Preview: Great Game Beneath The Hype

Ravens look to stay on top of the AFC North, while 49ers hope to clinch their division.

Posted by Garrett Downing on Thursday, November 24th, 2011 at 12:32 pm | Categories: Garrett Downing, Week 12 vs 49ers

Somewhere between all the hype, buildup and nostalgia of the “Harbaugh Bowl” is reality: the Ravens vs. 49ers is just one heck of a football game.

It’s two of the best teams in football, both with dominating defenses, playing in a game that has tremendous playoff implications.

“It’s a fun story line,” Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said. “But really what it’s going to be about is a bunch of football warriors going out there and getting after it – two teams that play a very similar style of football, two teams that are going to want to win that football game on Thursday night.”

The Ravens (7-3) are tied with Pittsburgh for first place in the AFC North, and the 49ers (9-1) could potentially clinch the NFC West this weekend. If San Francisco beats Baltimore and Seattle loses to Washington, then the 49ers win the NFC West and are guaranteed a home playoff game.

A win for the Ravens keeps them tied atop of the AFC, which has three other teams – Pittsburgh, Houston and New England – with 7-3 records.

“It’s critical for us,” Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta said. “It’s big on a lot of levels, in terms of maintaining our position atop the AFC and in our division. Every game means a lot from here on out.”

If the trend this season continues, that could bode well for the Ravens, as they are 5-0 against teams with winning records, compared to 2-3 against teams below the .500 mark.

The 49ers, however, also have numbers working in their favor, as they are 4-0 on trips to the east coast this season.

“This is going to be a dogfight,” Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “I don’t think they could have picked a better game of the season.”

The dominating discussion of the week has been about Jim and John Harbaugh becoming the first sibling head coaches to ever face each other in the NFL, and as close as the two coaches are, the outcome of this game will make for a lousy Thanksgiving for one side of the Harbaugh family.

“Regardless of the end result, I can’t wait to see the [postgame] handshake,” Suggs said. “I am kind of looking forward to it, but it’s going to be awesome.”

3 Matchups to Watch

CB Carlos Rogers vs. WR Anquan Boldin
The 49ers cornerback is tied for the NFL-lead with five interceptions this season, and he’ll be looking for opportunities to pick off Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco. San Francisco has been opportunistic on defense, but they’ve allowed plenty of yards through the air, and the Ravens will look for opportunities to exploit their secondary. Boldin has been relatively quiet the last two games (three catches, one touchdown), and he could have a chance to put up big numbers against San Francisco.

LB Patrick Willis vs. RB Ray Rice
The 49ers linebacker has made the Pro Bowl in each of his first four seasons in the NFL, and he’s one of the top linebackers in the game. He’s a big reason the 49ers are the best team in the NFL at defending the run, and he also leads the league with four forced fumbles. Trying to keep Willis contained will be critical to have success in the running game.

TE Vernon Davis vs. LB Jameel McClain
The 49ers Pro Bowl tight end is one of the best in the game, posing matchup problems for any linebacker who lines up against him. He’s fast enough to beat most linebackers in coverage, and too big for many defensive backs. Davis is a threat in the red zone and he leads the 49ers with five touchdowns this year. McClain will likely have the tough task of covering Davis and trying to limit his touches.

3 Questions to Answer

Will the Ravens air it out?
The Ravens got back to pounding the running game last week against the Bengals – running 28 times and passing 27 – and Ray Rice topped 100 yards on the ground. Finding success on the ground could be a challenge against the 49ers, as their defense ranks first in the NFL at stopping the run, but they are 23rd against the pass. That could mean Flacco and the Ravens offense choose to attack San Francisco from the air. With Lee Evans playing in his second game back from an ankle injury, he could become more involved in the offense.

Will the Ravens defense be able to force turnovers?
Forcing turnovers has been critical to the Ravens success this season, and that could likely be the case Thursday night. The Ravens were able to come up with three interceptions against the Bengals, which led to 14 second-half points, and that was the difference in the game. 49ers quarterback Alex Smith has only thrown four interceptions this season, but the Ravens will look to pressure him into making poor throws that an opportunistic defense can pick off and turn into points.

Will the Ravens be able to protect the football?
San Francisco has the best turnover differential in the NFL (+17), and forcing turnovers is a key element of their defense’s game. Flacco will have to make smart throws and the Ravens won’t be able to afford turnovers inside their own red zone like they had in Week 9 against the Seahawks. Like most games, if the Ravens limit the turnovers, then they’ll likely be in good position to win this one.

Team Rankings

Total Offense – 343.9 (15)
Rush Offense – 99.6 (23)
Pass Offense – 244.3 (12)
Points Per Game –25.6 (7)

Total Defense – 304.5 (4)
Rush Defense – 93.2 (5)
Pass Defense – 211.3 (7)
Points Per Game – 17.6 (3)

Total Offense –322.5 (20)
Rush Offense –134.2 (6)
Pass Offense – 188.3 (27)
Points Per Game – 25.6 (7)

Total Defense – 323.1 (8)
Rush Defense – 73.9 (1)
Pass Defense – 249.2 (23)
Points Per Game – 14.5 (1)

Tags: , , , ,