The phrase, “history repeats itself” is a truism rarely applied to sports. In 2013 the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers met each other in Super Bowl XLVII. In 2019, the Ravens and 49ers are both jockeying for the top seeds in their respective conferences, and the national media has branded the two as Super Bowl favorites entering December. History may repeat itself, but the Ravens and 49ers must meet in a regular-season game before the potential Super Bowl matchup. The Ravens can improve to 10-2 and potentially overtake the Patriots for first place in the American Football Conference with a win over the 49ers.
There are a few things the Ravens must do to win:
Ravens Must Overcome 49ers Top-Ranked Pass Defense
The Ravens have faced difficult defenses throughout the season, but each week’s top concern is typically the stout run defense the Ravens are set to face. No matter who opposes Baltimore, all efforts to quell the rushing attack have failed. In terms of total yards allowed per game, the 49ers are at the top of the league. San Francisco allows just 248.0 yards per game. Much of San Francisco’s defensive success can be attributed to the pass defense. The 49ers allow just 136.9 passing yards per game. Overcoming the 49ers pass defense will be Baltimore and specifically Lamar Jackson’s biggest challenge on Sunday. Lamar Jackson is an MVP-candidate because he is dominant as a passer and a runner. If the air raid is grounded, Jackson and the Ravens’ offense will have a difficult time outscoring the 49ers.
Ravens Defense Must Sideline 49ers Ground Attack
The NFL’s best rushing offense is found in Baltimore. The Ravens lead the league in rushing yards per game, Baltimore averages 210.5. This is 64.9 yards more per game than the second-best rushing offense in the league. Despite trailing the Ravens by such a significant margin, the threat the 49ers pose on the ground cannot be taken lightly. The 49ers backfield is a three-headed beast. Each back specializes in a specific department. Tevin Coleman leads the group with 115 carries this year, Matt Breida leads the group with 542 yards this year, and Raheem Mostert leads the group with 5.4 yards per rush attempt. Baltimore is statistically the third-best rush defense in the National Football League, but this is the group’s most difficult test yet. The Ravens will need to keep the 49er’s rushing attack at bay.
Ravens Linebackers Must Slow Down George Kittle
Under normal circumstances, the Ravens would have little hope to slow down George Kittle, the prolific 49er’s tight end. Kittle thrives in Kyle Shanahan’s offense and is performing exceptionally well in 2019. So far this year, Kittle has 670 yards on 52 receptions. He averages 12.9 yards per reception, and he has scored three touchdowns. On most days, Kittle seems unstoppable, but the Ravens will be presented with a golden opportunity on Sunday. Kittle is battling a knee and ankle injury. Kittle was forced to sit out Wednesday’s practice and was limited on Thursday and Friday’s practices. Kittle will not be in great shape for Sunday’s game, and the Ravens linebackers group must take advantage of this. Shanahan will likely put Kittle on shorter route assignments into the middle of the field to exploit the physical mismatch he poses on the Ravens linebackers without having to strain his knee and ankle. The Ravens linebackers must slow Kittle down by playing very physical defensive football.
Lamar Jackson has not yet met a defense that can stop him this season. The 49ers will not shut him down like the Chargers did in last year’s playoff game, but San Francisco poses a unique challenge for the young quarterback. Jackson will need to throw into tight windows and hit receivers with less separation than normal. If he can do that, and I believe he can, the Ravens offense will once again dominate an NFC West opponent.
The 49ers ground attack is the best the Ravens defense has faced this season. The defensive line will need its best performance yet, and achieving that starts with defensive tackle, Brandon Williams. Williams will need to penetrate the 49er’s defensive line and set the tone with tackles for losses.
After starting center, Matt Skura left Monday Night’s game against the Rams early, the Ravens needed Mekari to step up and play well against a very aggressive defensive line. Mekari stunned all with his incredible performance. Mekari needs to show that his success will last beyond his first game.
Although the 49ers are one of Baltimore’s most difficult opponents this season, the Ravens match up well against them. The 49ers will play well, but Baltimore’s passing attack will be nearly unfazed by the 49ers secondary, and the Ravens rush defense will limit the success of the 49ers ground game. San Francisco’s aerial assault will be the 49er’s most efficient way to move the ball, but the banged-up George Kittle will have little impact relative to his typical production. The Ravens will not run away with this game, but Baltimore will win this game comfortably as they did against the Patriots.