Another week, another look at the three matchups to watch for the San Francisco 49ers. Except this week isn’t just a regular week of football. Week 13 between the 49ers and Baltimore Ravens is a matchup of two of the hottest teams in football. Any team that has come across these two have been turned into pedestrian.
The 49ers and Ravens is yet another week of must watch football in the NFL. It is the top ranked defense of the 49ers against the top ranked offense of the Ravens. That is why the bulk of the matchups to watch involve the 49ers’ defense and the Ravens’ offense. It all starts with the battle of wits between the coordinators of both teams.
Robert Saleh vs. Greg Roman
Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said this week that Baltimore’s offense is the toughest one he’s had to prepare for. The Ravens are the No. 1 scoring offense in the league thanks to star quarterback Lamar Jackson. With Jackson at the helm, Greg Roman has devised an offense that fully optimizes his quarterback’s abilities.
They can gash a defense with Jackson’s legs, arm or just hand it off to Mark Ingram with their heavy running scheme. Roman utilizes each of these aspects to set up a ton of play-action with the zone-read. His offense should be very familiar to 49ers fans since Roman implemented the same wit Colin Kaepernick. Except there are some wrinkles in this offense and Jackson is a much faster player.
Saleh has preached all week in preparation for the Ravens that his defense must not “chase ghosts”. He is referencing that to the play-action zone-reads the Ravens use. The defense could be chasing Ingram to the left side of the formation when Jackson is keeping it on the other side. Trickery is the name of the game when it comes to the Ravens’ offense. Planning for them will be tough for Saleh, but the key will come down to how he adapts throughout the game.
49ers Front-Seven vs Lamar Jackson
The responsibility of slowing down Jackson doesn’t fall on any one player or group for the 49ers. But majority of the time it’ll be the 49ers front-seven of the defense that will carry the most weight of how to slow him down. There execution must be top-notch if they want any shot of containing Jackson. Any mistakes made will not go unpunished from Jackson or the Ravens’ offense.
The little things and attention to detail is key for the front-seven, however there is one little thing they must do. They must, no matter what lay the wood on Jackson at every given moment. Whether he has the ball or not, the front-seven has to make their presence felt by hitting Jackson. He isn’t a big guy by any measure and he hasn’t been hit often. A great way to test his durability and composure is by making him pay for being involved as a runner, especially when he is a decoy.
Jackson will think twice about wanting to rip off a big gainer after he takes some shots. That is a critical small detail for the 49ers front-seven. They must also not overpursue on Jackson and force him towards the middle of the field. If they can restrain him from getting to the second-level of the defense, then they will be forced to have Jackson drop back to throw more often than they’d like.
49ers offensive line vs. Ravens offensive line
The running game is a staple to Kyle Shanahan’s offense because it allows him to open up his playbook at full strength. Establishing the run will only be successful if the offensive line of the 49ers executes their assignments. They must be the aggressors and win their matchups with the Ravens defensive line.
Opening up the running lanes is the only way Tevin Coleman and the rest of the running backs will have success. Sustaining the run game successfully all game will keep Jackson and the Ravens’ offense on the sideline. It is critical that they control the time of possession. Not only is it critical to keep the Ravens offense off the field, but the weather will behoove the running game.
The forecast shows that rain will play a heavy factor on Sunday, so having Jimmy Garoppolo drop back to pass won’t be ideal. It just makes the offensive line’s execution that much more important. If they are struggling to win their matchups against the Ravens defensive line, then it’ll be a long day for the 49ers.