By Trevor Woods
Here are some of the key matchups between the Baltimore Ravens (9-2) and San Francisco 49ers (10-1) in a potential Super Bowl preview Dec. 1 at M&T Bank Stadium.
Lamar Jackson vs. 49ers defensive line
The strong-suit of the 49ers defense is their defensive line. Rookie Nick Bosa has been one of the best players in football this season, with eight sacks and 16 QB hits. Bosa has been a handful for each and every offensive line he has encountered and this week will be no different.
It isn’t just Bosa the Ravens will have to be concerned about though -- defensive linemen Arik Armstead and DeForest Bucker have both been nightmares for opposing quarterbacks. Armstead has 10 sacks and 13 quarterback hits, while Buckner has 5.5 sacks and 11 QB hits. Even when two of the trio are contained, it seems like one of them are able to slip through the cracks more often than not.
The tallest task, though, is for someone to help Jackson and that will be left up to left tackle Ronnie Stanley. The former first-round pick hasn’t allowed a sack all season. This is an intriguing one-on-one matchup, as both players are former top-ten selections in the NFL Draft.
How will Jackson hold up?
Jackson was tested by a stout defensive line last week vs. the Rams and the likes of perennial All-Pro Aaron Donald, and Jackson sliced L.A. up through the air and on the ground. However, the 49ers are one of the best teams in the NFL for a reason and this will be Jackson’s stiffest challenge yet as a runner and thrower. With a sound performance against the Niners D and defensive line specifically, it might be fair to start saying that Mr. Jackson cannot be stopped, nor contained.
Jimmy Garoppolo and 49ers passing game vs. Ravens defense
Jimmy Garoppolo is a solid quarterback who probably isn’t getting enough credit this season. Garoppolo has been careless with the football at times, but with every mistake he’s made four clutch plays his team has needed.
The Ravens blitz more than any team in the NFL, and Garoppolo has a stellar 65.4% completion percentage against the blitz. Although Jimmy G’s completion percentage against the blitz is good, he’s thrown seven of his 10 interceptions this season when he’s been blitzed. Expect Garoppolo to have an up and down game. While he could have success overall, it would be a surprise if he didn’t throw a pick in this one. The Ravens has blitzed over 20 times the past three games, and that’s a trend that won’t be slowing down anytime soon.
Combine Garoppolo’s up-and-down numbers against the blitz with cornerback Marcus Peters lockdown coverage since he’s been a Raven, it sets up for a potential Baltimore advantage. Peters is holding quarterbacks to a 36.7 passer rating in his five games as a Raven. Then there’s cornerback Marlon Humphrey, who’s been a standout, too. Humphrey has a 67% success rate, good enough to rank fifth in the NFL.
The good news for the 49ers is they’ll be getting Emmanuel Sanders and George Kittle back, which will give Garoppolo three reliable options at receiver, along with Deebo Samuel. While the physicality of the Ravens secondary can limit the production of Samuel and Sanders, it’ll be much harder shutting Kittle down. Kittle is arguably the best tight end in the NFL and is a nightmare for any cornerback, linebacker or safety to cover. Kittle has a rare blend of speed and physicality, along with crisp route running that makes him a dangerous threat. He’s in the Rob Gronkowski mold of tight end. In seven of the nine games Kittle has played this season, he has hauled in over six receptions, he is the go-to target on third down, in the red-zone and virtually anywhere else on the field. Stopping Kittle is an absolute must for the Ravens.
49ers run offense vs Ravens run defense
We’re going to see a strength vs. strength matchup, and something has to give. The 49ers have the No. 2 rushing offense in the NFL and the Ravens are the No. 3 rushing defense. The Ravens are coming off a game where they held Todd Gurley to just 22 yards on 6 carries. Game-flow aside, the Rams opted not to run the ball into the teeth of the Ravens D knowing the likelihood of success was slim. The 49ers won’t be abandoning the run early whether they’re down multiple scores or have a lead, their run-game powers everything they do in the passing game (i.e. play action passes aplenty). The Ravens will get a boost with the return of Michael Pierce, who suffered an ankle injury Week 11 against the Texans.
The top two backs for the 49ers are Matt Breida (542 yards) and Tevin Coleman (448 yards). Breida is listed as questionable and is a game-time decision, but even if he’s unable to suit up, the Niners still have Raheem Mostert (393 yards) to relieve Coleman. They have options. The Ravens allow just 87.7 yards per game on the ground, but part of their success is based on opposing offenses passing heavily due to being down in the game. We are truly going to found out how good the Ravens are at stopping the run in this one.
Ravens passing attack vs. 49ers pass defense
The 49ers have the No. 1 passing defense in the league, holding opposing attacks to just 136.9 yards per game. The unit has given up just 11 passing touchdowns and has hauled in 11 interceptions. Against the Niners last week, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers had one of the worst games of his career, throwing for just 104 yards on 33 attempts.
Part of what makes the 49ers pass defense so good is their defensive line causes havoc and forces QB’s to make bad decisions. But the numbers don’t lie, the unit is good in its own right. The 49ers haven’t played a team like the Ravens yet, who confuse with RPO looks and multiple tight end sets, so this is a new challenge for the unit and not like any they’ve had to this point in the season. Jackson has been steady and strong throwing the football this season, but this will be yet another tall task for him. Jackson has passed nearly all of the hard tests to this point, will he pass this one as well?