It will be a rainy, potential Super Bowl preview today in Baltimore, when the 10-1 San Francisco 49ers take the field at 1:00 pm EST at M&T Bank Stadium to face the 9-2 Ravens. It’s the league’s hottest defense against the league’s hottest offense.
Containing Lamar Jackson
The big question is whether a 49ers’ defense that leads the league in sacks (44) can get to Ravens’ quarterback Lamar Jackson. Jackson is averaging 7.1 rush yards per carry and has 876 rushing yards on the season (reminder: he’s the quarterback). The 49ers have faced mobile quarterbacks in Seattle’s Russell Wilson and Arizona’s Kyler Murray (beating Murray twice), but Jackson is just different.
“He’s just different in that he’s a running back when he has the ball,” said 49ers’ head coach Kyle Shanahan. “You know, the other two guys, they can make a lot of plays with their legs and stuff, but eventually, they are going to slide and things like that. This guy, he’s a running back out there, and a quarterback when he’s throwing, but he can run hard. You’ve got to bring him down. He can take the hits and he also can deliver them.”
The 49ers’ 19th-ranked run defense will have its hands full with not only Jackson, but also Raven’s running back Mark Ingram, who has rushed for 778 yards, averaging 5.2 yards per carry, and nine rushing touchdowns.
In the air, Jackson has a 66.9 completion percentage, throwing for 2,427 yards, 24 touchdowns, and five interceptions. Against the Rams Monday night, Jackson completed 15 passes. Five of them were touchdowns. So, he’s good.
Containing the Rest of the Baltimore Offense
In fact, the whole offense is good, and Ravens’ offensive coordinator Greg Roman has them playing incredible football.
“The way their O-Line is built, the running backs they’ve chose, their tight ends are unbelievable,” Shanahan said. “They are a very downhill team, starting with Ingram, but going to their fullback to their tight ends to their guards to everyone. They’re built to go downhill at you and they have a quarterback who can out flank you at any time.”
The 49ers’ top-ranked defense is coming off a game in which they held Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers to 104 yards passing sacked him five times. LB Fred Warner was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week for his performance against Green Bay, which included 11 tackles, one sack, and one forced fumble. The 49ers will need him, and the front seven, to come up big again today, and they will need to do so without defensive end Dee Ford, who is out for the second week in a row. They will also look to the secondary to contain the Ravens receiving corps, led by Marquise “Hollywood” Brown.
“Because of what they do and all their downhill stuff, the four-down linemen, the edge setting presence that we have, the nose, the three, your linebackers flowing, they’re all in this together,” said 49ers’ defensive coordinator Robert Saleh. “It’s that front seven, the corners playing disciplined, the middle-third player making sure he’s not giving up easy go balls or post shots and all that stuff. Everyone’s just got to be disciplined, clean with their eyes and go play football and just play sound football. Don’t chase ghosts, just play sound football and just rally to the ball.”
As for the 49ers’ Offense
Meanwhile, San Francisco has a pretty efficient offense of its own, and it’s going to have to play that way.
With tight end George Kittle’s return on Sunday night, the 49ers’ offense got its groove back, especially when it came to the run game, rushing for 112 yards, two rushing touchdowns, and averaging five yards a carry. San Francisco will want to establish the run and establish it early to control the clock, and according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, they are going have to do that without running back Matt Breida, who will be out today with an ankle injury. The Ravens and the 49ers are the NFL’s top two teams in rushing attempts, yards, and touchdowns. It is going to rain, so it won’t be easy on either offense.
“There are always variables, in home games, away games, whatever it is, every week’s a little different,” said 49ers’ quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. “Just playing our game is the most important thing.”
For his part, Garoppolo has played incredibly well over the last several games, capped by his 14-of-20 for 253 yards, two touchdowns, and no interception performance against Green Bay. Turnovers have been an issue for the 49ers’ QB1, so another turnover-free game will be key.
Kittle was back with a vengeance Sunday night to the tune of six receptions for 129 yards and a touchdown. The whole offense clicked better with Kittle on the field, so if there was any confusion about who the 49ers’ offensive MVP is, it’s been cleared up.
This game is going to be a tough one for both teams. As mentioned above, it’s a hot defense vs. a hot offense, and that’s really true for both offenses and defenses. It will be physical. It will be hard fought. And it may be the first of two times we’re seeing it between these two teams.
“Our team, it really doesn’t matter the situation, Shanahan said. “You always try to say that, but it truly become a reality this year. Whether it’s been injuries, or where we’ve played or what time we’ve played, we feel we’ve always gotten our team’s best shot. I do understand the challenges of going to the east coast, but fortunately they also got a little bit of a late start, because they played a Monday night game on the west coast. Everyone has some tough situations and I know theirs is just as tough as ours.”