Frank Gore has rushed for 13 touchdowns in his last 12 games against the Rams, while wide receiver Anquan Boldin has either 100-plus receiving yards or a touchdown in seven of his last 10 games against the Rams.
After his defense was shredded for 175 yards and a touchdown by Dallas running back DeMarco Murray last Sunday, Rams defensive coordinator Tim Walton expects the 49ers' game plan to include a huge emphasis on their ground game.
"Yeah, they're going to try to run the ball," Walton said. "They've primarily been a running team since Harbaugh got there. We've got to go out and stop the run, obviously. That's something that showed up on our plate, now we've got to go put that fire out."
Contact reporter Steve Korte at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2522.