1. Quick screens and draws
The Ravens were able to tap back into their screen game against the Bengals, with varying success. However, when they were able to hit on a play, it went for a first down.
Against a fairly aggressive San Francisco front seven, screens and draws to Rice might be the best way to get him the ball. The 49ers are the best in the league against the run, so using Rice to run straight ahead will be a tough proposition.
On the other hand, getting Rice involved in space on the perimeter could be an advantage, especially if he catches a quick screen from an empty formation. Cam Cameron will need to get creative with how he gets the ball in Rice’s hand. That could mean using him on an end around handoff or a quick screen from the bunch formation.
Along with Rice, look for the other receivers – particularly tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta – to be involved on quick patterns from the backfield.
2. Test the safeties
The dirty little secret in San Francisco is that as good as their defense is, it can be exposed on the back end. The Niners rank 23rd against the pass and they’ve given up a lot of deep passes.
In addition, Flacco will have to use his eyes to hold the safeties away from the side he wants to attack.
His receivers should be in attack mode and run right at the Niners safeties on deep patterns all night. Either the safeties will be too occupied to help out in their deep coverage responsibilities, or they can be isolated and beat downfield.
3. Throw away from the middle
As previously mentioned, attacking the perimeter and deepest layer of the field might be the best bet for making plays against an outstanding San Francisco defense.
The other reason to test those areas is to stay away from the inside linebacker duo of Patrick Willis and Navarro Bowman. These two linebackers have the speed to run with tight ends and they don’t come off the field on third down.
1. Stop Gore on early downs
The driving force for the 49er offense remains Frank Gore – otherwise known as the Inconvenient Truth. The truth is if Gore is effective on early downs, the Ravens will be in trouble.
Gore is having a great season, but he’s also had plenty of chances thanks to head coach Jim Harbaugh’s recommitment to running the ball in San Francisco. Also, Gore runs behind a San Francisco line that is a run-blocking force.
The task of slowing down Gore will be very difficult, as the 49ers run a variation of inside and outside run plays to get Gore involved. In addition, tailback Kendall Hunter is a nice change-up and brings a different level of shiftiness to complement Gore’s slashing, power game.
By slowing down the San Francisco rush attack on early downs, the Ravens will force quarterback Alex Smith to throw on third down.
- Force Smith to throw deep
Smith’s breakout season under Harbaugh has been well chronicled by the media. The former number one pick has thrived under Harbaugh’s tailored passing attack. Harbaugh designed offensive plays that play to Smith’s strengths, including more rollouts, and quick, underneath throws.
However, one area that Smith is not as consistent in is the deep game down the sidelines. Smith hasn’t displayed the arm strength or timing to air it out to that area of the field.
- Double cover Davis
Although he’s not as prolific in the passing game as he normally has been, tight end Vernon Davis remains a dangerous weapon in San Francisco’s arsenal.
The former Maryland star has incredible speed and he can get behind defensive backs, let alone linebackers.
The best way to truly limit Davis’ effectiveness is to commit two defenders to him at all times. The first defender – whether that is a lineman or linebacker – should get a hit on Davis within the five yard limit. The second defender should run with Davis once he releases.
One-on-One Matchup to Watch
Justin Smith versus Ben Grubbs: Justin Smith has always been a highly underappreciated player. But this season, he is having a banner year. As a rusher, he has an incredible motor and is relentless. He is equally tough against the run. Grubbs is playing pretty well since returning to the lineup against the Steelers. He’ll have a huge task to keep Smith in check on Thanksgiving.