Many are calling the San Francisco 49ers trip to Baltimore a Super Bowl preview, and rightfully so. As the number one seed in the NFC, the 49ers are the best team in their conference and the Ravens have dominated opponents as of late. Also, both teams rank in the top three for point differential.
Not only does San Francisco have to compete against a very talented team, but they also have to overcome the stigma of West Coast teams traveling East. A 10 am body clock kickoff combined with a nasty weather forecast could mean trouble for the 49ers, as if facing an MVP candidate isn’t hard enough. If this game does wind up being a teaser for the Super Bowl, the winner will certainly have more confidence come February.
It will be a hard-fought battle but the Red and Gold will emerge victorious if they can accomplish these three keys.
It’s no secret that Baltimore has a very explosive offense. Between Lamar Jackson, Mark Ingram, and Marquise Brown, big plays can happen from just about anywhere on the field. Part of the reason for this lethal attack, is the Ravens are very good at forcing missed tackles.
With an NFL high of 35 points per game, Baltimore’s offense is pretty good on its own and doesn’t need the 49ers’ help in the form of bad tackling. There is no guarantee that the Ravens won’t light up the scoreboard, but if San Francisco’s defense can wrap up and swarm to the ball, the game should at least stay within reach. The 49ers’ coaching staff has to plan on Jackson creating at least a few scoring opportunities, but limiting his damage depends on how frequently the defense can get him on the ground.
Do your job and don’t be a hero
This key applies to both sides of the ball. With offensive coordinator Greg Roman at the helm, Baltimore likes to run the option frequently. When defenses get destroyed by the option is when one player doesn’t do their assignment. It’s what the offense is predicated on, force the defense to make a choice and exploit the decision.
When playing against the option, allowing two to four-yard gains per play is the name of the game. The problem is this can be very frustrating for defensive players, so someone tries to be a hero by leaving their assignment and that’s exactly what the offense is hoping for. It might be boring but every player on San Francisco’s defense needs to stick to their job.
While Baltimore’s offense gathers most of the attention, their defense is almost equally impressive. The Ravens allow 18.4 points per game and have forced 18 turnovers, those marks rank 5th and 6th in the NFL, respectively. Obviously, the 49ers offense has its hands full as well.
With how effective Baltimore’s defense is at creating turnovers, San Francisco’s offense needs to let the game come to them. Forcing a throw or trying to make a short gain a long one could have disastrous results. Of course at some point, the Red and Gold will need someone to step up and make a play, but that needs to happen naturally and players have to understand when the moment is right to take a shot.
Embrace the weather
Whether it’s fair or not, California teams will always have the “pretty boy” stigma around them. Playing in inclement weather is not something teams from the Golden State have a whole lot of experience with. On Sunday, the weather calls for 49 degrees and a 90 percent chance of rain in Baltimore.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan needs to remind his guys that they were successful in week seven against the Redskins when it was pouring rain. If the coach can spin the weather as something positive for the 49ers, it can take away the mental hurdle the conditions create for players. That won’t make the ball any less wet or reduce the number of puddles on the field, but at least the psychological aspect of the game won’t be impacted.